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GPA from Canadian Schools


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I've been trying to figure out how GPA works when applying from a Canadian undergraduate institution to an American grad school.

I've been using this chart—http://studentsuccess.mcmaster.ca/resources/gpa-conversion-chart.html—and I was hoping to clear up a few things.

Right now, with a cumulative average of 81, I fall into the 3.7 category. In my third year, I had a 79, and an 82 in my fourth year, giving me an average of about 80.5.

But I have a few questions. In my final year I took a total of 4.5 credits instead of 5 because I did an upper-year internship in the summer that was graded on pass/fail. Will the school simply look at second year grades to assess the missing 0.5 credit percentile grade, or it just doesn't matter?

Secondly, is an 81 truly a 3.7? I noticed that according to that chart GPA jumps from a 3.3 at a 79 to a 3.7 at 80. So am I more like a 3.5 or 3.6, or a true 3.7?

And lastly, does anyone have any idea (other factors aside), if this GPA is enough to get me past the first look for an ivy league school?


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I think the most true way to figure out your GPA would be to convert each course percentage grade to a letter grade (which is where the 3.3 to 3.7 jump comes from, a B+ to a A-). Then you multiply each letter grade GPA by the course weighting, add all together, divide by the total credits. Make sense? So if you had:

78% - 0.5 credits

81% - 0.5 credits

80% - 0.5 credits

You would get (3.3*0.5)+(3.7*0.5)+(3.7*0.5) / 1.5 = 3.56666667

I went to a Canadian school that used letter grades, and that is how our GPA was calculated

Edited by ktel
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Here's my experience with applying to US schools from a Canadian one that only gives percentages (like yours is!).

Judging by the way GPAs are calculated at places in Canada where GPAs are given (my wife's school, and my current school just switched to GPA system last May), you need to calculate a "grade point" on the 4.0 scale for EACH course, weighted by the number of credits (i.e. a 1.0 credit course is worth twice as much as a 0.5 credit course) and then average those numbers. That's why some people can report GPAs of, for example, 3.68 or whatever.

This was really complicated -- I ended up making a spreadsheet, especially since some schools I am applying to has different GPA scales!

However, it's not all bad -- some schools said that if you are an international student, they don't even want to see your self-computed GPA, they say to just upload your transcript and they will figure it out themselves. In other cases, like vonLipwig, the GPA box is actually a box that looks like:

___ / ____

so I would fill in, 81 / 100 in your case. In even better cases, there is a textbox next to those boxes that allow you to give an explanation.

There was only one school that didn't give me the option of giving my GPA out of 100, and no special instructions to international students. So I contacted the grad secretary and she said to just upload the transcript, they'll figure it out (that school's international student application deadline was 1 month before their domestic deadline, for issues like that I suppose).

As for the 0.5 credit "gap", it depends on the school's policy -- if they want the most recent X credits, then they would probably go back to 2nd year. If they only care about 300+ level courses, then they won't. I get the sense that unlike Canadian schools, which usually explicitly says that they only look at your 3rd and 4th year courses, the US schools care about cumulative GPA a bit more (or your GPA in your major, in all years). But I should think that when they inspect transcripts, they would focus on the senior courses more!

For Ivy League schools, I think it would be possible? When my undergrad friends or my students ask me about grad school, if they have research experience and a GPA ~3.8+ then I would strongly encourage them to apply to several top tier schools. GPAs 3.5 to 3.8 I would encourage them to apply to top tier schools but realise that they are a little bit of a reach (but not out of reach depending on other factors). Below 3.5, I wouldn't discourage anyone from applying to a "dream school", but I would strongly encourage them to apply to other schools as well and to realise that their dream school might really be a reach. So to answer your question, I think your GPA is good enough to get past the "first look" as you say, and it will depend on other factors. My numbers are based in my field, physics/astro, so there could very well be a +/- 0.1 uncertainty. In general, the $100 application fee is usually worth it to find out -- for 1-2 schools anyways.

Remember that "Ivy League" is really just a college sports division, it doesn't really mean great academics, and it's a bigger deal in undergrad to be Ivy League than graduate studies. These schools are still very good schools! But for your field, it's probably better to consider the field-specific rankings and the top 10 would indicate which ones are the best reputed schools.

And finally, as International students, (I might have said this before) it might actually be easier for us to get into private schools because at private schools, everyone pays the same tuition (i.e. if you're funded, the department pays the same tuition for an international grad as a domestic grad). At public schools, Americans (especially in-state ones) pay much lower tuition because their taxes subsidize tuition. So, it will cost the department a lot more to fund an international student, and that will lower our chances.

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I was actually a bit more aggressive about it - even when the box on the application form wanted a GPA out of 4.0, I entered N/A, or 0.0 or something, and then explained it in the next "Is there anything else you want to tell us?" box. Of all my applications (10ish), I only once was faced with a box that wouldn't accept N/A or 0.0 or anything, so I actually had to make up some kind of conversion (I just did proportional, eg 80% = 3.2/4.0) and then told them that in the next comments box. They're not going to be unused to this scenario - I wouldn't worry too much about it.

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Okay, so using this site—http://www.foreigncredits.com/Resources/GPA-Calculator/—I'>http://www.foreigncredits.com/Resources/GPA-Calculator/—I have a 3.8, but using ktel's system I have a 3.53. Sigh.

In terms of looking at upper-year courses, I find that doesn't compute that well in Canada, or at least at my school. Fourth year courses don't exist, with the exception of one 0.5 credit seminar class. Beyond that, you have first year courses, and then you have 2000 level and 3000 level classes which populate 2nd to 4th year transcripts. So perhaps they just look at everything, in which case my average of 81 is roughly the same as my final years.

And then in terms of major courses, we have classes that are listed under another faculty but still considered to be part of our major, so that complicates things further.

I guess I'll just wait and see, but did anyone else find this calculator (http://www.foreigncredits.com/Resources/GPA-Calculator/) to be accurate? Or did it boost your GPA?

I'm just wondering for myself at this point and not for any official application.

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The calculator link you gave calculates the grad the "ktel" way (i.e. weigh each course grade by the number of credits), except with the added step of automatically converting a "Canada" grade to a "US" grade, using a table. I noticed that the table for Ontario is very different from what your school uses (the first link you gave).

So, unfortunately, the more accurate way, I think, is to use your school's conversions for each course and then average all the grades using the method ktel described. The second calculator link uses an arbitrary conversion system which might be useful if your school didn't provide a % to GPA chart.

A problem with a GPA system is that a difference between, say, 79% and 80% is very big! Usually that's a 0.3 grade point change. But if the grade came from a 100 question multiple choice test, that's only 1 answer different. However, on the other hand, if you are grading an essay, how do you distinguish between a 80% essay and a 79% essay? It would be easier to group students in different categories ("A+", "A", "A-" and so on). Most students will have some courses where it makes sense to get a % grade and other courses where a letter grade / 4.0 scale only makes more sense. Sometimes certain elements of a course (e.g. multiple choice midterm and a final essay project) might have differing "optimal" grading practices too! In addition, a GPA of say 3.7 could come from a lot of 4.0 courses and a lot of 3.4 courses; or it could happen from consistently getting 3.6-3.8 marks, which indicates a different type of record for sure!

Now add onto the fact that each school grades differently -- not only do the conversion range for, say, a 3.7 grade vary, but also the expectations for a 3.7 / A - grade could vary too -- and it becomes very hard to quantitatively judge two GPAs from two schools and be able to say that Student A is better than Student B by some measure.

So, I don't think it's too useful to try to get precise GPA values, if it's a 4.0 system, I'd probably say, when comparing grades from different schools, any GPA should come with a +/- 0.15 or 0.20 even -- so you can probably say a 3.9GPA student did better than a 3.6, say, but it would be tough to pick the better student between 3.7 and 3.8!

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