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How to Improve Your GPA, Post-Graduation

By Chandlee Bryan

Each year, no matter what the economy is or where you went to school or what the job market looks like in your field—there's a debate that stands the test of time.

The GPA Debate

The subject of the debate: GPA. How important is it? And will it influence your career?

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Voices from the “Unimportant Camp”:

It won't matter in a year. All that matters is that you graduated. If it's not on your resume, no one will notice. Employers don't care about it.

Those who say GPA is Permanent Record Material:

Your GPA will follow you forever. Employers care so much about it that they won't look at your resume if they can't see it. It will screen you out of a job. It will keep you out of grad school. It will ruin your life.

The debate rages on.

I worked in college career offices for the better part of ten years and still don't have a definitive answer to provide you with to the "How much does it matter" question.

My take:

It depends on many variables - from your career goals, to the perspective of your ideal employer or graduate school, and the sum of your relevant skills and experience.

Some employers, especially highly-selective financial services and consulting firms, require GPA and a transcript as part of the application process.

For other employers, especially if you've been out of college for several years, having graduated and received a degree are enough.

I recently entered into this debate with a group of fellow resume writers after a colleague posed the question, “Should the GPA stay on the resume until five years after graduation?”

Two of my colleagues said it's only ideal to list a GPA if it is a 3.5 or higher. But I disagree.

Some Options to Consider

My general advice:

If you've graduated from college in the last three years, list your cumulative GPA if it is a 3.0 or above. Because if it isn't there, employers may -- and, in my experience, will -- assume that your GPA is less than a B average.

If your GPA is less than a 3.0 or if you have hidden success stories in your academic record, you still have options to tell that story on your resume. You can do this by selectively presenting your GPA.

Did you have a higher GPA in your major? Make Dean's List your Senior year after a Sophomore Slump?

You can tell this story. Grab your transcript, calculate the math, and give your alternate version.

1. Calculate "Major GPA"

List the number of courses you completed in your major, total up your grades and course values…

For example, if you received an A (4.0) for a three credit course, your points for the course would be 12. Divide the total number of points by the courses in your major that you took, and you have calculated your "major GPA."

2. Calculate GPA by Time Period (e.g. Senior Year)

Repeat this process (below) for each academic period you plan to include.

For example, if you received a GPA of 3.5 each semester of your senior year, and 2.5 each semester of your junior year, earning the same number of credits each semester. Doing the math, your GPA for your last 2 years was 3.0.

Sample Resume Formats:

Here are samples of this alternate format:

By Major GPA (# of major courses in parentheses)

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. Cumulative GPA 3.1/4.0. Major GPA 3.5/4.0 (14 courses)

By Time Period:

Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
June 2010
Bachelor of Arts in History.
GPA 2008 - 2010: 3.7/4.0 (20 courses). Cumulative GPA 3.2/4.0.
Dean's List 2009, 2010.

The benefit of this strategy? Employers get the GPA. You get to demonstrate your strengths in a particular area or your ability to improve grades over time. (Note: If Cumulative GPA is still under 3.0, leave it off.)

I once watched a student who earned a 4.0 his last two years of college play this strategy into a job on Wall Street after a bumpy academic start. Because of the importance investment banks place on GPA, this never would have happened if the GPA had been left off the resume or if the student had simply presented his overall cumulative average.

Bottom Line

Make sure employers can duplicate your math on your transcript and list that GPA. As Br'er Rabbit advises, “It's not what you got; it's how you use it.”


About the author...

E. Chandlee Bryan, M.Ed.(@chandlee and Google+) is a career advisor at Dartmouth College. She also runs Best Fit Forward, a small private practice providing career management services and training. A certified career coach and resume writer, Chandlee's experience includes working as a recruiter, facilitating one of Manhattan's largest job search meetups, and serving as the resume expert for a national Microsoft campaign. She is a co-author of The Twitter Job Search Guide (JIST 2010) and, more recently, helped research, The A+ Solution, a book on the role professional associations can play in workforce development.


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