By Charles Varghese
When you’re enrolled in the United States for a bachelor’s or master’s degree, your GPA is one of the most important numbers to keep an eye on. It is key to your status as a student in "good standing,” continued enrollment in your major, future financial aid, which requires satisfactory academic progress, maybe scholarship eligibility, future employment opportunities, eligibility for college athletic teams, and more.
What is a GPA?
GPA stands for “grade point average” and is a standardized way of measuring academic achievement in the U.S on a scale of 0 to 4. If your country's grading system is percentage-based or letter-based, you may be able to calculate your GPA — however, most systems outside the U.S. do not use this scale.
What do these numbers mean?
Each course is given a certain number of "units" or "credits," as designated by your school depending on the importance of the course. In secondary school, most courses carry the same number of units, but this is not true at the college level.
Most college courses have a value of 3 units (approximately three hours of lecture and six hours of homework per week for each semester), but that number can hold value from 1 to 5 depending on the course. GPA assumes a grading scale of A, B, C, D, F. Each grade is assigned a number of grade points. An A grade receives 4 points, a B=3, a C=2, a D=1, and an F=0.
How do I calculate my GPA?
If you take a 3-unit class and receive an A grade, you receive 3 units times 4 points (for the A), which gives a total of 12 grade points for the course. Let's say you also take a 4-unit class (common in mathematics, for example) and receive a C grade. That's 4 units times 2 points for a total of 8 points.
So for your two classes you have accumulated 20 grade points for the 7 units. You then divide the cumulative grade points by the number of units and you have your GPA. (20/7 = 2.86), so your GPA is 2.86, which is slightly less than a B average.
What are the GPA requirements for admission into U.S. institutions?
The minimum GPA requirement to study abroad varies depending on the school, but a 2.0 GPA is typically the lowest you will find. However, finding admission with such low averages will prove difficult. To be a competitive candidate at most American institutions, we recommend maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA — and make it 3.5 if you’re looking for admission into prestigious universities.
That is not to say that if you don’t have a high GPA that you won’t get accepted into an American institution. Your grade point average is only one part of the criteria that you will be measured on. The culmination of your experiences, your standardized test scores, and a number of other factors will be used to determine your eligibility.
If you lack in one area (i.e. low standardized test scores), but make up for it in another, such as maintaining a consistently high GPA, it can help mitigate any negative aspects of your candidacy.
How does my GPA affect me as an international student in the U.S.?
Your GPA is not only important in helping you gain admission into U.S. colleges and universities, it’s vital in helping you stay there. If you are unable to maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA over the course of a semester, you will be placed on academic probation. Failure to raise your GPA to above a 2.0 within the time frame that your school provides will lead to the termination of your study abroad. You will be notified that you will have to leave the U.S. within a designated period.
On the other hand, maintaining a high GPA can open opportunities for you during your study abroad and beyond. Your GPA is a testament to your work ethic and inspires trust in your ability to lead the next generation. With high scores, you can apply to and receive a number of performance-based scholarships, position yourself to further your studies, find quality internships, or gain the experiences necessary to make a seamless transition into post-graduate life.
How do I raise my GPA?
Raising your GPA requires earning consistently better grades than your current average. Here are a few strategies you can use to do that:
Retake old classes: Your GPA is more than likely being weighed down by classes that you performed poorly in. Certain colleges and universities will allow you to retake credits, giving you the opportunity to turn a bad grade into a good one.
Build a better schedule: Don’t take all of your required, challenging classes at once. You have the ability to make your own schedule, so build in a healthy mix of hard classes with easier ones.
Get organized: Between school, work, and extracurricular activities, being a student can take up a lot of your time. As stressful as a packed schedule can be, it is possible to succeed if you have the right strategy.
Speak with your teachers: Struggling to understand the material? Have a reason you didn’t perform to the best of your abilities? Teachers want you to succeed, and they’ll work with you to find a solution to your problems.
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