In a lot of ways your GPA is just a number, but you cannot deny that it is a very important one. The higher your GPA, the higher your chance of getting into the graduate or professional school of your choice. And let’s not forget that unlike individual grades, your GPA is permanent on your transcript.
To calculate your GPA you simply multiply the GPA equivalent of the letter grade you received in a class by the number of units that class is worth. (First determine what each letter grade is worth on your university’s GPA scale. This may differ from school to school, but an A+ will always be equivalent to a 4.0.) Do this for each of your classes and then sum up the totals.
Example: An A at my college is a 4.0 and a B+ is a 3.3. Let’s say I took only two classes this quarter and these were the respective grades that I received in them. My first class, with the A, was a 4 unit class and my second class, with the B+, was a 3 unit class. My equation would then be 4.0(4) + 3.3(3) = 25.9. Finally, I would divide the sum by the total number of units I took in the quarter, which in this case is 7. So my GPA for this quarter is a 3.7.
From this example, you can see that a class that is worth more units affects your GPA more. Vice versa, a one unit class would affect your GPA less. GPA tricks and boosters aside, the best route would be to just work hard in the classes you are currently in to earn a high GPA from the start. Any upper division student will tell you that raising a low GPA is much harder than maintaining a high one.
My other piece of advice is not to despair over the particularly low GPA you earned in one semester/quarter. GPA is calculated cumulatively and other high GPA’s will eventually bring your overall GPA up. The best thing to do is to work hard every semester/quarter and to aim for the highest GPA possible and the most balanced overall transcript.
If you are applying to medical schools, keep in mind that the admission committees will calculate your science GPA separately from your overall cumulative GPA and that your science GPA should be just as high as your overall GPA if not higher. These separate GPA calculations demonstrate your ability in specific subjects and many professional or graduate schools will do this. Translation: your grades in certain classes really are more important than others in the grand scheme of things. Prioritize wisely.
A Final Note: A high GPA earned from simple rote memorization may get you into your dream school but when it comes down to it, it may not make you the best candidate for a job. After all, the pressure of getting good grades sometimes makes you forget why you’re in college in the first place: to learn.
What I am trying to say is that in no way does your GPA define your intelligence or potential. The grading system is inevitably flawed, for no one test can determine if you really are good enough to be a doctor or lawyer. Unfortunately, test scores are the only way we can be compared to other potential applicants, so we must continue to try our best while remembering to enjoy the journey along the way.
Happy New Year everyone and may 2012 be a great one indeed!
Photo courtesy of Alan Levine via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).