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What are the differences between Degree Classification and GPA?

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Going to university is a great experience and you will want to achieve a result in your undergraduate degree which will help you take a big step into the world of employment.

However, due to fierce competition of other graduates when applying for available roles in industry after graduation, many of the world’s top companies will not consider applicants with lower than a 2:1 degree from a UK based university when recruiting recent graduates. There are two major issues with this:

  • The difference between a low 2:1 degree and a high 2:2 degree is negligible on paper and may translate as one incorrect answer in an exam. The 2:2 candidate may be a more appropriate person for the employer’s vacancy but because of that dropped mark they are unable to apply.
  • The difference between a low 2:1 degree and a high 2:1 degree can be a significant difference when it comes to assessing someone’s academic achievement and this even more dramatic when comparing a low 1st class degree to a high 1st class degree. This prevents employers from identifying the most capable applicants for each role.

Due to growing pressure from employers (because the current degree classification system allows very little distinction between grades), some British institutions are considering changing the way assignments are graded and moving to a more international method – the GPA. But what is the difference between the traditional British degree classification system and the GPA? Let us explain in this article.

Classical degree classification

With this system, most modules you take are given a percentage mark and at the end of your degree these are averaged to get an overall percentage and translated into a classification for your degree as shown below:

BoundaryDegree classification
0-39% Unclassified
40-44% Ordinary / Pass
45-49% Third / 3rd
50-59% Lower Second / 2:2
60-69% Upper Second / 2:1
70%+ First / 1st

The difference between 59% and 60% could make a signification impact on your career path. In many cases the University may offer some flexibility with your grading and offer you a viva (oral exam) to determine whether you qualify for the higher or lower classification. The viva is similar to an interview and you will be quizzed extensively on the content of your degree along with a particular focus on your dissertation or final year project.

What about GPA?

The Grade Point Average (GPA) system is widely used internationally and is seen as the best alternative to the UK degree classification system. Using GPA, every module is marked through the use of descriptors, which are categories such as fair, good and excellent. At the end of your degree these descriptors are translated into a score which falls between zero and four (with zero being the lowest and four the highest). In some countries such as Hong Kong and Indonesia the GPA the scale is slightly different, going beyond 4.0 for the higher grades.

Using this system your final degree mark will be a number rather than a classification, e.g. 3.6. This system allows for more granularity in grading, as show on the example comparison table below:

Grade pointDegree descriptorBoundaries
4.25Top 1st77 or higher
4.00Good 1st74-76
3.75Low 1st70-73
3.50High 2:167-69
3.25Mid 2:164-66
3.00Low 2:160-63
2.75High 2:257-59
2.50Mid 2:254-56
2.25Low 2:250-53
1.50Low 3rd or Pass40
0.50Marginal Fail38-39
0.00Fail37 or lower

The benefits of the GPA system

Moving to the GPA allows university graduates greater international portability of their results, whilst allowing awarding universities more granularity in the results they are able to award to their students.

The UK degree classification system was once the most popular system across the commonwealth but with more students studying abroad, the GPA grading scheme is becoming increasingly popular due to its international outlook.

Many UK institutions are already keen to consider the use of the GPA system, including UCL, LSE, University of Birmingham, University of Sheffield, University of Warwick, University of York and the University of Nottingham, who were all part of a pilot scheme aimed at bringing the GPA degree classification the the UK.

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