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What Is a GPA and Why Is It So Important?

When I started college, I knew that a Grade Point Average (GPA) was earned through completing college coursework and, like many of you, I worked hard in classes to earn a good grade. What I didn’t understand completely was how GPAs are calculated and how much of an impact your GPA can have on your academic plans.

Your GPA is a way of quickly understanding how well you have done, overall, in the classes you’ve completed at your college or university. It’s calculated using two numbers:

  1. A number that is assigned to the grade you earn. At most colleges in the United States, a grade of A = 4 points, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, and F = 0 points. You can also earn an A- = 3.66, B+ = 3.33, B - = 2.667, C+ = 2.333, C- = 1.667, and a D+ = 1.333. This is called a 4-point scale because the maximum you can earn for a grade is 4 points.
  2. The number of credits assigned to the course you’ve taken.

To calculate your GPA, take the number of credits for the course multiplied by the points for the grade you earned in that course, and divide that by the number of credits for the course. Let’s say that you rocked a writing course and you earned an A. If it was a 3-credit class, your GPA would look like this:

GPA equals 3 credits times 4.0, the number assigned to your grade, divided by 3 credits equals 12 divided by 3 equals 4.0


Here’s how you would do the calculation for two courses. Maybe you also took a Spanish course worth 5 credits, and you ended that class with a C+ (2.33). Now your GPA calculation would look like this:

GPA equals 3 times 4.0 plus 5 times 2.333 divided by 3 plus 5 equals 23.665 divided by 8 equals 2.958


Each term that you earn U of M credits, they will be included in cumulative U of M GPA. As you can see, your GPA can drop or go up pretty quickly with each class, especially if that class is worth a lot of credits.

Students in front of chalkboard

You may be asking yourself, why does this matter? The grades that you earn now in the University of Minnesota courses you take through College in the Schools (CIS) become a permanent part of your U of M transcript. If you attend the U of M after high school, your grades in the courses taken through CIS will continue to be included in the calculation of your U of M GPA. (If you attend a different college or university, the grades on your U of M transcript may or may not affect your GPA at your new college: each institution sets its own policies regarding transfer credits.)  

Some employers also consider GPA—for example, if you are applying for a teaching position, you may be asked to provide copies of your college transcripts. Some scholarships depend on having or maintaining a high GPA. Graduate school programs also take GPA into consideration for admittance, so it’s important to keep track of it, but don’t obsess about it. Remember, when a C is awarded at the U of M to a student, it “represents achievement that meets the course requirements in every respect.” 

So what should you do if you are struggling in a U of M class and are worried about your GPA? Stay tuned—my next blog will talk about top tips for a successful semester.

Stephanie Davison
College in the Schools, U of M Twin Cities Campus

Read more First-Gen Voices blog posts.