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ColumnsDestination USA: All you need to know about grading system

Destination USA: All you need to know about grading system

Published: 9th Jan 2022 12:00 am | Updated: 8th Jan 2022 10:49 pm

Welcome back readers to our weekly column DestinationUSA and the special topics series on US higher education that we are currently discussing in the column. Several of our readers have requested us to talk about the grading system at US universities. So, today’s column is dedicated to this special topic.

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A grade or grading system is the method used to evaluate a student’s academic work. Schools, colleges and universities in the United States commonly use letter grades to indicate the quality of a student’s academic performance. Each letter grade has a numeric value, which is used to establish a grade point average (GPA). GPA is the combined average of a student’s grades for all academic coursework completed. In the United States, each student completes his or her degree with a GPA.

Grades are usually assigned in letters and most colleges and universities use a GPA scale of 4.0.
• A=4 (excellent)
• B=3 (good)
• C=2 (average)
• D=1 (below average)
• E or F (failing)

Work rated C or above is usually required of a student to continue his or her studies. Grades of P (pass), S (satisfactory), and N (no credit) can also be used. In percentage scales, 100 per cent is the highest mark, and 65-70 per cent is usually the lowest passing mark.

Each institution has a percentage range associated with a letter grade, for example, a grade of A (A, A , A-) could mean that a student has secured between 90 and 100 per cent on a course. Similarly, a student’s GPA may be interpreted differently by each college and university in the United States based on their review of your mark sheets/transcripts and the percentage ranges they use to define each grade.

To calculate the GPA, the numerical value assigned to the letter grade for each course is taken. Then this number is multiplied by the number of credits each course is worth. Finally, these numbers are added together and divided by the total number of credits for all courses to find the GPA. A cumulative grade point average or CGPA is the GPA for all courses taken throughout the degree program.

Monika Setia (Regional Officer and EducationUSA Adviser at the United States-India Educational Foundation based at the U.S. Consulate General Hyderabad. Please visit for more information)
Q. I am currently in the 3rd year of my BTech programme. I want to apply for master’s programmes in the United States. When should I start working on my applications? What documents are to be submitted as part of the application? And what are the deadlines?
— Atreya

A. Master’s programme applicants to the US universities should start working on their applications one to two years in advance of the programme start date considering that multiple application components have to be put together. The application components for Master’s programmes in the United States usually include an online application, application fee, standardised and English proficiency test scores, transcripts, statement of purpose, letters of recommendations, resume, and financial documents. Academic intakes and application timelines for Master’s studies in the United States vary by university, so you should check the websites of the shortlisted institutions for application deadlines (both priority and regular deadlines), before starting the application.

Q. My daughter is filling her undergraduate application for US universities. Can you please share some insights regarding the activity list section of the application form?
— Bhargavi

A. Given the holistic review of a student’s profile for the admission process, the activity list constitutes a key component of the undergraduate or bachelor’s degree application. The experiences reflected through this component of the application are a way for US admissions officers to understand the student as an individual and how the student would fit into the overall student community at the college or university. Admissions officers are looking for experiences that are meaningful, demonstrate passion the student has towards the activity, and how it contributed to the growth and development of the student. The volume and number of activities or certificates are not as highly valued as a deep connection and commitment to one or few activities outside of the classroom.

The list of activities is used by universities to assess a student’s non-academic qualifications, including special talents, leadership potential, involvement in extra-curricular activities, and/or engagement with the community. The type of activities may include athletics, internships, art or theatre, social work, workshops, etc. Students should put together all their extracurricular work and then select the best activities to be entered in the application. The selection could be based on activities in which they have excelled (received an award/rank/certification) or something they have pursued continually (one or two such activities). Students should also list activities in a few different areas to showcase the diversity of their interests. It is not necessary that a student has a certificate for an activity to be listed in the application.

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