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THE USA: Applying to University

Understanding the grading system in the USA

How does the US grading system work? We take a look at what the grades mean and explain Grade Point Averages.

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The United States is a popular study destination for international students from all over the world. The country has a great number of universities to choose from, all with unique courses. Those who are attending a university in the US are subject to the grading system there. 


If you’re an international student who has spent most of their life in education in their home country, you might be used to a certain type of grading system. This may or may not be similar to the one that they have in the US. Take a look at how the grading system works in that part of the world. 


US Grading System 


Most universities in the USA use a letter-based grading system. This reflects the grading system seen by students in all stages of education in the US, as well as by students in many other countries, like Australia


A great number of universities and schools all over the world use this system as it is easy to understand. Here are the grades that your percentage in an assignment or exam at a US university would get you: 



Letter grade 


90 - 100% 


80 - 89% 

Very good 

70 – 79% 


60 – 69% 


59% & lower 




It’s important to note that some universities will have a more detailed version of this letter-based system. For example, they may award someone who scored 80% a B- and another student who scored 89% a B+. Universities that use this more specified system include: 



This allows students to truly understand their grade and gives them the ability to measure their progress throughout their time at university. Each time a student is graded, this is used to put together their Grade Point Average (GPA). 


Understanding the GPA 


For international students the Grade Point Average may seem confusing. This is a system that is used by the majority of universities in the US. It’s very important to try to understand the system if you’re planning to study in the US


The GPA is the number used to assess how well you are doing on your course by using the average score of all your grades so far. Some universities require students to keep a certain GPA throughout their time with them if they are to continue on their course. 


It’s for this reason that understanding your GPA when studying at a US university and making sure you’re working hard to keep it as high as possible, is so important. This isn’t just to keep your university happy, a higher GPA at the end of your course can look much better on your resume/CV when you finally graduate. 


Here is how much each grade is worth in GPA points: 


Letter grade 




Taking a look at this chart, you can see that if a student got an A in 5 assignments and a B in 5 others, their GPA would be 3.5. This system allows students to know exactly how they are doing and lets them see where they need to improve, if they want to bring this score up. 


Getting your degree 


Throughout your time at university, your grades are almost like milestones that allow you to see your progress. Working hard to improve your GPA is a goal for many students but it’s important to not become too focussed on it.  


You can still complete your degree and graduate with a good grade without a high GPA. In some cases, potential employers may use the GPA system to measure a certain candidate's knowledge in a particular field. Most employers, however, will look at your overall qualification rather than breaking down particular grades.  


The US has a great deal to offer international students but there is a lot for them to learn. From understanding health insurance to getting to grips with how to apply for a student visa, there is much to find out about. The grading system there is no exception and, with a better understanding, it can really help you going forward in your US study abroad journey. 


Find out more about what the USA has to offer international students

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