What is GPA
GPA is your final grade from school, college or university studies. GPA is what appears on your academic transcript at the end of the school year or at the completion of your studies. This is how a US university website explains it:
Your grade point average (GPA) is a measure of your academic achievement at an educational institution. Your GPA is calculated by dividing the total number of grade quality points you earn by the total number you attempt. The result, rounded off to two decimal places, is your GPA.
Historians date the invention of the grading system as the 18th century and there is a dispute about whether such a system was first adopted in the US (Yale University) or in the UK (Cambridge University).
The grading scales vary greatly per country. Students’ grades can be evaluated in:
Percentages. In this case an ‘Excellent’ mark requires 90% success and any result below 50% is usually marked as ‘Failure’.
Numbers. In this case scales are really quite diverse. In the US you will be evaluated on a 0 to 4 scale; in Russia and Portugal a 5 is the excellent mark and 2 is a failure; in the Netherlands, Moldova and Romania the highest grade is 10 and the lowest is 1. Sweden has its highest grade at 20 points and the lowest at 0.
Letters. US and UK students are graded in letters. The highest mark is A and the lowest is F. In the US an excellent student can even be rewarded with an A+.
To make things even more complicated, there are countries which have different grading systems for universities and high schools, or in the different regions of the country.
When GPA matters
Why worry so much about the GPA? Your grades can make a real difference in several cases:
- Applying for admission to a college (for your first university degree) or graduate school (for a Master’s degree).
- Applying for a merit scholarship or financial aid in college or graduate school.
- Applying for an internship or a job.
In all of those cases, your GPA will illustrate how well you coped with your studies. For college and graduate school application, your grades in subjects related to the desired field of study will be carefully reviewed by the admissions committee, in addition to your overall GPA. This is not so much the case for those applying to MBA programmes, because the quality of applicants’ work experience and their GMAT scores outweigh the GPA in the evaluation of the applications.
When applying for a scholarship or financial aid, a high GPA is required as evidence that you are really committed to your studies. Also, some types of financial aid, such as graduate assistantships or on-campus work study opportunities, are provided to students who have the potential to maintain good academic standing with the additional load of on-campus work.
A high GPA will attract the attention of recruiters for internships and job positions for both types of reason already listed above – commitment to studies and academic success, assumed high level of knowledge and skills, multitasking skills.
Of course some schools and universities are more demanding than others and grades can hardly be comparable. If you come from such a setting, you should attach a school profile to your academic transcript that highlights the challenging academic environment.
How to calculate GPA
Whatever the grading scale and the system, students always get a final grade at the end of their studies. Usually, the challenge of calculating GPA comes when you want to continue your education or career in another country. If you have such intentions, then the challenge is how to compare your grades to the requirements of the university where you want to continue your studies.
So, how to calculate your GPA and compare it to what your dream university requires?
Actually, you don’t have to calculate your GPA, because this is what the Registrar’s office at your school or college should do. This is the best place to enquire about which courses will be taken into consideration for your GPA – usually the core subjects in the programme and some of the electives. If you are bound to continue your education and committed to achieving a high GPA, get to know at an early stage how your GPA will be calculated. In this way you can keep track of your performance.
This seems like the easy part. But how to compare your GPA to other grading systems? Well, once again, you don’t do that yourself. This is done by the admissions officers of your selected university or by specialised agencies. All you have to do is to provide them with your GPA and the grading scale. For example, you come from Bulgaria and your GPA is Very Good - 4.65. The grading scale starts with 2 - Failure, 3 is the minimum Pass score and 6 is the highest grade. This information will usually be enough for the admissions officers to give you advice on whether or not you meet the GPA requirements for admission.
Now, if you just want to get an orientation about how good your score actually is, try to transform it into a percentage grade. Usually, 50% is the lowest pass mark and scores above 90% bring you the highest grade. So, if you have a B3 in Singapore and this equals 65-69% you will know that it will be about a D 64-67% in Mongolia. However, this approach is just for your initial orientation. The best way is to contact the admissions office of your selected university for professional advice.
What if your GPA is low
Sometimes your GPA is lower than you need for university application. Going back to school is hardly a realistic option to improve your grades and give evidence of your potential for further academic studies.
One possibility will be to focus on admission test preparation and aim to achieve a remarkable score. Graduate schools in the US and universities in many other countries providing programmes in English require admission tests such as the GRE – the Graduate Record Examination. There are actually two types of test – the GRE revised General Test and the various subject tests. Admission to MBA programmes requires the GMAT test (Graduate Management Admission Test). Both exams are quite challenging and achieving a high score can often outweigh an unsatisfactory GPA.
However, your first step should be to discuss this strategy with the admissions office of the universities of your choice because each academic institution, department and programme has its own policies.