What is the Highest GPA Possible? How Do You Calculate It?

Mar 23, 2021

GPAs can be complicated to calculate and even more arduous to understand. Many students are confused, or they don’t know what to aim for, what impact different classes have on their GPA, or how the GPA will be used in the college admissions process.

You have to keep updating yourself with new information on GPAs and check-out tips for improving your academic profile. 

Besides that, we’ll go over how GPA is calculated, trends in the research on high school grading, and guidance on how to approach course selection.

Important Note: Most American high schools use an average GPA scale of 4.0. This post uses that metric. If your school uses another scale, check out the GPA conversion calculator to convert it before you continue reading. 

What exactly is GPA, and How do you Calculate it?

GPA stands for “grade point average.” In simple terms, it compiles your overall academic performance into one number. GPAs make it easier for universities/colleges to define how well you did in school without researching. GPA is a measurement of your academic success.

A number from 1–4 will assign every class you take in your high school based on your grade, and all of these numbers are then averaged. This final average is used to calculate your class rank.

Most American high schools use the grading scale mentioned below.

Grading System

You are granted a certain number of grade points for every class depending on the grade you earned.

Grade points

Some high-schools increase or decrease your grade point of classes based on whether you received a plus or minus in association with your letter grade. It’s pretty much obvious to add .3 for a plus and subtract .3 for a minus, where a 4.0 being the highest possible value (so an A+ will have the same value as an A).

On a 4.0 scale, the average GPA calculations are easy. If you want to find out what your GPA is right now, you can either contact your counselor’s office, or you can calculate it by hand. Calculate your high-school GPA here. An easy-to-use high school GPA calculator.

What is the highest GPA possible?

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.

Anyway, as we discussed, AP courses make it possible for students to get above a 4.0 on the traditional GPA scale. Some high-schools add one grade point for all AP courses.

AP Class Grade Points

Weighted GPA and an Unweighted GPA

Adding a point to AP courses when calculating GPA is called “weighting.” On the other hand, those who use unweighted GPAs do not consider course difficulty in their calculations.

The highest GPA depends on whether you’re using a weighted or unweighted scale. For college applications, you should calculate both GPAs and report whichever is requested. If none is mentioned, you can opt for the higher weighted GPA.

How GPAs are calculated varies from one high school to another, colleges are aware of this and will calculate your GPA using their system. This way, they can compare applicants from different schools in an ideal way.

What is an average GPA?

As per a 2009 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average GPA is about 3.0, which is the grade equivalent of a B. The latest study conducted at the University of Georgia indicates that the average GPA may be even higher, at 3.38. However, this number has not been as commonly accepted.

Average GPA varies wildly depending on student demographics. In the below table, I have given an example of how girls tend to have higher GPAs than boys.

Gender - GPA
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Also, students from specific racial backgrounds have average GPAs with statistically considerable differences. Asian/Pacific Islander students were among the top-scoring demographic, with average GPAs of 0.57 points higher than Black students.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

The differences mentioned above in average GPA by gender and race reflect deeper issues with the ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic factors.

Generally, students score less on main subjects but increase their grade points in other academic courses, like Fine Arts, and non-academic topics, like Health.

Course type - GPA

If you put everything together, the report card of the average American student might look like this: 

Subject - Grade

What to do if your GPA is Below Average? 

Let’s be honest here, if your GPA is average or below average, then it will undoubtedly impact your chances of acceptance. If you are still a freshman or sophomore, you have the right amount of time to improve your GPA. If you’re struggling in class, be sure to get help, whether from a classmate, teacher, or tutor.

To improve your GPA, take a few classes that you can succeed in. Taking AP/IB classes will grow your weighted GPA, but if you’re not sure you can get a B or above, stick to the regular version.

If you’re already junior or senior, there is nothing much you can do to increase your GPA, as a couple of semesters is unlikely to change the culmination of your grades up until this point. In such cases, focus on outperforming everyone in the class and concentrate on bringing up your standardized test scores. 

Your GPA factors into the Academic Index (AI) are just a numerical representation of your academics’ strength. Some selective schools use AI as a screening tool to automatically reject those below a specific standard. If you have no idea what to do to bring up your GPA, the best way is to bring up your AI to increase your test scores. This will help you get past the minimum AI standards.

What Admission Chances You Have with Your Current GPA?

Colleges know that course difficulty can vary from one school to another, so it is evident for most admissions committees not to compare actual numbers between students. Instead, they consider GPAs in the context of your school. Sometimes, they may even use their system to strengthen GPAs, taking school and class difficulty into account. 

Remember, rather than aiming for a certain GPA, and you should aspire to be one of the top students relative to others in your high school.

Also, the more competitive the school, the higher the GPA you need. Once you enter the Top 10 Universities and the Ivy League realm, it is clear that most applicants have a near-perfect 4.0 unweighted GPA. 

Remember, if you want to be part of these top schools, then you should aim for the highest grades in the most challenging classes.

Finally, How Important is Your GPA? What Should you do to Raise your GPA

GPA is a crucial factor in your college applications, but never sacrifice academic diligence to boost your GPA. Colleges know whether you pushed yourself in high school, so try to aim for more challenging courses, even if it means risking the occasional B on your transcript. If you do not think you can earn at least a B in a particular AP, consider taking a different class.

To improve your GPA, instead of taking easier classes, focus on collecting easy points. For example, if your teacher is awarding points for students who turn in assignments on time, make sure you are not submitting homework late. Similarly, if your P.E. grade depends on whether you remember to bring your gym clothes, always remember getting them.

Many intelligent students work hard in AP courses only to miss out on these points, which are easier to collect, only if you’re wise. Work Smarter, Not Harder to improve your GPA.


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