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Cumulative GPA vs. Overall GPA: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 26, 2024
Cumulative GPA averages grades over a specific period or program, while overall GPA is the average of all coursework throughout a student's entire academic career.

Key Differences

Cumulative GPA is calculated by averaging grades over a certain period, like a semester or academic year, reflecting performance in that specific timeframe. Overall GPA, however, represents the average of all coursework a student has completed during their entire academic career, including multiple semesters or years.
Cumulative GPA can change significantly with each term, as it is recalculated based on recent academic performance. In contrast, overall GPA tends to be more stable, as it includes all grades from all terms, making it less susceptible to dramatic changes from one term's performance.
In educational settings, cumulative GPA is often used to assess a student's recent academic progress, important for scholarships or academic probation decisions. Overall GPA, on the other hand, is used for broader evaluations, like graduation eligibility or overall academic standing.
Cumulative GPA can provide a more immediate reflection of a student's current academic strengths and weaknesses. Meanwhile, overall GPA gives a long-term perspective of a student's academic performance, useful for employers or graduate schools evaluating a student's consistency and endurance.
When students transfer schools, their cumulative GPA may be reset, reflecting only their performance at the new institution. However, their overall GPA may incorporate grades from all attended institutions, providing a comprehensive academic record.

Comparison Chart

Calculation Period

Specific semester or year
Entire academic career


More variable with each term
More stable over time


Assess recent academic progress
Evaluate long-term academic performance


Immediate academic strengths and weaknesses
Long-term consistency and endurance

Impact of Transfer

May reset at a new institution
Often includes grades from all institutions

Cumulative GPA and Overall GPA Definitions

Cumulative GPA

Average for a particular program or major.
My cumulative GPA in my engineering program is 3.8.

Overall GPA

Average of all grades throughout academic career.
My overall GPA upon graduation was 3.4.

Cumulative GPA

Changes each term based on recent grades.
My cumulative GPA rose to 3.6 after this semester.

Overall GPA

Reflects enduring academic performance.
My overall GPA shows my consistent effort over four years.

Cumulative GPA

GPA calculated annually.
My cumulative GPA for my junior year was 3.7.

Overall GPA

Often used to determine eligibility for graduation.
I need to maintain a 2.5 overall GPA to graduate.

Cumulative GPA

Reflects latest academic achievements.
My cumulative GPA reflects my improved effort in courses.

Overall GPA

Includes every course taken.
My overall GPA includes grades from all my college courses.

Cumulative GPA

Average of grades for a specific semester.
My cumulative GPA for this semester is 3.5.

Overall GPA

Used by employers and grad schools.
Employers will look at my overall GPA for a sense of my academic commitment.


Is overall GPA important for college applications?

Yes, it's a crucial factor in college admissions, reflecting a student's overall academic performance.

What does overall GPA mean?

Overall GPA usually refers to the average grade point in all courses taken in a specific level of education, like high school or college.

Are cumulative GPA and overall GPA the same?

Often they are used interchangeably, but some institutions may define them differently.

Can cumulative GPA be improved?

Yes, by earning higher grades in subsequent courses.

Do employers look at cumulative or overall GPA?

Employers may consider either, depending on how the institution defines them.

How is cumulative GPA calculated?

It's calculated by adding up all the grade points a student has earned and dividing by the total number of credits taken.

Does overall GPA include elective courses?

Typically, yes, it includes grades from all courses, including electives.

What is a cumulative GPA?

Cumulative GPA is the average of all grades a student has received over their entire academic career.

Does retaking a class affect overall GPA?

Yes, if the institution allows grade replacement, retaking and earning a higher grade can improve the GPA.

Is cumulative GPA different for different majors?

The calculation method is the same, but the specific course grades contributing to it will vary by major.

How often is cumulative GPA updated?

It's usually updated at the end of each academic term after final grades are posted.

What is a good cumulative GPA?

Generally, a GPA of 3.0 or above is considered good, but this can vary by institution and field of study.

How does a failing grade affect overall GPA?

A failing grade can significantly lower the GPA, depending on the credit weight of the course.

Is a 4.0 cumulative GPA possible?

Yes, it means a student has earned the highest grades possible in all their courses.

Can I exclude a class from my cumulative GPA?

Policies vary by institution; some may allow grade forgiveness or exclusion in certain circumstances.

Are cumulative GPAs rounded?

Policies on rounding GPAs differ among institutions.

Can transfer students combine GPAs from different schools?

This depends on the policies of the receiving institution.

Do online courses count towards cumulative GPA?

Yes, if they are credited, they usually count towards the GPA.

Does pass/fail affect cumulative GPA?

Typically, pass/fail courses do not affect GPA, but this can vary by school policy.

How important is overall GPA for graduate school?

Very important; it's a key factor in admissions decisions for most graduate programs.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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