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What is university/college like? What does a 4.0 gpa mean?

MakeADifferenceMakeADifference Registered User Posts: 102 Junior Member
edited May 2012 in College Life
I was wondering what college is like?
Do you have 2 semesters, each divided into two terms?
Do you have 4 courses per semester and 8 in a total year?
Are you marked on just exams or do you have assignments or essays?

How do you get your marks?
How big are your classes?
What is a 4.0 GPA? Is 80%+ an A or a 90%+?
How much do you have to study?

I am in grade 11 and I understand each experience varies with university and various disciplines! Thanks, was just curious!
Post edited by MakeADifference on

Replies to: What is university/college like? What does a 4.0 gpa mean?

  • spydersixspydersix Registered User Posts: 247 Junior Member
  • ManoriteManorite Registered User Posts: 305 Junior Member
    Well, each college differs in these things.

    My university has two semesters (Fall and Spring) and are not further divided. A typical course load is 12 to 18 credits (~4-6 courses usually) a semester, though you need to average 15-16 credits (5 courses plus a tutorial/lab/extra language work) a semester to graduate. Most of my friends at other universities have a similar system, but I know there are a good deal of schools on a quarter system, the specifics of which I am unaware.

    As for what goes into the grade, that's dependent upon the professor's preferences. I've had classes that are just the average of four exams, equally weighted and equally spaced throughout the semester, as well as those in which the grade comes from a midterm essay, a final essay, and a research paper. The grading systems vary pretty largely, though the most I've had any form of generic "homework" count for was 5% in an intro level class, so it's different from HS. Also, I "get them" by checking online a few days after the end of the semester.

    An "A" at my school is a 94-100. 90-93 is an A- (3.67), then it goes down the scale: B+ (3.33), B (3.0), B- (2.67), C+ (2.33), C (2.0), C- (1.67), D (1.0), F. Getting a 4.0 at my school is very tough, the university graduates ~2,000 students a year, and at most a couple have a 4.0 (almost always liberal arts or business majors). I have two friends with 4.0s after one year, and that's really impressive. How common high grades are will depend on your school, but it's likely that it will be harder than high school.

    How much you "have" to study depends on your goals and major. A business major who wants a 3.0 doesn't need to study nearly as much as a science major who wants a 3.5; in general, though, everyone is doing a lot of studying before midterms and finals, with other studying dispersed throughout the year corresponding to tests and the like.

    Good luck with the transition.
  • YonderMountainYonderMountain Registered User Posts: 290 Junior Member
    All of these questions are going to vary by university, but generally and in my experience:

    Do you have 2 semesters, each divided into two terms?

    Generally 2 semesters per year, not divided beyond that. A class will usually run from around August to December or from around January to May, with various small holidays in the middle.

    Do you have 4 courses per semester and 8 in a total year?

    The number of courses per semester depends on how heavy a load you want. To graduate in 4 years you generally need to average about 5 courses per semester, but if you have AP credit/take summer classes you don't have to take as much, and it's common to take less during your Freshman year and more during later years.

    Are you marked on just exams or do you have assignments or essays?

    Grading is entirely up the professors, but almost always there will be a final exam, one or more midterm exams, and homework assignments/quizzes/essays. The proportion of your grade that each of these makes up varies wildly: in some classes the final is a huge big deal, while in others you can get away with skipping the final completely if you are already doing well on the other things. So far I've never seen a class where formal exams were less than half of the grade.

    How do you get your marks?

    Again, depends on the professor. Unfortunately, this often means you have to hassle the professor to get your detailed grades if you want to know where you stand during the class. At the end of the semester after final exams all grades are officially entered into the records, after which you generally have a couple days to get any errors fixed becore they go on your permanent transcript.

    How big are your classes?

    In my case, around 80 for big freshman classes, dropping to 20-30 once you get into more advanced subjects, and dropping again to around 15 for upper-level major courses. That's much smaller than most schools, though, from what I understand.

    What is a 4.0 GPA? Is 80%+ an A or a 90%+?

    A 4.0 means you got all A's, or for schools with +/- grading maybe a B or two and a lot of A+'s. What exactly is an A, B, etc is entirely dependent on the class: I've had classes where it was anything over 90%, classes where it was the top 10% of the class regardless of score, and classes where the the professor chose the break point more or less arbitrarily.

    How much do you have to study?

    Depends on how intelligent you are, what classes you take, what professors you take, and how good grades you want. I've had classes where I literally never opened the textbook the entire semester and just reviewed the powerpoints briefly before each exam, and classes where I had to read 100s of pages each week just to keep up. Generally more important than studying is to take very good lecture notes for humanities courses and put in lots of hours actually working problems in math and science.
  • ManoriteManorite Registered User Posts: 305 Junior Member
    How big are your classes?
    Forgot to answer this. Freshman year, I had an intro science class that was around 200 people, but my other intro science class was around 20. My math classes were 30-40 each. I had an intro history that was maybe 100, and an upper-level history that was around 12. My writing and seminar classes were around 20, and my language classes had 15 students. According to my friends, I had fewer large classes than average, since a lot of them had bigger math and science courses, as well as big philosophy or theology courses.

    Basically, if it's a general ed requirement, it will be bigger, if it's a major requirement it will be smaller. There are some exceptions, but this is a pretty accurate rule.
  • emmacoletteemmacolette Registered User Posts: 24 New Member
    Hi I just finished my freshman year at Syracuse University & will try to answer your questions.

    We have 2 semesters. They are not divided within themselves, but during each semester there is a period where many classes have midterm exams. We also get a mid-semster notice letting us know if we are doing well enough in the class or need improvement.

    Most students take around 5 classes each semester. It really is up to you. In college, we tend to go by credits instead. Each class is worth a certain number of credits (which count towards your major & graduating). Most classes will be 3 credits. The school usually has a minimum number of credits you must take each semester to be considered a full-time student (usually 12). There will probably also be a maximum number of credits (probably around 19).

    What your grades consist of is determined by the classes you take and your major. Majors in the sciences will tend to be based mostly off 3 or 4 exams. For example, most of my psychology and biology classes only give exams. Occasionally there will be online assignments, but it is mostly a lot of reading & paying attention in lectures so that you will do well on the exams.
    Other courses, usually communications, writing, or humanities classes, will be based entirely off papers & essays. Some courses will be based off a mixture of papers & exams. If you take a lab, your grade will be based off attendance, participation, & the lab activities you complete.
    In general, college doesn't give you as much homework. Instead, there are a lot of reading assignments & it is up to you to keep up with the material.

    Classes vary depending on both the school & the type of class it is.
    Some classes will be broken down into two parts: lectures & sections.
    Lectures will be large. You will sit in an auditorium with hundreds of other students, and listen to the professor talk. (My bio & psych lectures had about 400 people in them). There will usually be powerpoint slides for you to take notes on. Lectures are usually for science classes, or for classes that are very basic.
    As a freshman you will get put in more lectures, because you will need to fulfill certain basic requirements. As an upperclassman, your classes will begin to get smaller, and there will be less large lectures.
    If the class has a "section" part as well, you will meet with a much smaller group of students. A TA (teaching assistant, who is usually a grad student) will help you to review the material that you learned in the lecture.

    Other classes, mainly ones that relate to writing, communications, & anything non-sciencey will vary in size. My general writing class was only about 15 people. I've taken other classes that were about 30 people. It all depends. These smaller classes will usually allow you to participate & share your thoughts and ideas. They are also helpful for you to build connections with your professor, which will help if you ever need recommendations.

    College GPAs are on a 4.0 scale, so a 4.0 is the highest GPA you can have. Anything above a 3.7 is very good.
    You should aim to have a GPA of at least a 3.0. To do this, you will need to stay in the A/B range. Try not to get less than a B- in your classes.
    When we get our grades (online) we don't get number percentages like 80% but instead we get letter grades: A, A-, B+, B, B-, etc...
    Each of these letter grades is worth a certain number of points. The school automatically calculates your overall GPA for you and puts it at the bottom of the page below your grades.

    In college, studying is everything. There are not as many individual assignments. Grades are based mainly off exams or papers. In order to succeed, you need to read everything the professor tells you to read. You also need to go to the lectures & take notes. Usually the material will be a combination of info from the lectures & the textbooks.
    But again, it differs by class. Science classes will be based mostly on exam grades. Labs will be based on lab activities. Writing/communicaiton classes will be based off papers and assignments.
  • MakeADifferenceMakeADifference Registered User Posts: 102 Junior Member
    Thanks so much Manorite and YonderMountain, may I ask which universities you go to?
    is it easy to talk to your professor? Is he or she readily accessible?
    Do you have a bell curve in your classes? I do not understand the concept of a bell curve!

    Thanks again, this has helped me so much!
  • b@r!umb@r!um Registered User Posts: 9,948 Senior Member
    Do you have a bell curve in your classes? I do not understand the concept of a bell curve!
    There are two ways to grade: on a scale and on a curve.

    In high school most of your grades probably came from a fixed scale:
    A = 90%-100%
    B = 80% - 90%
    C = 70% - 80%

    Instead of setting fixed cut-offs, many college professors prefer to grade on a scale. They might decide, for example, that the best quarter of the class should earn As regardless of the "raw" score on their exam. For example, the professor might give a really hard exam where the highest score is 78%. On the "traditional" scale, that would translate into a C. On a curve it's still on A.
  • YonderMountainYonderMountain Registered User Posts: 290 Junior Member
    @MakeADifference: I go to North Georgia College and State University. The professors here are extremely accessible, which is one of the school's big strengths. Even though I am a commuter student who is rarely on campus outside of class times, many of my professors greet me by name if they meet me in a hallway.

    As for grade curves, that's another thing that is highly professor-dependent. I've had professors stand in front of the class and tell us that they will willingly give every single one of us an F if we don't do the work they assign, but most professors adjust their standards at least somewhat based on how well the class is doing. How this is done also varies a lot. Some examples of how I've seen this done:

    -At the end of the term, the 10 best students automatically get A's, with the rest being graded proportionately to what the top 10 got.
    -If more than half of the class get an exam question wrong, everybody gets one point added to their grade for free (so the ones who got it right can end up going over 100).
    -"I'm not happy with the scores on the last few quizzes, so today everybody gets a free 100 just for showing up. I also brought donuts." (if this happens to you, be sure to give the professor a nice rating on ratemyprofessors)

    One thing that is very common is if the professor feels that the grades are low they will offer extra credit opportunities where people who do extra work get a grade boost. These might range from writing extra essays to attending evening guest lectures by visiting academics to showing up and working problems in class "You know how to do trig integration but choked on the exam? Show me."
  • HonorsCentaurHonorsCentaur Registered User Posts: 1,666 Senior Member
    A 4.0 at University of Chicago is very hard to get. Some people may get it one quarter, but rarely will you find someone graduating from here with a 4.0.
  • MakeADifferenceMakeADifference Registered User Posts: 102 Junior Member
    HonorsCenteur, B@r!um and YonderMountain your comments have been extremely insightful. The best way to succeed is then to just pay attention and work your ass off. I wish working hard guaranteed happiness as much as it contributes to my self esteem.

    Your posts got me all excited for college/university! Can't wait to graduate.

    Are there any other tips you would have for university/college?
  • ManoriteManorite Registered User Posts: 305 Junior Member
    Thanks so much Manorite and YonderMountain, may I ask which universities you go to?
    I go to Notre Dame, a mid-sized, academically rigorous school.
    Are there any other tips you would have for university/college?
    Don't stress the small stuff. Keep it all in perspective; in the scope of the situation of the majority of humanity, you're ridiculously lucky to be safe, let alone going to college, so try to enjoy it. If you look for things to worry about, you'll be stressed out from now 'til you die; college is a part of life, and like all parts of life, you should do your best to enjoy it. You only go around once.
  • MakeADifferenceMakeADifference Registered User Posts: 102 Junior Member
    Manorite, my father said the same thing! Sometimes I really cannot believe how lucky I am. Thank you for your insight!

    p.s- Wow, you go to Notre Dame!!
  • AUGirlAUGirl Registered User Posts: 2,890 Senior Member
    Do you have 2 semesters, each divided into two terms?
    Yep. Fall and Spring Semesters. Each are about 15 weeks long.

    Do you have 4 courses per semester and 8 in a total year?
    Nope. Most people here take between 12 and 18 hours, with 15 or 16 being the norm. That's usually 5 classes and maybe a lab. I actually took eight classes this past semester and took six in the fall. So, for the year, I took fourteen classes. Most only take 10-12.

    Are you marked on just exams or do you have assignments or essays?
    Absolutely not. I have a couple of friends who had one or two classes like this, but all of my classes that I've taken were more well-rounded. Grades consisted of things like homework, participation, preparation, exams, quizzes, essays, and projects.

    How do you get your marks?
    Blackboard, in class, or for final grades at the end of the semester on VIP (our central processing system for paying tuition, signing up for classes, accepting loans, etc)

    How big are your classes?
    About 20 students each. I had a lecture class of 200, but I also had a French class of seven. Most were in the 20 student range though.

    What is a 4.0 GPA? Is 80%+ an A or a 90%+?
    Depended on the professor. Most of mine made 90% or 91% to be the lowest grade possible for an A. My university also doesn't do any -'s.

    How much do you have to study?
    Depended. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes very little. Not really sure how to quantify it.
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