What is a 4.0 GPA? Importance of Your GPA for College AdmissionHow Your GPA is CalculatedHow to Get a 4.0 GPAFAQs
Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University
A 4.0 GPA is usually the best GPA you can earn in high school, and it gives you the best opportunities for scholarships and college admissions. You may be wondering how to get a 4.0 GPA because earning this is no walk in the park. Balancing a multitude of classes, along with various extracurricular activities, may make it seem like earning a 4.0 GPA is impossible.
Luckily, it’s not impossible! You are capable of earning a 4.0 GPA, and here’s how you can do it.
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What Is a 4.0 GPA?
GPA stands for “grade point average.” In high school, they are either weighted or unweighted. But, what does “grade point average” actually mean?
A GPA assigns numbers to letter grades to allow for a quantitative, comprehensive look at a student’s academic performance. A 4.0 GPA (unweighted) indicates that you have gotten straight A’s throughout high school. For an explanation of how numbers are assigned to grades, see the chart below.
While some schools will assign a 4.3 to an A+ instead of a 4.0, that is not common. There will also be some variation from school to school, but generally, a 4.0 GPA indicates straight A’s through all four years of high school.
Importance of Your GPA for College Admission
On practically every college application, you will need to include your high school GPA.
Though your entire application will be essential, and colleges will consider every piece, your GPA is the most straightforward indicator of your academic success in high school and your preparedness for college. A high GPA shows that you have good study habits, which is a good sign of preparing for college.
According to CollegeBoard, “Colleges look at a student’s GPA to get an idea of how that student has performed academically across all courses and how prepared they are for college-level coursework.”
Plus, because there are so many subjective pieces in a college application package (essays, recommendations, etc.), straightforward components such as your GPA will often be the first sign of your academic competence as colleges look at your application.
Of course, colleges and universities will consider every part of your application, and many colleges have lower GPA requirements (and some have none at all). However, if you hope to get into a top school or an Ivy League school, your GPA will definitely matter.
According to Yale, “The high school transcript is almost always the most important document in a student’s application.”
Harvard says, “There is no single academic path we expect all students to follow, but the strongest applicants take the most rigorous secondary school curricula available to them. We do seek students who achieve at a high level, and most admitted students rank in the top 10-15% of their graduating classes.”
As you can see from these top colleges, your GPA is a critical part of your college applications.
How Your GPA is Calculated
As we have covered before, GPA stands for “grade point average.” You earn a letter grade for each class you take in high school. A number is assigned to each letter grade when your GPA is calculated, as shown in the chart above. Each number is added together, and then the total is divided by the number of classes you have taken.
For example, let’s say you took a total of twelve classes in your freshman year of high school and earned an A in each class. So, each A is assigned a 4.0 numerical value. Here’s how your GPA would be calculated:
12 classes * 4.0 = 48.0
48.0 is the total numeric value of all the classes you took freshman year. Next, you would average that number out by dividing it by the total number of classes you took:
48.0 / 12 = 4.0 GPA
And there you have it: a 4.0 GPA.
However, this is not the only way to calculate GPA. In this example, the GPA is unweighted, which is the most common way of calculating GPA.
Discussing a weighted GPA vs. an unweighted GPA has nothing to do with pounds or kilograms. When your GPA is unweighted, all classes are worth the same amount. If your GPA is weighted, then certain classes will have a greater impact on your GPA—usually more rigorous ones.
Typically, weighted GPAs will go up to 5.0 instead of 4.0. Honors and AP classes will usually assign a 5.0 instead of a 4.0 to an A or A+ letter grade. This means that you could earn an A- and still achieve a 4.0 GPA on a weighted scale if you earn an A or A+ in a class that is weighted more heavily.
However, colleges usually will not look at weighted and unweighted GPAs in the same way. A 4.0 on a weighted scale means something very different than a 4.0 on an unweighted scale. If you earn a 4.0 on a weighted scale, it could mean that you are earning straight A’s in the lowest-level classes, or it could mean you’re earning B’s in AP or honors-level courses.
For more details on how numeric values are assigned to grades when calculating a weighted GPA, see the chart below:
How to Get a 4.0 GPA
Earning a 4.0 GPA is no easy feat. To achieve this, it is important to have the right attitude and mindset. If you want to get a 4.0 GPA for the sake of the number, then you are probably going to have a difficult time achieving this goal, even if you take the easiest classes possible.
Additionally, though a 4.0 GPA always looks good, it is far less impressive to college admissions officers when you have a perfect GPA with no challenging courses on your transcript.
When setting a goal to earn a 4.0 GPA, try to see it as a holistic representation of your high school experience, rather than just a number that determines whether you get accepted into your dream college or not.
You want to get the most out of your courses, both in the actual course content and in developing your academic habits. Every class that you take in high school is an opportunity to build a foundation of knowledge for college, and also to determine what study tactics and habits work for you.
Essentially, each class is an opportunity for growth. One of the best ways to earn a 4.0 GPA is to approach high school with this attitude and mindset because it allows you to see your own potential and to discover what you are truly passionate about and capable of.
You also want to keep in mind that perfection is not a real goal because that will be impossible to achieve, and you will feel like a failure every time you do anything less than perfect. Making mistakes is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in high school!
The only time that mistakes are actually bad is when you believe they are a permanent, fixed representation of your worth or intelligence. Let’s say you get a C on a pop quiz. If you believe that this means you’re hopeless and that you’re never going to be good at that subject, then you probably will not end that course with a good grade.
However, if you see that quiz grade as an opportunity for growth, you are practically guaranteed to do better on the next one. You can see what course material you need to study more and use that grade as motivation to succeed on the next one and prove yourself, both to your teacher and yourself.
Attitude can seem like such a minor factor in grades, but it really can make or break your 4.0 GPA.
Another important aspect of earning a 4.0 GPA is strategically planning your coursework and subjects. If your high school offers them, do you want to take AP or honors classes? How many?
If you are able, taking AP or honors classes is a good idea because it will look good on your transcript and challenge you in a way that will give you an idea of what college may be like. However, taking AP classes just because they are AP may not benefit you very much.
According to The Princeton Review, “AP classes can boost your GPA and strengthen your college application. But the number of advanced courses you choose to take should depend on your academic interests and your schedule.”
While you should be well-rounded, you should also delve deeper into areas that you are interested in. If you prefer studying history, you should not neglect math, science or language arts courses; however, you do not have to take every available course in those areas and neglect your real interests. Top colleges are searching for unique, competent individuals with an exciting story, not just candidates who look “picture perfect” on paper.
One of the best methods of strategically planning your coursework in order to earn a 4.0 GPA is to envision where you want to be by the time you graduate high school. You know you want a 4.0, but you also want an impressive transcript.
How many AP courses do you want to have taken by the time you graduate? What do you want to have more knowledge about? Look at the courses you want to take, and figure out what the prerequisites are. From there, you can see which classes you need to take during your four years.
Using this strategy, you can build a plan for your high school career that will best enable you to earn a 4.0 GPA.
Once you have developed the right mindset and planned your courses, an important question arises: how do I actually ace my courses?
So, here are ten tips that will help you succeed in your classes.
1. Be Present
When it comes to acing your classes, it is vital to pay attention in class. Study habits and homework are important, but your class time is precious because it is limited. It is also your best chance to ask questions.
2. Ask for Help When You Need It
You have a support system, whether you know it or not! Your family and friends want you to succeed. Your teachers also want to succeed (though it may seem like they want the opposite, at times). If you are struggling with the material, do not hesitate to reach out to your teachers. You can also talk to your guidance counselor or any other teacher, and they will be willing to help you.
3. Develop a Routine
Both your body and brain enjoy habits and stability. It is crucial to find a rhythm for yourself. If you can do your homework most effectively and efficiently right after school, try and do that every day. Try to wake up and go to sleep around the same time every day. According to Northwestern Medicine, having a routine keeps your stress levels low and your efficiency high.
4. Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
It is essential to know what you are good at and be confident in those skills, but it is equally (if not more) important to know your weaknesses. These are not a fault in your character because everyone has weaknesses. Being aware of these weaknesses and working hard to overcome them will give you the best chance to achieve a 4.0 GPA.
If you know you struggle with writing essays, work with your writing teacher to strengthen that skill. If you struggle with recalling equations on math exams, talk to your math teacher about working on those equations outside of class.
5. Plan Your Time
This tip goes hand-in-hand with having a routine. By planning your time out, you won’t waste time wondering what you should work on or stressing out about everything you need to finish. Planning ahead allows you to navigate your coursework and prepare for exams without unnecessary stress.
6. Take Care of Yourself
Your academic success should never come at the expense of your physical or mental health. According to a study done by UCLA, if you spend your time studying instead of getting a good night’s sleep, you are actually doing more harm than good. You cannot get a 4.0 GPA without your brain or body, so take good care of them!
7. Connect With Your Teachers
Each teacher has different expectations. By connecting with your teachers, learning their expectations, and showing them that you genuinely care about what they are teaching, you are setting yourself up to succeed in their class.
8. Understand and Use Your Own Learning Style
Everyone learns differently. Many different models propose different learning styles, but even these vary from person to person. If you learn best by reading and writing, then make sure to do that while studying. If you are a visual learner, look up videos to study. The most important thing is to understand how your brain best processes information because that is your avenue for efficient studying and learning.
9. Treat Everything as an Opportunity
This has to do with the attitude we discussed earlier. Everything is a learning opportunity. If you succeeded, determine what helped you succeed and continue doing that. If you did poorly, figure out what went wrong and correct it.
10. Work With Your Peers
Your peers have goals and ambition, too! Most of them are also working hard, and they may be stronger in the areas where you are weaker and vice versa. Teamwork is a wonderful skill to have, primarily as you work towards college. By working with your peers, you will improve your grades and develop important soft skills.
1. What if my grades were affected because I was dealing with outside circumstances?
As CollegeBoard says, “Most colleges use a holistic review process, meaning that they look at grades in the context of the student’s school and along with other information in the student’s application.”
Plus, colleges will usually give you space on your application to explain any extraneous circumstances that may have affected your performance in school. Rest assured, this will be considered when admissions officers are reviewing your application.
2. Will getting one A- or B ruin my chances of getting into my dream school?
No! If you do not have a perfect GPA, that does not automatically mean you will get rejected from your dream school, especially if you earned a lower grade in a particularly challenging course. Colleges want to see your work ethic and ability to challenge yourself. One A- or B will not ruin your chances of acceptance.
3. Does my GPA matter more or less than standardized test scores?
It depends on the school. Every piece of your application is considered, but each school and each admissions officer places different weights on different criteria.
4. Should I take easy classes to ensure I earn a 4.0 GPA?
No, you should not. Challenging yourself will do you many more favors than playing it safe.
5. Is a weighted or unweighted GPA better for college applications?
One is not better than the other. Colleges understand that each high school is different, and you have no control over what kind of GPA your high school uses.
6. Will my GPA still matter in college?
Yes. Working hard for a good GPA does not end once you graduate high school. Many things depend on GPA once you reach college: financial aid, job offers, and eligibility for graduate school.
7. What schools can I get into with a 4.0 GPA?
Unfortunately, this question does not have a clear-cut answer. Getting a 4.0 GPA does not guarantee admission into any college while getting a lower GPA does not necessarily disqualify you from any college. Colleges want to see that you are a well-rounded student.
As Stanford says, “There is no GPA or rank in class required to apply or to be admitted to Stanford. Similarly, there is no score or quantitative measure that guarantees admission. At Stanford, we review applications holistically, meaning every component of the application is valuable to us as we get to know each student.”
A 4.0 GPA is a solid component of your academic success and your preparedness for college, and all schools that you apply to will consider that. Though it does not guarantee admission into any school, it bolsters your application and gives you a much greater chance.
Now that we have gone over how to get a 4.0 GPA, you should understand that earning it takes a lot more work than simply showing up to class and doing your homework on time. It takes ambition, planning, and a lot of hard work. However, if you follow these tips, you will be setting yourself up to earn a 4.0 GPA, which will open a variety of doors for you in your future—maybe even the door to your dream school.