By Andrew Otis
, last updated January 10, 2012

GPA stands for Grade Point Average. It is an average of the grades you get over your total credit hours put on a scale from 0 to 4. Four is the highest GPA and 0 is the lowest. It is the weighted average of your individual class grade points over the number of credits you have taken.

GPA = Total Grades/Total Credit Hours.

To calculate your GPA you need to know how much your letter grades are worth. Each letter grade is separated by one third of a point. That's .33 GPA points. Generally, an “A” in a course is a 4. An “A-” is a 3.67, sometimes rounded to 3.7 for GPA calculations. A “B+” is a 3.33, sometimes rounded to 3.3 for GPA calculations. A “B” is a 3.0 and so on down to a “D-” which is a .67 an then F which is a 0 and thus, a failing grade.

Each course you take has a credit value. Most college courses at a university that works on a semester schedule count as four credits each. If you have a lab associated with your class, it will generally be considered an extra credit. Many science and engineering courses have labs with along with the normal class time. Some courses, such as intensive foreign language courses require extra work and can be up to about 6 credits.

Some colleges assign credits differently to their courses. Many colleges have each course counting as three credits. Some colleges have each course counting as only one credit. Even other colleges, like Reed College in Portland, Oregon, do not even assign their students grades, which can make calculating GPA a mission impossible.

Pass/Fail courses are not factored into a student's GPA. In addition, Incompletes and Withdrawals do not receive grade points and do not have an effect on the GPA.

For this example, we will calculate a sample GPA for one semester. Let's say in this semester you took 4 courses and a lab. In the first course which was worth four credits you got an A. In the second course which you took, which was also four credits, you got a B- and a B in the lab associated with it. You also took a six credit course in which you got a C+, and a two credit course that you got an A- in.

Now, translate the letter grades into grade points. Put all together, in this semester, you got a 4.0 for four credits, a 2.67 for four credits, a 3.0 for one credit, a 2.33 for six credits, and 3.67 for two credits. To find your GPA from here you must find your total grade points. This is the credit hours multiplied by the numerical equivalent of the letter grade you got on a 0-4 scale.

That's: 2.67*4 + 4*4 + 3*1 + 2.33*6 + 3.67*2. You should get a sum of 51 grade points.

Now you have to divide the number of grade points by the number of credit hours. The number of credit hours simply means the number you would have gotten if you got an A in each course.

Your credit hours for this semester are: 4 + 4 + 1 + 6 + 2. You should get a total credit hour count of 17.

Now, to find your GPA all you have to do is put your grade points over your total credit hours. That's 51 / 17. Your GPA should be exactly 3.0, a straight B average.

If you study abroad, chances are that the University you study abroad at will not use the American GPA. The British system is a point scale from 0 to 100. Grade inflation is not the same as in the United States. A 75 or above on the 100 point scale is usually equated to an American A, while a 70 to 75 is considered a B+. A 60 to 69 is considered a B and so on. Make sure you talk to your study abroad department and registrar for help on how your grades will transfer from abroad. It is possible that your grades may transfer on your transcript but that they will not count towards your GPA.

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