What Is the Difference Between a Grade Point Average & a Cumulative Grade Point Average?

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Academic institutions, including middle school, high school and universities, measure a student’s achievement in a class by assigning grades to course work throughout the semester. At the end of the term, the instructor averages the grades for the course and assigns a final grade. A report card is issued to the student, which includes grades for every course taken in the semester, a grade point average (GPA) and a cumulative grade point average.

1 Definitions of Grade Point Average (GPA) and Cumulative Grade Point Average

Grade point average (GPA) and cumulative grade point average are ways to measure a student’s academic success in school. The difference between the two is that grade point average is calculated for one term or semester of the year and cumulative grade point average is assigned over the academic career of the individual at that particular school. The average for GPA and cumulative GPA is based on grades given for each course taken and the number of credit hours specified for those courses over the specified term (one term for GPA; all terms for cumulative GPA).

2 Types of GPA

Generally, there are two types of GPA used in the United States: GPA and weighted GPA. Normally, grades are assigned letters (A, B, C, D or F) and those letters translate to a range of numbers (4.0, 3.0, 2.0, 1.0 or 0.0). “A” is the highest letter grade given, thus the numeric representation of an “A” would be 4.0. When a student receives a “+” or “-“ with the letter grade, points may be added or subtracted depending on the school. The weighted GPA accommodates students who are enrolled in honors and advanced placement classes in high school and adds more points based on the letter grade. These courses take into account that an “A” in an Advanced Placement Biology class would have more significance than an “A” in a physical education class.

3 Importance of Grade Point Average

Maintaining a high GPA while you are in school determines whether you are ready to advance to the next level of education. In college, a certain GPA is required when continuing your education and applying to Business, Medical or Law school. Merit scholarships rely heavily on GPA when considering applicants. A few points can make a difference when receiving this type of scholarship. If a college requires a 3.7 or higher GPA and your GPA is 3.6, most likely it is a waste of time to apply, since competition is intense for merit scholarships. Even high school students that don’t plan on attending college benefit with discounts given on car insurance for a GPA of 3.0 or better.

4 Importance of Cumulative Grade Point Average

The cumulative GPA is one of the most important requirements for admission into college. The GPA not only indicates the student’s mastery of the subject matter, but also their personal work habits. Many universities require a 3.0 GPA for freshman or transfer students. Colleges will take into account whether the GPA is weighted and the type of courses that were taken. Since the cumulative GPA is calculated over the course of the student’s high school career, it is important to receive high grades in all years of school.

5 Effects of GPA and Cumulative GPA in the Working World

Using GPA and cumulative GPA to screen applicants for positions in companies, depends entirely on the employer. While some employers will not factor in GPA when hiring, many use a GPA of 3.0 as the benchmark for considering an applicant. A business may be more interested in the student’s GPA in their junior and senior years in college rather than cumulative GPA, realizing that the student may have experienced a rough transition from high school to college. A GPA in a student’s major that is at least three-tenths of a point higher than the cumulative GPA, should be included along with the cumulative GPA when applying for jobs in that area.

Anne Reynolds is a writer who has worked for the U.S. government, the public school system and as a public library specialist. She began writing in 1990 and has contributed articles to various online publications.