How can I improve my CPA? Some possible strategies!
There’s no question that your grade point average is considered an important indicator of your success in college. It is not the only indicator, however, and often matters a lot less than you might think, especially after you’ve gotten that first job or admittance to graduate school. And it’s often the unique and unusual things you’ve done during college that matter as much as your CPA.
Grades generally rise as students “get the hang of college” and gain more experience in their new roles, but there are techniques you can use to improve your grade point average. There are risks and rewards for each technique, so be sure to collect information and advice before you act.
Suggested starter steps to complete as you move through the list below:
- Read/understand “How the GPA/CPA is calculated” and know your situation.
- Consult with the Center for Student Development and identify any issues you need to address.
Here are some options for improving your CPA at Alma:
- Study “smarter” by learning better strategies/techniques to take charge of your situation
- Learn techniques for college-level study (see the student survival manual)
- Be more proactive: see “How can I take charge of my college career?” in the first year pages
- Start each term in a study group, and work ahead rather than catch-up
- Get help promptly and don’t wait for things get better as if by magic
- Discuss your situation with your advisor and/or staff at the Center for Student Development. They may be able to help you identify and work to solve any underlying problems.
Take the right balance of courses. Just like your diet needs variety for healthy living, so do your course selections. Try to “mix it up” so that each class plays on different skills. This isn’t always possible; a major in the sciences means several labs each term, but you certainly wouldn’t want to take four lab classes at once. This is another reason to avoid getting the DRs “out of the way” too soon, they can be a good safety valve for releasing pressure.
Take fewer classes or credits per term. Some students find that 16-17 credits a term are just more than they can handle. Reducing your load to 13 (minimum full-time status) to 15 credits may give you a chance to concentrate and perform better. You will need to make up credits somehow, by taking more spring terms, summer classes or staying an extra term, but better performance may be worth the trade.
Streamline your obligations outside of class. Reducing your co-curricular activity, and the time spent off-task, may help you improve your grades but only if you are willing to pick up the pace academically. It’s a trade-off, but many students could redirect some of their social time toward their studies with good effect. Reducing chat, e-mail and gaming obligations will help, too.
Become more serious about college. Many students report that when they treat their studies as a 9-5 “job” of solid work, with occasional nights of exam study, a remarkable thing happens. They find it easier to concentrate, are more motivated and can say, “Can’t play now—I have to do XXXX.” Loose ends fall into place, they become more organized and less stressed. Their “re-creation” times become more successful at “re-creating” their energy and lifting their mood.
The actual hours of your “working day” may vary, but making use of gaps between classes, pushing team sports or exercise until later (as re-creation) and focusing priorities can help you do better and feel more accomplished.
Do the math. Understand the effect of time on your CPA. First term/first year grade point averages are based on very few credits. As you complete more terms with better grades, the accumulated credit number will help reduce the effect of any individual grade.
Here’s an example. Suppose you can complete next year with better grades. Add 30 credits to your credit total and add honor points based on the grades you are willing to work toward. Add 75 honor points (30 credits at a 2.5 grade) or 90 honor points (30 credits at a 3.0 grade) or even 105 honor points (30 credits at a 3.5 grade). Calculate your new potential CPA by dividing new credits into new honor points. Be realistic: most improvement is incremental.
Replace grades by repeating classes at Alma. If you can do substantially better upon repeating a course, then repeating at Alma is one of the fastest ways to improve your CPA. Repeating a class causes the old grade to become an “R” grade, and the credit goes to zero for the class during the original term you took it. The new grade, listed in the new term, and the new credits you have earned are now calculated into your CPA. But beware, it is the LAST grade for a course that counts in the CPA, even if it is lower than the first.
You can predict the change in CPA by adding in just the difference in honor points you gain by receiving a better grade for that single class. Use this technique when you can really increase your grade, because a small improvement won’t help much. The down side of repeating any course (instead of taking “new” credits) is that you slow your “progress” toward graduation, a decision that may affect financial aid. Courses in the summer can help you catch up.
Replace grades by transferring classes in from elsewhere. When you repeat the course elsewhere rather than at Alma, several things are different. Only classes with a grade of “C” or better can be transferred in, and only the credits (not the grade) transfers. Let’s repeat that: the grade doesn’t transfer!
The new class transfers in at the top of your transcript with an “S” grade. An “R” grade (credits drop to 0, as do honor points) is listed by the original course. To predict the effect on your CPA, remove both the credits from the CPA credit total, and the old honor point score for the class from the honor point total. Re-divide the honor point total by CPA credit point total to get your revised CPA.
Note that as long as you get a “C” or better, the credits come in. The effect on your Alma CPA is the same, regardless of the grade you actually got, so this is a good technique if you can pass the class but don’t think you can really ace it. See the entry on “Transferring classes into Alma” for more strategy. Make sure you consult with your advisor, or the Registrar, to understand the implications of your decisions.
Re-evaluate your field of study/major/area. It’s possible that your selection doesn’t fit you as well as you originally thought. We gravitate toward interests, and there’s no guarantee that our skills and abilities are a good match to what we think is cool, exciting or worth doing.
Take some of the interesting surveys and tests that can help you recognize and focus on your future. Consult professionals on campus (advisors, the Center) for further investigation of the career/ability/interest match. Adjusting your path isn’t unusual, just ask a bunch of seniors, or any member of the Alma College Community. We all have stories to tell about our bumps in the road.
A final note.You might feel you are trapped in behaviors or situations that prevent you from being successful. Your fear of disappointing others, or “ I’m not a quitter” may involve misperceptions that can be cleared up. Please seek help in identifying the issues you face so you can gain the success you have worked hard to earn.