How American Universities Calculate the GPA

Baylor students socialising outside campus

US universities use a grading scale to calculate a student's GPA. Students earn their grades through their overall performance during the entire academic year. Read on to see how the grading scale is used to calculate a GPA.

When studying in the USA, acronyms become a very important part of your life. An acronym is a word typically formed from the first letters in a set phrase or group of words. Many of the acronyms you will hear or read will be specific to your university (like COB for College of Business), but one acronym is understood wherever you study: GPA.

GPA is an acronym for Grade Point Average. This is a number calculated from the grades you earn when studying at a US university. When you study at a US university, your GPA is on a scale from 0.0 to 4.0, with 4.0 being the highest your GPA can be. GPA is very important in US universities. Students must keep a certain level of GPA to continue studying in the university; some scholarships require a certain level of GPA to be maintained; and some majors require a minimum GPA before a student continues studying in that program.

This chart shows you how much each letter grade is worth in number of points to GPA:

A = 90-100%4
B = 80-89%3
C = 70-79%2
D = 60-69%1
F = < 60%0

To calculate a GPA, let’s say that a student is enrolled in five classes during one semester. Four of those classes are 3-hour classes and one class is a 4-hour class. (The term hour is sometimes used for credit; the number of hours or credits determines how much a class is worth.) This means the student is taking 16 hours for the semester (four 3-hr classes + one 4-hr class). At the end of the semester, this imaginary student earns the following grades:

Class 1: 3 hrsA
Class 2: 3 hrsB
Class 3: 3 hrsB
Class 4: 3 hrsC
Class 5: 4 hrsA

In order to determine the student’s GPA, the number of hours/credits each class counts for (3 hrs or 4 hrs), in this case are multiplied by the points earned from the class (A=4, etc.).

Class 1: 3 hrsA (4)12
Class 2: 3 hrsB (3)9
Class 3: 3 hrsB (3)9
Class 4: 3 hrsC (2)6
Class 5: 4 hrsB (3)12

Once the number of points per class is calculated (3x4, etc.), they are added together. The student earned a total of 48 points (12+9+9+6+12) for the semester. Remember, the student took 16 hours, so this results in the student’s GPA being 3.0 for the semester (48/16=3.0).