Undergraduate Study in USA - Grading

The Credit System

Students at American universities complete their degrees when they have accumulated a certain number of "credits." It usually takes somewhere between 130 and 180 credits to graduate. Sometimes the terms "semester/quarter hours" or "units" are used instead of credits. Each individual course you take each semester earns a specified number (usually three or four) of credits/hours/units. Your academic adviser will help you plan your course schedule for the academic year.

Degree Courses

The individual courses that make up the degree program can be divided into the following types:

  • Core courses: These provide the foundation of the degree program and are required of all students. Students take a variety of courses in mathematics, English, humanities, physical sciences, and social sciences. Some colleges require students to take many core courses, while other schools require only a few.
  • Major courses: A major is the subject in which a student chooses to concentrate. Most students major in one subject; however, some colleges offer the option of pursuing a double major with a related subject. Your major courses represent one-quarter to one-half of the total number of courses required to complete a degree.
  • Minor courses: A minor is a subject in which a student may choose to take the second greatest concentration of courses. The number of courses required for a minor tends to be half the number of major courses.
  • Elective courses: These courses may be chosen from any department. They offer opportunities to explore other topics or subjects you may be interested in and help make up the total number of credits required to graduate.
    American universities employ a system of continual assessment and assign grades for each course taken. Almost everything you do for a class will influence your final grade. Examinations and tests, essays or written assignments, laboratory reports, laboratory or studio work, class attendance, and class participation may all be used to determine your final grade. This means it is essential to keep up with the reading and course work and to attend classes on a regular basis.

The following is a general percentage/letter grade scale for classes taken at U.S. colleges:

100 – 90% = A
89 – 80% = B
79 – 70% = C
65-70% = D
Below 65% = F

What is a GPA?

Each student completes his or her degree with a grade point average (GPA). A cumulative grade point average is the GPA for all courses taken throughout the degree program. Most universities use a GPA scale of 4.0, but a few universities use a scale of 5.0. To work out your GPA, take the numerical value assigned to the letter grade you achieve for each course (typically 4 points for an "A," 3 points for a "B," and so on), then multiply this number by the number of credits each course is worth. Finally, add these numbers together and divide by the total number of credits for all courses. For example:

Letter Grade

Numerical Value

Number of Credits














27 divided by 9 = 3.0 GPA

Most universities will also offer some sort of honors degree. To qualify for an honors degree, you must fulfill additional credits or write an honors thesis; precise details depend upon the university and/or academic department. There may be different levels of honors: summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude, in descending order of distinction.

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