How to Maintain a 4.0 GPA in College

Daniel Ginchereau / Georgian Court University

So, how do you achieve the grade-point-average perfection that is a 4.0? You could study, kiss up to professors, agonize over every letter of every paper, or you could lay awake at night stressing out about your entire university career. I speak from experience with memories of several anxiety-ridden nights and long lectures when I thought I would fail out of university immediately. Of course, you could do all of the things mentioned above and achieve a 4.0 GPA; however, this would only make you stressed, irritable and, actually, inefficient.  

In high school, I was an average student who barely stayed above a 3.0 GPA, but I knew that I wanted to be a great student in college, as this was the beginning of my career. As a first-generation university student, I was facing a new life, environment, and community. I had an epiphany—the more I stress about my GPA, the less time I will spend actually improving my academic skills. I then developed a strategy to achieve a 4.0, strengthen my critical thinking and academic skills, thrive in and out of the classroom, and genuinely enjoy my university experience!

My strategy is extremely simple!

Step 1. Be Realistic

Accept that achieving a 4.0 GPA throughout your college career is EXTREMELY difficult and won’t really make that much of an impact on your ability to get accepted to a graduate or PhD program.

Certainly, a 4.0 would make you stand out; however, you must understand that this is not necessary to reach your dream job, make your parents proud, or even to be considered successful in university! I found this to be the most difficult step, as convincing yourself of this is no small task. But once you do it, you will find that your stress will peel back quite a bit!

Step 2. Start immediately! 

While it is great to get a 4.0 grade point average in any semester, by achieving this in the first semester of university, you will give yourself a bit of a cushion, as it gets increasingly difficult to maintain a high GPA in harder courses.

Most universities realize that you will be dealing with a lot in your first semester and often try to get their students to have an easy academic beginning. Take advantage of this and work hard! The simpler classes that are an “easy A” will only benefit your GPA!

Step 3. Be strategic!

As opposed to high school, you actually have a gigantic amount of control over your schedule in university. I found it useful spread out the most difficult courses and buffer them with simpler classes, letting me focus and devote more of my time to the difficult classes.

While you may not know precisely how challenging a professor will be and how much you might struggle with the content, you do know your strengths. For instance, I took two history courses, an art history course, a PE course, a general education course, and a mathematics course my first semester. I am very strong in the humanities, the PE class was a pass/fail course, but I struggled with mathematics. I was able to focus my energy and time on the mathematics course until I was able to master it. Needless to say, I earned an A in the course and the other courses, thereby achieving a 4.0 GPA!

Step 4. Get help!

A tutor can be your best friend! There is no shame in getting help from someone who has mastered the content.

Even if you are not struggling with the content, typically the tutor has encountered the professor and knows the “ins and outs” of the course. As a tutor myself, I have often been able to assist students with giving some interesting information about the professor they have. For instance, some professors like when you add extra information pertaining to a topic of their interest.

Step 5. Think strategically (again).

Most professors will assign percentages to assignments.

                 A typical course might have the following assignments.

                    -Participation 20%

                    -Discussion Posts 10%

                    -Paper 1 10%

                    -Paper 2 10%

                    -Midterm 25%

                    -Final 25%

Notice how certain assignments are worth more than others. This is done intentionally to show the importance of the assessment. Typically, participation is a combination of attendance, classroom etiquette, and actual participation. Participation is most often measured by attendance, so if you simply show up and participate, boom! You have 20% of your grade. Discussion posts are usually once-a-week postings that consist of a few hundred words about a topic in class. While 10% seems meager, it can be a great buffer that can aid your final grade. At the same time, it is okay if you miss one or two posts, as it is extremely low stakes.

The papers should be worked on and checked for maximum point earnings. Finally, the two assessments, whatever form they take, are extremely important and something you should pay attention to, as they can often encompass 50% of your grade. You must pay attention to these and devote a serious amount of time to preparing for them. Fifty percent of your grade is no joke! Overall, the percentages indicate how much value an assignment has and how much you need to worry about it. Knowing you will most likely not be able to get a perfect score on your exams and papers, pick up the easy points from participation and discussion posts. This can really help you out later!

Step 6. Increase your skills.

While you can spend a lot of your time agonizing over a hot assignment, you can also cut down quite a bit of that time by improving your skills. Strengthening your writing, critical thinking, reading, and analysis skills can greatly improve your assignments as well as cut down on the time you spend re-reading text, correcting work, or worrying about being imperfect. With an increase in these skills, you will find your confidence growing. This can be achieved simply by reading in your free time, playing games that challenge you, or actively engaging in your work.

In summation, while getting a 4.0 is a tremendous feat, it should not be the end goal of university. Yes, it is also great to absorb knowledge and experience everything, but the mark of a truly successful time at university is by making it to graduation in one piece. Don’t stress about the GPA, but do give your best effort in class. I, unfortunately, no longer have a 4.0, as my classes got more difficult, but for the first year and a half, I was able to maintain that average. Yet, I still have an impressive 3.85 cumulative GPA. I have presented research at conferences, studied abroad, lobbied in D.C., and participated in many of the clubs on campus. I know that, despite my lack of a “perfect” GPA, I have still made my mark on my university and have an extremely impressive résumé that will aid me in the future far more than a grade point average ever would!

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Georgian Court University, established in 1908, provides a comprehensive education in the Mercy Catholic tradition. Located in Lakewood, NJ, GCU advances a curriculum that is broad enough to be truly liberal, yet specialized enough to provide in-depth preparation for careers or further study, offering 30 undergraduate degrees10 graduate degrees, and a variety of certificates.

As part of its mission, GCU devotes significant academic and financial resources to serving high-need, underserved students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college. The GCU atmosphere is one of a small college ambiance in a technologically advanced, university setting. Centered on the core Mercy values of respect, integrity, justice, compassion, and service, GCU offers a nurturing campus environment with individualized attention and guidance.

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