What Is a Good GPA and How Is It Calculated?

21/07/202424 minute read
What Is a Good GPA and How Is It Calculated?

Your Grade Point Average (GPA) is one of the first criteria US college admissions officers will use to determine the strength of your candidacy. But what exactly is a GPA, and what makes a GPA “good”?

In this blog, we’ll explore what GPA is, what makes a good GPA, how to calculate it, and how to get the best GPA possible.

What Is GPA and How Is It Calculated?

A high school Grade Point Average (GPA) is a score, generally on a 4-point scale, that reflects your academic performance in high school.

In short, it's calculated by combining your total grades and dividing them by your credit hours.

Since academics can account for up to 40% of your application, depending on which universities you apply to, good grades are critical — especially at the most competitive schools. And no academic component is more important than your high school GPA.

Universities may track your GPA back as far as the age of 14, so it’s important to start your first year of high school with solid grades and continuously work to strengthen them. Universities also look for a steady improvement over the years and evidence that you’ve consistently worked hard to get top marks!

Keep in mind: there are two different types of GPA: weighted and unweighted. Weighted GPA accounts for the difficulty of the course, assigning additional grade points for AP or honors classes, for example, while unweighted GPAs don't.

Top universities might consider both unweighted and weighted GPAs, with some having their own way to calculate it.

What Is Considered a Good GPA for Top Universities?

If you’re aiming for a top university such as one in the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, or others of the same caliber, an unweighted GPA of at least 3.8 is considered a good GPA.

Let's take a look at the average GPA of admitted students at different top universities. Not all universities report this information, so we've selected high-ranking universities that submitted this information in their Common Data Sets.

Average GPA of Admitted Students at Top Universities
UniversityAverage GPA of Admitted Students
Stanford University 3.9
University of Chicago4.32 (weighted)
Vanderbilt University3.90
University of Southern California3.87
Johns Hopkins University3.93
University of California, Berkeley3.89
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor3.90
Washington University at St. Louis4.22 (weighted)
Average (unweighted)3.89

Source: Each university's most recently released CDS as of Jul 2024

When reporting data in the their Common Data Sets, universities don't necessarily specify whether the average GPA of accepted students is weighted or unweighted.

With that said, we can see here that both Washington University and the University of Chicago report weighted GPAs on a 5.0 scale, while the rest of these universities likely report the GPAs on a 4.0 scale on their Common Data Sets.

Keep in mind that universities might consider both your weighted and unweighted GPAs - it's a good idea to take AP or honors classes to boost your weighted GPA.

What Is a Good GPA For The Ivy League?

Based on the average GPA of admitted students, a good GPA for the Ivy League is at least 3.7 on a 4.0 scale.

The academic expectations of Ivy League schools and other top universities are well above average; in fact, most Ivy League students graduate high school with an unweighted GPA above 4.0!

Average GPA of Accepted Students at Top Schools
UniversityAverage GPA of Accepted Student (Class of 2027)
Princeton University3.7-4.0
Harvard University4.18 (weighted)
Columbia University3.7-4.0
Yale University3.7-4.0
Cornell University3.5-4.0
University of Pennsylvania3.7-4.0
Brown University3.6-4.0
Dartmouth College3.6-4.0

Source: Collected data in Crimson's ebook "Breaking Down The Ivy League" - Updated June 2023

Based on this data, we can see that the majority of Ivy League schools have an average GPA of just under 4.0 for accepted students. The lower end of this average is around 3.7, while the higher end if 4.0. A GPA under 3.7 is unlikely to impress admissions officers!

While Harvard did not report the unweighted average GPA of its admitted students, its most recent Common Data Set for academic year 2023-2024 shows that around 74% of admitted students had a GPA of 4.0.

Calculating Your GPA

The simplest way to calculate your GPA is to use our GPA calculator. All you'll need to do is fill in your grades and credit hours and our calculator does the rest!

If you're interested in finding out how to calculate your own GPA, follow these steps:

1. Convert Your Letter Grades to Numbers

First, assign numerical values to each letter grade. This might change depending on the school, but the table below shows you how each letter grade is converted to a grade.

If your school uses a different scale, adjust accordingly!

GPA Conversion Chart

Keep in mind that if your calculating weighted GPA, AP or honors classes will be worth more points (usually about 0.5 - 1 additional points).

2. Find Your Grade Points

For each course you've taken, multiply the number value of your grade by the number of credit hours assigned to that course.


Course 1: 3.0 (grade) x 3 (credit hours) = 9.0 grade points

Course 2: 3.7 (grade) x 4 (credit hours) = 14.8 grade points

Course 3: 3.3 (grade) x 3 (credit hours) = 9.9 grade points

3. Add Your Total Grade Points:

Sum up all the grade points you have calculated for each course.

Example: Total grade points = 9.0 + 14.8 + 9.9 = 33.7

4. Add Your Total Credit Hours

Sum up all the credit hours for the courses you have taken.

Example: Total credit hours = 3 + 4 + 3 = 10

5. Divide Your Total Grade Points by Your Total Credit Hours:

Finally, divide the total grade points by the total credit hours. This calculation gives you your GPA.


Total grade points ÷ Total credit hours = 33.7 ÷ 10 = 3.37 GPA

Blog Banner
Blog Banner

How to Improve Your GPA?

Top universities don’t necessarily expect you to have good grades from the beginning. They want to see growth ambition and drive. The simple answer is to do well in school and ace all your exams, but this is often difficult for some students.

There are some steps you can take to improve your GPA. Here's a study plan to help you improve your GPA in high school:

Embrace a Growth Mindset

Developing a growth mindset starts with redefining failure as an opportunity for growth. When faced with low grades, seek feedback and adjust your approach for improvement.

Recognize that effort, not just innate ability, drives success. Dedicate consistent study time and leverage feedback to refine your strategies.

Master Time Management

Effective time management begins with setting clear goals and understanding your peak productivity periods.

Establish a routine that balances study, relaxation, and other activities to reduce decision fatigue and maximize efficiency.

Adopt Effective Study Techniques

Move beyond passive learning. Use study techniques such as spaced repetition to reinforce material over time, rather than cramming. Engage actively with study groups and seek help from teachers and peers to deepen understanding.

Experiment with note-taking methods like Cornell or Mind Mapping to organize and review information effectively. Regularly revise notes and supplement with visuals to aid retention.

Seek Support

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Utilize professors' office hours and join study groups to gain different perspectives and enhance learning.

Understand Your Course Syllabus

Familiarize yourself with the course syllabus to align your efforts with course expectations. Clarify any uncertainties with your professor to stay on track throughout the semester.

Prioritize Your Well-being

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including sufficient sleep and stress management techniques like mindfulness, supports academic performance. Balance study with hobbies and social activities to stay motivated.

Set Realistic Goals

Set achievable goals based on self-assessment and break them down into manageable steps. Track your progress to stay motivated and focused on continuous improvement.

Final Thoughts

If your sights are set on the Ivy League or any top university, challenge yourself with your course choices. Universities aren't looking for perfection — they're looking for students who challenged themselves academically and will continue to do so after high school.

If you're looking to maximize your chances of getting the perfect grade, Crimson offers online tutoring. Some of the world’s best teachers and tutors work with us to help students get good grades and reach their university admission goals.

We offer three tutoring programs in an easy-to-order offering. They include tutoring in:

  • AP (Advanced Placement) & IB (International Baccalaureate)
  • SAT and ACT
  • Bespoke Curriculum/Subject Tutoring

What Makes Crimson Different

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the highest GPA a student can have?

If you calculate your GPA on a 4.0 scale, you may have concluded that the highest GPA you can achieve is a 4.0. This suggests that you have gotten all A’s in all of your classes throughout high school.

Learn more about weighted vs. unweighted GPAs here.

What GPA is summa cum laude?

A GPA of 3.75 or higher out of 4.0 is considered summa cum laude. Magna cum laude is 3.66 or higher and cum laude is 3.5 or higher.

What is a cumulative GPA?

Your cumulative GPA is the score typically used for college applications or entering the workforce. It's an average of averages, combining all your semester GPAs into a single, overall GPA.

Is 3.5 a good GPA?

While 3.5 is not a bad GPA, you're unlikely to stand out as an applicant. Keep the average GPAs mentioned above in mind. Many admitted students have a GPA of around 3.5, but they're the exception, not the norm.

Is 3.0 a good GPA?

A 3.0 GPA is usually low for top universities. Try to bolster you application with excellent extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, and perfect other aspects of your application to impress admissions officers.