What is GPA?
Grade point average, or GPA, is a numeric average of all grades achieved in classes at a given school. The purpose of GPA is to provide a barometer as to overall performance of a student in his or her classes, as well as create a system that allows for comparisons between students, and a class ranking system. In a class rank system, students are ordered and assigned a numerical rank against their peers based on their GPA, starting with number 1 for the student with the highest GPA. The student with the highest GPA is often given the title of valedictorian upon graduation, and students with GPAs close to the valedictorian may receive the title of salutatorian.
Since most students receive grades on a letter-based system, ranging from A+ for near perfect performance, to F for inadequate performance, each grade must be converted into a number to create an accurate average. (Dubbing someone a "B student" is not as accurate as calculating a precise decimal GPA). Each letter grade is assigned a numeric value, which are then added together and divided by the total number of classes to calculate GPA. Generally an A=4.0, a B=3.0, a C=2.0 and a D=1.0. An F is worth zero grade points and pluses and minuses are calculated as fractions of the whole numbers. For example a B+ is often translated as 3.33 grade points, and an A- is 3.67. Each school's system will vary slightly--some schools will allow A pluses to count as a 4.33, while others may not include pluses or minuses at all. In general, a 4.0 is considered a perfect average, especially in college, where A pluses are rare.
The Importance of GPA
Since the letter grade is final indicator of performance in a class, and the GPA is a cumulative measure of letter grades, extreme importance is placed upon GPA in continuing education. Colleges and universities receive thousands of applications, so they use GPA as an objective way to narrow their applicant pool to candidates that are, on average, better students, and more likely to succeed. The only numeric value that may play a larger role in acceptance to certain colleges universities and graduate programs are standardized test scores. An extremely high standardized test score will sometimes allow students with GPAs that are normally too low for a given school to be accepted. Every school and graduate program is different in its expectations and requirements. For many colleges and universities, a great GPA may almost guarantee admission. On the other hand, a prospective law student with a near perfect LSAT score and a mediocre GPA is far more likely to get into good schools than a student with a high GPA and mediocre LSAT score.
Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.