What Is the Average College GPA?

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Grade point average, or GPA, is a single number that represents the average of every letter grade you earn in college. GPA is calculated by converting letter grades to a standard grade-point scale, which ranges from 0 to 4.0. 

Every university treats GPA a little differently.  What is considered a high GPA at one college might be considered average at another. If you're wondering how your GPA compares, read on to learn which colleges and majors have the highest and lowest average GPAs.

How Is GPA Calculated in College?

Unlike most high school grading scales, college grades are not weighted according to the difficulty level of individual courses. Rather, colleges and universities use a standard conversion chart to convert letter grades to grade-point numbers, then add “weight” based on the credit hours associated with each course. The following chart represents a typical letter grade/GPA conversion system:

Letter GradeGPA
A+/A4.00
A-3.67
B+3.33
B3.00
B-2.67
C+2.33
C2.00
C-1.67
D+1.33
D1.00
D-0.67
F0.00

 

To calculate your GPA for one semester, first convert each of your letter grades from that semester to the corresponding grade-point values (between 0 and 4.0), then add them up. Next, add up the number of credits you earned in each course that semester. Finally, divide the total number of grade points by the total number of course credits.

This calculation results in a single number – your GPA – that represents your academic standing in a given semester.

To find your GPA over a longer period of time, just add more grades and course credits into the mix.

Keep in mind that the letter grade/grade-point conversion varies slightly across institutions. For example, some schools round grade-point numbers to a single decimal place. Others distinguish between the grade-point value of an A+ and an A, such as Columbia, where an A+ is worth 4.3 grade points.

Check your university’s grading policies for specific details about calculating your own GPA, then try crunching the numbers yourself using an online GPA calculator.

Average College GPA by Major

Wondering how your GPA stacks up against other students in your major? The most comprehensive study on average GPA by major comes from Kevin Rask, a professor at Wake Forest University, who examined GPA at an unnamed liberal arts college in the northeast.

While Rask’s findings only reflect the academic performance of students at a single university, his research provides a granular GPA breakdown not often shared by individual institutions.

5 Majors with the Lowest Grade Point Averages

Chemistry                    2.78
Math2.90
Economics2.95
Psychology2.78
Biology3.02

 

5 Majors with the Highest Grade Point Averages

Education                    3.36
Language3.34
English3.33
Music3.30
Religion3.22

 

These numbers are influenced by a host of university-specific factors. After all, every college and university has its own most- and least-challenging courses and departments.

However, Rask’s findings align with a common refrain on many U.S. college campuses: STEM majors, on average, tend to maintain lower GPAs than humanities and social science majors.

One potential explanation for this trend is the grading process itself. STEM courses employ formulaic grading policies based on test and quiz scores. Answers are either right or wrong. In humanities and social science courses, on the other hand, grades are based primarily on essays and other writing projects. These open-ended assignments, graded subjectively, are generally kinder to students’ GPAs.

Average College GPA by School Type

While many schools do not publish GPA-related statistics, research by Dr. Stuart Rojstaczer provides insight into average GPAs from a sampling of universities across the U.S. The following data, gathered by Rojstaczer in his studies on grade inflation, reflect average GPAs across a variety of institutions over the last decade.

Ivy League Universities

Harvard University3.65
Yale University3.51
Princeton University3.39
University of Pennsylvania                             3.44
Columbia University3.45
Cornell University3.36
Dartmouth University3.46
Brown University3.63

 

Liberal Arts Colleges

Vassar College3.53
Macalester College3.40
Columbia College Chicago                              3.22
Reed College3.20
Kenyon College3.43
Wellesley College3.37
St. Olaf College3.42
Middlebury College3.53

 

Large Public Universities

University of Florida3.35
Ohio State University3.17
University of Michigan 3.37
University of California – Berkeley3.29
Pennsylvania State University3.12
University of Alaska – Anchorage2.93
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill3.23
University of Virginia3.32

 

Over the last 30 years, the average college GPA has risen at every type of college. However, private schools have seen a greater increase than public schools, which Rojstaczer suggests is the result of rising tuition costs and high-achieving students pressuring professors to give high grades.

Individual university grading policies can dramatically affect students’ GPAs. For example, until 2014, Princeton University had a policy of “grade deflation,” which mandated that, in a given class, a maximum of only 35% of students could receive A grades. At other universities, such as Harvard, an A is the most commonly awarded grade on campus, resulting in higher average undergraduate GPAs and a reputation for grade inflation

Additional factors, such as student preparedness for college-level work and the influence of graduate teaching assistants in the grading process, also influence each university’s average GPA.

Why Is My GPA Important?

As an underclassman, you may encounter academic programs or majors that only accept students who meet a minimum GPA requirement.

Merit scholarships often have similar GPA cut-offs. Once you’ve gained entry into a selective academic program or earned a merit scholarship, you will likely have to maintain a certain GPA in order to remain in good standing.

A high GPA comes with additional benefits. Academic honor societies like Phi Beta Kappa distribute invitations based on GPA, and on graduation day, Latin honors are awarded to seniors with the highest overall GPAs. On the other hand, a low GPA puts you at risk of academic probation, which can potentially lead to expulsion.

Your college GPA is a long-lasting measure of your academic performance in college.  Many graduate programs have stringent GPA requirements, and employers often consider GPA when evaluating potential hires. Your GPA will remain significant even after graduation day, so it’s important to start keeping track of the number early in your college career.

What Is a "Good GPA"?

The minimum GPA required for admission to most graduate programs is between 3.0 and 3.5, so many students aim for a GPA of 3.0 or above. When assessing the strength of your own GPA, you should consider the influence of grade inflation or deflation at your school as well as the rigor of your chosen major.  

Ultimately, your GPA represents your personal academic experience. The best and most valuable way to determine how well you’re doing is to check your course grades regularly and meet with professors to discuss your performance. Commit to improving your grades every semester and you’ll soon send your GPA on an upward trajectory.

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Valdes, Olivia. "What Is the Average College GPA?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 19, 2018, thoughtco.com/average-college-gpa-4163565. Valdes, Olivia. (2018, April 19). What Is the Average College GPA? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/average-college-gpa-4163565 Valdes, Olivia. "What Is the Average College GPA?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/average-college-gpa-4163565 (accessed May 24, 2018).