It’s not easy to understand everything there is to know about grade point averages, also known as GPAs. They can be even harder to calculate, especially when different schools use different scales. So, what exactly is a GPA? What are the different ways they can be calculated, and what is the highest GPA you can get?
What Is the Highest GPA Possible? What Is an Average GPA?
Students might hear the term “GPA” tossed around quite a lot during school, but they may not know what kind of GPA to aim for—or how certain classes affect their GPA scores. Early high school students also often don’t understand how their GPA will influence college admissions decisions. Let’s break that down.
A student’s GPA often plays a crucial role in the decision-making process of most universities and colleges. Majors and concentrations can have distinct GPA requirements, limiting which students can advance. These days, GPA may also be considered when a student is applying for their first job after college.
It’s critical for students and parents to know how GPA plays a part in an academic profile. You will want to make sure you understand what’s the highest GPA possible and how it’s determined.
It all begins with course selection in many high schools; different classes can influence GPA in different ways.
What’s the Highest GPA, and How Is It Calculated?
Yale University was the first school in the United States to apply the GPA system that is still used today. Beginning by tracking students’ grades in a book called the “Book of Average,” Yale valued scores according to a set procedure, and students were given number scores on a 4-point scale basis.
A grade point average summarizes a student’s overall academic performance so that a number represents it. This makes it easier for other parties to gauge how well students do in school without having to dive too deep into school-specific research.
Calculating a GPA
To calculate a GPA, each grade you achieve in every class you take during your high school career is assigned a number between one and four. These numbers for each class are added together, then averaged. To get an average of any set of numbers, add the numbers up and divide the sum by how many numbers you added together.
For example, suppose that you achieved an “A” in science, and As are given the number 4. You also received a “B” in math; Bs are assigned the numeric value of 3.
To find the average of the two classes, add 4+3, which is 7. Then, divide 7 by 2 (because of the two classes) to get 3.5. This 3.5 is the average — or in this case, the grade point average — of the two courses.
There are several exceptions to the numbers assigned for letter grades, but usually, the following numbers are used:
- A = 4.0
- B = 3.0
- C = 2.0
- D = 1.0
- F = 0.0
Some schools vary the numbers slightly, depending on whether a student receives a “minus” or “plus” along with their letter grade. Typically, in these cases, 0.3 is added to the number for a plus, and the same is subtracted for a minus.
So, what is the highest GPA you can get? The grade of A+ will still carry a weight (number) of 4.0, as 4.0 is the highest value given in normal circumstances with average classes.
How Some Students Achieve a GPA Higher than 4.0
If a 4.0 GPA is “perfect” and the highest possible, how do some students achieve a 4.3, 4.7, or even 5.0? What is the highest GPA, really?
Advanced Placement courses, otherwise known as AP courses, are what can make this possible. This is because many schools award one bonus point for each class, which means the point values for each letter grade all get bumped up for AP courses in this way:
- A = 5.0
- B = 4.0
- C = 3.0
- D = 2.0
- F = 0.0-1.0
When this extra point is added to each AP course a student takes, it is said that the school uses a “weighted” GPA system. So, what is the highest GPA at your school depends on whether it uses a weighted or unweighted grade point averaging system.
What Is the Average High School GPA?
The average grade point average of high school students in the U.S. in 2023 is 3.0, which equates to a “B.”
The average GPA of high school students in core classes, which include math, social studies, English, and science, is 2.79. In non-core courses, like foreign languages and the arts, the average GPA of high school students is 3.14. For physical education and courses that are electives, the average GPA is 3.39.
The average high school GPA for college admissions also displays a correlative pattern. The colleges and universities that have the lowest acceptance rates, which means they are the most difficult to get into, see average high school GPAs of incoming freshmen students within the range of 3.75-4.0 (unweighted). On the other hand, universities and colleges that are less competitive typically see average high school GPAs of incoming freshmen that are around the 2.5-3.0 range.
What’s the highest GPA for scholarships to colleges? Most awards are given to high school students who earn at least a 3.5 unweighted GPA.
Working hard and earning a perfect 4.0 GPA in high school is typically enough to make you eligible for admission to most colleges and universities. However, it’s important to note that GPA is not the only factor schools use to make their admissions decisions.
What Is the Highest GPA You Can Get in College?
For context, the average grade point average of students across all colleges and universities in the U.S. — from two-year universities to graduate schools — is 2.70. The average GPA for students who attend four-year universities is about 3.15.
The top 10 colleges and universities in the United States that have the highest average GPAs are as follows:
- Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH: 3.54
- Northeastern University in Boston, MA: 3.55
- Duke University in Durham, NC: 3.56
- Baylor University in Waco, TX: 3.56
- Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN: 3.57
- Columbia University in New York, NY: 3.59
- Yale University in New Haven, CT: 3.62
- Harvard University in Cambridge, MA: 3.64
- Stanford University in Stanford, CA: 3.66
- Brown University in Providence, RI: 3.71
If you’re planning on attending college, it’s important for you to know what the average grade point averages of students at different schools are. This will help you understand the “competition” for admissions and what kind of students a school you’re interested in is looking for. It’s definitely possible to earn a high GPA in college, but a 4.0 is definitely above and beyond the call of duty. After all, you want to challenge yourself, as well!
How to Improve Your GPA in High School
If your grade point average isn’t what you want it to be, you can bring it up to a better level. If you’re beginning this journey early in your high school career, it will be easier to begin with a high GPA and maintain it than it would be to start low and try to bring it up through your four years.
Regardless of where you are in your high school career, there are ways you can improve your GPA.
The most important thing you can do to help yourself is to be honest. If you’re struggling in any of your classes, get help right away, whether it’s from a classmate, study group, teacher, or tutor.
Take Classes You Can Succeed In
It’s one thing to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses for that weighted GPA boost, but if those classes are too difficult for you and your grades suffer, it won’t help your grade point average.
Make sure to take a few classes you know you can succeed in to help increase your GPA. If you’re not sure you can achieve an A or a B in those classes, it’s best to take the regular versions. Don’t take the entire slate just because you can.
Focus on Standardized Test Scores
If you’re an upperclassman, you can still seek out help with courses you’re struggling with in order to increase your overall GPA. However, to improve your success with college admissions once you graduate from high school, your best bet is to focus on other areas that college admissions counselors take into consideration.
For example, you can work hard to achieve high SAT or ACT scores. Your test scores may be particularly important because they and your GPA are factored into an Academic Index (AI).
This index is a numerical representation of your academic aptitude. Some colleges and universities do use AI as a screening tool for admissions. Pay attention to boosting your test scores to ensure that doesn’t happen to you. It makes sense to say that if you can’t bring up the GPA part of that Academic Index, the next best thing is to do what you can to bring up the test score part of it.
You can also focus on your extracurricular activities, community service and volunteering, and your job, if those scenarios apply to you.
Is Your GPA Where You Want It to Be for Your Goals?
Your GPA is one of the first things colleges will notice about your academic record. Make sure it accurately reflects your goals and abilities. It’s a good idea to keep track of your GPA throughout high school to gauge your chances of getting into the college of your dreams once you graduate!