Grading system in the USA

Similar to Germany, a certain number of credits is required for a degree from an American university. Students receive these credits by attending courses and the grades they have earned during their studies.

The grades of the individual subjects are set in relation to the weekly semester hours. Whereas in the USA, the number of credits awarded depends on the duration of the course (Contact Hours), the European credit transfer system ECTS is based on the workload of the students. Since each university in Germany has its own rating system, there is no uniform rule for the conversion and credit eligibility of credits.

However, the rule of thumb is the conversion formula:
2 ECTS points = 1 US Credit Point

Alternatively, at some universities, 2 US Credit Points are equated with 3 ECTS points.

Grades in the USA are not given in the form of numbers, but letters. Each letter corresponds to a certain percentage and is noted in the certificate (transcript). Some universities use plus and minus signs to indicate good and bad performance.

Grade average in the USA: the GPA

The GPA (Grade Point Average) is an integral part of the grading system in the USA. This is the average grade mark which American universities often determine after each semester, but at the latest at the end of the course of study.

The GPA is usually calculated using a four-point scale. It provides information on the overall grade after graduation.

The system of grades in the USA is not uniform and there is no generally accepted method for calculating the average grade. However, the following overview of the US-UK Fulbright Commission shows the most common clef in the USA:

Letter Grade Percentage Grade Point Average
A 90 – 100 % 4.0
B 80 – 89 % 3.0
C 70 – 79 % 2.0
D 65 – 69 % 1.0
F Below 65 % 0

In order to determine the GPA, the numerical values of the notes of each course are added together, for example four points for an A, two points for a C. The resulting sum is divided by the total number of courses taken and finally results in the GPA.

Students normally achieve grades in the range of 80 – 100 %. This is regarded as a good achievement in the US grading system.

The grading system in the USA and the examination forms

Since the study system in the United States is a lot more blurred than in Germany, this also has an effect on the system of marks in the USA. Thus, the final grade includes a series of achievements that have to be completed by the students during the semester. This includes homework, projects and one or more term papers. In addition to the final examination at the end of the semester, intermediate examinations are common in almost every course, the so-called midterm exams.

As a rule, the final exam is less comprehensive than in Germany, as the students have to do different courses of study during the semester. However, some courses do not require an examination at the end of the year. Instead, the teachers give out homework every day and write regular quizzes.

Information for international students on the US Grade System

In order for international students to be granted the F1 visa for studying in the USA, they must study in the USA as full-time students. Full-time students in the USA are subject to the following conditions:

  • In the undergraduate area: at least 12 credit hours per term. This normally corresponds to four courses.
  • In the graduate area: Here, the prescribed number of credits varies from university to university and depends on the respective study programme. In most cases, Master’s students have to take a minimum of 8 or 9 credits per term, but at some universities up to 12 credits are required.

Normally, students in Germany earn 30 ECTS credits in one semester. As a rule, this guideline also applies to a semester abroad in the USA. However, the minimum number of 12 credits that full-time Bachelor students in the USA have to earn is only 24 ECTS credits according to the usual conversion formula. This means that the required number of ECTS credits per semester is not achieved. For this reason, many students attend an additional course on site. This brings them to 16 credit hours, which translates into 32 ECTS points.

Important: Students should consult their home university before starting their stay abroad about the recognition of study achievements abroad and the exact conversion of the credits earned into ECTS credits. This is the only way to ensure a smooth recognition process.