Personal success throughout school is certainly important, as is working hard and doing one’s best. However, how an individual student ranks in comparison to other students is an important factor in college and graduate school acceptance and job placement. The admission process is complex and multi-faceted, which is why it is important for students to understand how to calculate Grade Point Average, rankings and percentiles. It is also important to understand what these calculations mean and how they can positively and negatively affect a student’s prospects.
A student’s Grade Point Average (GPA) is a mathematical formula of the grades earned for each course taken. In its simplest form, GPA is calculated by adding up the value of each grade earned (A= 4, B= 3, C= 2, D= 1, F= 0) and dividing it by the number of credits taken. For example, if a student completed four 3-hour classes and earned three As and one B, the GPA would be calculated: 15 x 3 = 45/12 = 3.75
However, a weighted GPA, which takes into account the amount of credit earned for the course, adds an additional step. A weighted formula can be calculated by multiplying the grade earned (A= 4, B= 3, C= 2, D= 1, F= 0) by the credits of the course, divided by total credits: (grade x credit) / credit = GPA. This formula is important especially for advanced placement courses or honors which may count for more credit than a traditional course. For example, each grade earned would be multiplied by the credit value of the course. To expand on the example above, if a student completed two 3-hour classes and two 4-hour classes earned two As and two Bs respectively, the GPA would be calculated: 8 x 3 = 24; 6 x 4 = 24; 48/14 = 3.43.
Calculating Class Rankings and Percentiles
It is important to understand how to calculate GPA because this is the mathematical formula used to determine class ranking. Essentially, the higher the GPA, the higher the ranking. A student’s ranking indicates position among peers within the same class. This information may be obtained through transcripts or school counselors.
As with GPA, percentile is determined through a mathematical calculation. Once you determine your rank, you can calculate to find the percentile. When a student’s percentile is determined, that number indicates how many students they are ranked above.
For example, if a student is ranked 15th out of 250 total students, percentile would be determined by: (1-[15/250]) x 100 = 94th percentile. In this case, this student is performing better than 94 percent of the class and is ranked in the top 10 percent of the class.
Calculating the Importance
Admission requirements may vary from school to school, so it is important to understand what each is looking for from applicants. For some, being in the top 10 percent means acceptance and possibly scholarships. Others may be more flexible with percentiles but focus more on course load difficulty.
While the GPA and percentile is a straightforward formula, it is important to understand that it is not always as simple as a number. There are certain benefits to being ranked top of the class, however, some schools and universities are looking beyond just the numbers. Grades are certainly important but so is service, extracurricular activities, performance on standardized tests and talent. Importance is also placed on communication skills which may include interviews or written essays. In many cases, an individual’s skills, activities and academics are assessed holistically as admissions offices are looking for overall, well-rounded students.
Melanie Forstall has a doctorate in education and has worked in the field of education for over 20 years. She has been a teacher, grant writer, program director, and higher education instructor. She is a freelance writer specializing in education, and education related content. She writes for We Are Teachers, School Leaders Now, Classroom, Pocket Sense, local parenting magazines, and other professional academic outlets. Additionally, she has co-authored book chapters specializing in providing services for students with disabilities.