If you’re still in high school, you might be curious about how GPAs work in college and what you should expect for grades give your major of choice. Just like high schools, colleges vary in how they calculate GPA. Grade inflation also significantly affects college GPA at most schools, and many students end up with higher GPAs in college than they had in high school.
In this article, I’ll give you the facts about average GPAs at different types of colleges and within a variety of college majors.
What’s the Average College GPA?
The average GPA for students at four-year colleges in the US is around a 3.1, meaning a B average. This is much higher than it’s been in the past, which demonstrates that grade inflation is a very real phenomenon for colleges. C used to be the standard average grade, but B is now considered average. Why is this?
One factor may be that professors are more vulnerable to student critiques in online forums and are sometimes forced to answer to angry parents if they give out poor grades. The job of a professor can partially depend on how pleased his or her students are with the class, which is inevitably tied to what grades they get.
As college becomes more expensive, both students and parents expect high grades so they can feel like they're getting their money's worth. This is also a likely reason for grade inflation, especially considering the disparity in average GPA between public and private colleges. Public schools have around a 3.0 average GPA while private schools have around a 3.3 average GPA.
Grade inflation could also happen because professors don’t want to jeopardize students’ future chances at grad school or job opportunities by doling out low grades in an academic environment that has now come to expect Bs as the norm.
However, telling you the overall average GPA across colleges and majors is somewhat meaningless as a statistic since GPAs vary so drastically by school and by major. Many schools give students two different GPAs: a cumulative GPA that takes into account all of their classes and a major GPA that only includes classes that counted towards their major. In the next few sections I’ll get more specific about the average GPAs you can expect for different major fields and types of schools.
GPAs by Major
Science majors tend to have lower GPAs on average, with chemistry being the major with the lowest average GPA. Education majors earn the highest GPAs on average.
Why this disparity? Grade inflation is more rampant in non-STEM fields because assignments are usually more open to interpretation, and there aren’t always solid “right or wrong” answers. Professors tend to give students the benefit of the doubt due to the factors I mentioned earlier (the impact of student evaluations, expectations of high grades by students and parents, and professors just being “too nice”). If a student gets a problem wrong or follows incorrect procedure in gathering data, it’s clear that he or she will earn a lower grade. If the student doesn’t write a clear enough thesis for an English paper, it’s a more subjective situation.
The majors I’ve listed here are the only ones that I could find overall data for - it’s difficult to say what the average GPA for one major is when you’re looking across a bunch of different schools. Each program is different, so the average GPA for these majors at your college may be much higher or lower than indicated in the table.
Average GPAs for Different Majors, Highest to Lowest
Chemistry is a tough subject (except when it's between u and me, baby).
GPAs by School
I’ll list ten schools for each category of selectivity (highly selective, selective, and less selective) and their average GPAs so you can get a sense of the distribution.
- “Highly selective” schools are schools that have a less than 15% acceptance rate
- “Selective” schools are schools that have a 20-50% acceptance rate
- “Less selective” schools are schools that have an acceptance rate of over 50%
You’ll notice that the most selective colleges actually have higher average undergraduate GPAs. This may be because they’re more vulnerable to the factors I listed earlier that contribute to grade inflation. Also, because these colleges are admitting increasingly higher achieving students, it’s more and more difficult to set standards in classes that are high enough to prevent most people from earning A’s.
I consulted this website to find these GPAs. There’s a chart near the bottom of the page that includes average GPAs for many other colleges as well, so you can take a look and see if any other schools that interest you are listed.
Highly Selective Colleges
|University of California San Diego||3.02|
Less Selective Colleges
|University of Alabama||2.9|
|James Madison University||3.03|
|University of Northern Iowa||2.96|
|University of Utah||3.07|
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What Does This Mean for You?
Average college GPAs won't mean much for you yet if you're still in high school, but it's good to know how GPA works in college because it can impact your future career. If you end up going through a job recruiting process towards the end of college, your GPA will be one of the factors that is strongly considered by recruiters.
As I've said, however, GPA varies quite a bit across different schools and majors. Recruiters will be looking at how your GPA compares to that of other students at your school who are in the same field. Overall, your experiences with projects and other jobs will carry more weight than your GPA in most hiring decisions. It's safe to say that if your college GPA ends up being at least a 3.0, most employers won't be concerned with it.
Another matter to take into consideration is graduate school. You'll have to be a little more serious about keeping your GPA up in college if you plan to go to grad school (especially if you have your sights set on law school or medical school). Graduate schools want to see that you're a dedicated student who's passionate about the field of study you've chosen. A high college GPA in relation to your peers in the same field will demonstrate that you were able to consistently exceed expectations.
If graduate school may be on the horizon for you, don't slack off during your freshman year of college! You should make sure your GPA is solid from the beginning so you don't mess up your plans later on (but also try and have fun sometimes because college is awesome).
Let's face it, we all kind of want to be lawyers just so that we can be as cool as Saul Goodman (aka James McGill...you should really watch Better Call Saul)
Figuring out the average college GPA is not as straightforward as you might think. Since people take such different classes at a wide variety of institutions, it’s difficult to compare one GPA directly to another if both students aren’t going to the same college and taking similar classes. Overall, college GPAs have risen in recent years due to grade inflation caused by a variety of factors including the accessibility of professor reviews, parental expectations, and grad school competition.
Don’t choose a major or a college because you think you’re going to be able to get a higher GPA in that program. If you work hard in a field you truly enjoy, the good grades will most likely follow!
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.