How to Get Good Grades in College

Good grades can open many doors in college: scholarships, acceptance into certain majors and better chances of getting into graduate school.

Likewise, bad grades can close those same doors, possibly requiring students to repeat classes to reopen them. But what defines a good or bad grade largely depends on the goals students set for their collegiate career, academic experts say.

“We really want our students to work with us to define what they think good grades are for them to be successful. At a bare minimum, it’s going to be a 2.0 (grade point average),” says Chris Jensen, assistant vice president for student success at Western Kentucky University. “That’s what they need to graduate, but we want our students to strive for more than that.”

Broken down by letter grade, a student with all A’s earns a 4.0, all B’s gets a 3.0 and all C’s hits the 2.0 mark. GPA is calculated over a student’s college career by averaging all of their class grades.

While a 2.0 may be enough to graduate from many college programs, it may fall short depending on major requirements. Some programs — particularly those with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math — require a 3.0 or better. Similarly, admission to graduate school typically requires a GPA higher than a 2.0, especially for competitive programs.

Falling below a 2.0 can come with consequences as dire as academic probation, suspension or even expulsion. Poor grades may also disqualify students from scholarships or financial aid and cost students more time and money when pursuing a degree.

GPA also matters for students looking to transfer to a more competitive program or another college. Students who struggle prior to transferring can have a tougher time getting admitted to certain colleges. Others who need to retake classes they failed may have to “play catch up” to avoid staying in school longer than planned, says Yvette Walker, assistant dean of student affairs at Oklahoma University‘s college of journalism and mass communication.

Here are some tips from experts on how to earn high marks.

Go to Class

In college, attendance policies vary by professor, and it can be tempting to skip class. But experts emphasize the importance of being present and on time. If you must miss class, make sure to notify the professor.

“Classes are where professors provide information that shows up on exams,” Jennifer LeBeau, executive director for student success initiatives at the University of Idaho, wrote in an email. “Classes provide an opportunity to interact with other students, to have questions answered, and to apply the material being taught and learned.”

Read the Syllabus

A typical syllabus includes a class description, a calendar, the grading rubric, attendance policies and required materials. Students will also find details on deadlines, assigned readings, extra credit opportunities and more. Knowing what’s in the syllabus can give you an idea of what to expect over the course of a semester.

“Students should keep the syllabus with them every day and refer to it often throughout the semester,” LeBeau says.

It’s particularly important for freshmen to review the syllabus for each class, Walker says, to ensure they understand class policies and expectations, which can often be more rigorous than what students were used to in high school. She sees the syllabus as an opportunity to emphasize attendance and plagiarism policies, which she says are important foundational concepts for new college students to grasp.

Work Ahead

With the syllabus serving as the class road map, attentive students know what assignment is around the bend. Online materials can also help.

“Today content is offered in these hybrid models where your information is online ahead of time. And it’s also delivered in the classroom. So what can you be doing to work ahead?” says Stephanie Bannister, assistant vice provost for student success at Kansas State University. Students should use the information to get a jump on class reading assignments, she says.

Go to Tutoring

Walker says students often ask about doing extra credit — which is good — but “the extra credit is not going to help them unless they get their grade as high as they can possibly get it,” she says.

Stay on top of homework, and reach out to on-campus tutoring services if you need help.

It’s important to normalize the fact that students will struggle in college, says Thomas Stearns, manager of the university tutoring center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

“Sometimes we need to hear something a couple times,” he says. “Sometimes we need to practice something multiple times before we get it down. Just developing a culture where that is normalized can really help to take some of the stigma away from that label of tutoring.”

Some colleges offer group tutoring, while others have one-on-one sessions. Likewise, some schools offer tutoring through each academic department, while others provide it at a learning center.

Meet With Faculty and Advisers

Faculty office hours exist for a reason, and experts encourage students to take advantage of that time.

Students should seek out academic advisers to connect with campus resources and decide on classes. Advisers can help students stay on track for graduation by helping them set reasonable course loads and expectations, Jensen says.

“During COVID, it became even more evident how important connections and communication between students and their faculty are for student success,” Jensen wrote in an email. “Faculty are understanding when students go through challenging life circumstances; however, they cannot help if they are not aware of the situation.”

Find a Balance

For many students, a job is necessary to help pay for college. As of 2020, 25% of full-time students and 66% of part-time students worked at least 20 hours per week while in college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

While that may be unavoidable for some students — particularly adult learners — experts caution against working too much, especially at the beginning. A 2021 study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton College of Business found students who worked had lower grade point averages.

Jensen recommends students don’t work more than 20 hours a week during their first semester, while Bannister suggests students start out with a campus job of 10 to 15 hours a week and add more hours if they feel capable.

And whether it’s a job or something fun, LeBeau encourages students to pursue what they’re passionate about.

“Academic and personal success are closely related,” she says. “Students will be most successful when they find a balance between the two.”

Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.

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How to Get Good Grades in College originally appeared on

Update 11/03/22: The story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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