How to get a 4.0 GPA in college? Scoring tons of As and graduating from my master’s program with the highest possible GPA was never my intention or primary objective. Instead, it was the natural result of many small steps, experiences, and decisions that just made sense to me after my bachelor’s program. Here, I’d like to go over and share the “lessons learned” and “best practices” I came across in the past seven years – at seven different universities worldwide. Doing so, I like to explain how I managed to graduate with the highest possible GPA in engineering from one of the best technical universities in Germany according to both QS top universities and Times Higher Education. Needless to say, if I can do it, you can do it, too.
Note: Whenever talking about a “4.0 GPA”, I refer to the German equivalent, a “1,0-grade average”. However, you can apply most of the following tips on how to get better grades worldwide.
Let’s start with some basics you should consider before the start of your study program.
Misconceptions about perfect GPAs
First things first: One of the major misconceptions about perfect GPAs is that you actually need straight As in all classes. That’s not true. You don’t need straight As everywhere to get an extremely high overall average, just as you don’t need 100% in your classes to get As in the first place.
1. Keep your motivation in mind
First, you should think about why you want to achieve a high or perfect GPA. Unless you are some sort of a genius, it requires a lot of work and sacrifices.
– Do you want to raise your chances for much sought-after scholarships or awards?
– Is a high GPA required to stand out from the crowd on the job market in your country?
– Do you have a dream company you want to work for?
– Or maybe you just want to be the best in your class?
At all times, keep your primary cause or driver in mind. Especially for master’s or graduate programs, you only have to put in the hard work for a very limited time, usually around one and a half to two years. Whenever you think about giving up, remind yourself why you started in the first place. After all, you should enjoy what you are doing anyway. Try to remember and motivate yourself with an image, small flag, tiny figure, model car, or the like and put it close to you on your desk or nightstand. A little bit childish, I know. It might sound very hard, but remember the following: your GPA sticks with you for all your future applications.
2. Pick programs with high degrees of freedom
If you have the choice, go for universities and programs with a high degree of freedom when it comes to the course selection. This way, you can make sure to take classes you are 100% interested in exclusively. In other words: Avoid universities and programs with compulsory courses you don’t like.
If you are not doing what you love, you almost never reach a high GPA. Therefore, only choose programs that really match your interests. You should enjoy putting in all the work and going to all the lectures every single day.
3. Understand the program’s examination policy
Make sure to understand the entire examination policy of your study program. What do I mean by that? Check if you can try courses and drop out if you don’t like them. Also, make sure to understand how the GPA is calculated: How are all the courses weighted? How many credits is the thesis worth? Are there any advantages or incentives if you graduate within the standard period of study? In that case, some universities calculate your overall GPA only based on a certain number of grades – not considering some of your minor slip-ups.
Once you selected a university and program you like, try the following tips.
4. Pick courses that match your abilities
Choose courses that match both your interests and personal abilities. Afraid of oral exams? Hate group projects? Bad at writing essays and reports? Make life easier and more fun by choosing courses you can enjoy. Sure, if you want to improve on specific skills, you have to get out of your comfort zone. However, at large universities, there are usually several courses dealing with the same subjects, just in different ways. Make the course catalog your bible and understand all the details about every class you are considering. Next, make a shortlist, come up with your own assessment criteria, and finally, go for your personal crème de la crème.
5. Understand the course grading rules
For every course you are going for, you have to understand the course structure and grading policy. Is there any homework? Midterms? Presentations? How much is the final worth? Understanding all course structures is vital for good time management later on. Assuming you are short on time during the semester. In that case, try to avoid putting in too much work into things that only have a minor influence on your final grade. The only way to set the right priorities is to know all the weightings of all the different work items.
6. Get the easy marks
There are more challenging and more manageable classes at each university in the world, to put it delicately. Why would you want to miss out on the easy ones? Especially if your program doesn’t allow for a high degree of freedom regarding the course selection, make sure to score As in the easier classes. If you have at least some free electives, make sure to pick the right ones. You could even go for basic, undergraduate courses if you like the topics.
If your program is already super complex and challenging, why overload yourself with even more work? At this point, I would not recommend taking introductory language courses in your first or second native language, if applicable, just to score easy As. You might have to justify that in future job interviews.
After choosing all the courses wisely, let’s talk about daily college life.
7. Go to ALL lectures, laboratories, and tutorials
One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to go to all the lectures, laboratories, or tutorials. This has several advantages.
1) You can network with your fellow students and make new friends. Everyone needs good friends in their lives. Also, you can form study groups and help each other out. After all, don’t you want to sip a beer in good company after all the studying?
2) By attending the lectures, you always, always get additional information about the exams. Especially towards the end of the semester, there are always people asking questions about the exams. And in most cases, the professors would give some tips and hints here and there. However, the same goes for the whole semester, actually. Take notes of all the suggestions during the semester to be well prepared for the final exam.
3) Getting to know the professor is key to understanding his or her expectations. Is the grading policy super strict? Does the professor prefer short, keyword-like answers? Is it ok to answer problems with drawings or sketches? Getting to know the professors before the exams is key to “satisfy “them in the best way possible by giving them exactly what they ask for.
8. Ask a lot of questions
During and after the lectures, you should always ask all the questions you might have on your mind. Do yourself and others, a favor and don’t be shy. Trust me when I say that you are NEVER the only student with a particular question. Everyone around you is just as smart as you. In the end, you all go to the same college. You are doing two things by asking questions:
First, you save time by not teaching something you didn’t get during the lecture to yourself after class.
Second, you show your classmates that you are an open-minded and outgoing person, making it easier for others to approach you and form study groups.
You also show your motivation and interest by asking questions, which makes a good impression. Leaving the professor with a good impression of yourself is essential if you want to ask him or her for a letter of recommendation. Not asking questions or not attending classes at all significantly minimizes or kills your chances for a strong letter of recommendation.
9. Group Projects: Articulate your expectations
Try to articulate your expectations towards the outcome (grade) during the first team meeting. This does two things. First, by showing your motivation and determination, you can try to set a clear goal and guide the team in the right direction. Second, it allows you to see the group member’s reactions to your high ambitions, which gives you an indication of their motivation and drive. Knowing what you are up to in a group project is vital for later success. As in most group projects, you might have to bite the bullet and do some of the work from others if you want to receive the highest grade possible.
10. Group Projects: Take responsibility
Group projects in college can be complicated. If you want to minimize risks and come up with a great result without running out of time, take the position of the unofficial project lead. I am not talking about delegating all the work and let the others do the job. But trying to make sure everything goes according to plan. Suggest agreeing on dates for important milestones and propose simple project management tools like significantly simplified Gantt charts. Also, split the major tasks across the team, but define work packages together. It helps to structure the project and keeps the people accountable. Needless to say, you should keep track of everything without being condescending towards your group members. Keep the ship on track. Be a supervisor without supervising.
Study Tips & Work Ethic
The following are tips on how to study and improve your overall performance.
11. Prepare for and recap lectures
Preparing for and recapping all the lectures is one of the most important things to do. And it doesn’t have to take very long. Before each class:
– Go through the lecture slides (if available) to get an idea of what the professor will be talking about.
– After each class, go through the slides again and make sure you understood everything.
– Create your own little summary by taking notes of the most important takeaways, key messages, or facts.
If you have any open questions (and you can’t find the answer yourself), write them down and get in touch with the tutors. Alternatively, ask the professor before or during the following lecture.
12. Invent your own exam questions
After the lecture, when going through the slides, try to put yourself in the professor’s position and think of your own exam questions. Many professors come up with exam questions based on the lecture slides anyway. By trying to invent questions, you automatically focus more on the core content and key messages. What could be a great exam question? Ask yourself that question when recapping the lectures and add the question to your notes. Throughout the entire semester, follow tip #13 and use your notes and own exam question to study for the final exam.
13. Use index cards to memorize everything
Studying and memorizing basically anything using index cards* was by far the biggest game-changer for me. And most likely the true secret to my “success”. After recapping each lecture, I put all the notes and my own exam questions on actual paper-based index cards. Writing down the notes one more time and adding some nice sketches helped me understand and memorize everything way better. Going through the cards on the subway, during breaks, or at home finally strengthened all the details.
For each exam, I had around 150 individual index cards*. It was a lot of work but worth every single second. I have never used index cards before, but they absolutely changed how I learn new things forever. Of course, you can add former exam questions to your collection if you get your hands on some. Check out the next tip.
14. Check the exams from previous years
There are always ways to put your hands on old exams and take a sneak peek of what’s coming your way. The easiest are official collections of previous exams and/or notes from former students. The best way to find out if your university keeps such collections is by asking your tutors. They should know. Your professors will not tell you about such records of old exams and notes. I didn’t know such things existed throughout my entire bachelor’s degree. Another way of getting some extra tips and insights is getting in touch with senior students. There are endless ways of getting in touch with “older “students. Since you have nothing to lose, you could even ask your tutors for old exams.
15. Study in tandems
One of the most critical study tips of them all: study and work together in groups. I would recommend tandems or a maximum of three people to stay productive. This way, you can support each other by explaining complicated topics, sharing ideas, brainstorming together, or testing one another before exams. Try to find someone with the same motivation and drive. If you are reading this, that’s the people asking all the question after class 😉 In the best case, your group members are also your friends, making it even more fun.
Being nice to people and helping others is always praiseworthy. Still, study groups or tandems should never be a one-way street. If you are only meeting with others to explain everything and answer their questions without getting anything in return, you are giving private lessons for free, instead of “improving” together. In the long run, study groups should always be beneficial for everyone. If you come across such students, your best bet is to find others to study with or try to study by yourself. After all, there are many free online resources and tutorials about almost any subject out there.
16. Do the easy stuff first
For better time management, I’d recommend focusing on what you are good at first. This way, you get it done and over with so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Besides, it’s always a great feeling to cross things off your list. Next, focus on the tasks, projects, or presentations that need more time. By doing the easy stuff first, you can keep working on the hard stuff (somewhat) stress-free until the very last second of the deadline and submit the best results possible.
17. Get help from tutors
In most countries worldwide, the tutors are still almost around the same age as the students. The majority are PhD students who (have to) support the professors. Therefore, they are super easy to talk to and very friendly. Also, most of them have been in your situation just a couple of years ago and know all your struggles. That’s why they are a great help concerning all your questions and problems. Also, to some extent, it is part of their job to help and support you. Don’t hesitate to seek help from them.
18. Get feedback from professors
Let’s assume you studied a lot, visited all the lectures and tutorials, and answered the exam questions just like the professor likes it. Ended up with a way worse grade than expected? In that case, you should definitely reach out to the professor (after class or by email) and ask for a personal appointment during office hours.
Discuss your answers, try to get feedback on your performance, and ask for advice for future exams. In some cases, the professors would even grant or give back some of the points you lost. In any case, you should be exceptionally well prepared for the meeting and show that you know what you are talking about. Especially after oral exams, it is very common to ask for feedback and advice for future exams. Don’t be shy. Asking for feedback and advice just proves your motivation and highs ambitions.
19. Go the extra mile
Sometimes, a little effort can go a long way. The same goes for presentations, reports, or any kind of homework. Professors and teaching assistants (tutors) have to go through almost the exact same pieces of work countless times during the semester. Can you imagine reading the same homework from 40 different students? Or listening to the same presentation 20 times? Speaking from personal experiences as both a student AND a teaching assistant, I can assure you that putting in a little more work (than most other students) can almost guarantee you better grades.
Show that you appreciate the staff’s time and daily effort. How? Try to make your work (somewhat) pretty, well structured, and easy to understand. Try to stand out from the crowd – more on that in the future.
20. Nail your thesis
At many universities, the thesis (or final year project) represents a significant portion of your overall GPA (up to 25% or one quarter in a four-semester master’s program). Make sure to figure out how your thesis, if any, is weighted towards your GPA. Getting a good grade in the thesis is absolutely crucial and sometimes the only way for an outstanding overall average. The weighting depends on your university’s standards and if it sets value on scientific writing and research.
Usually, each university, institute, or faculty has its own guidelines for writing a thesis. It would be best if you find the guideline and follow it step-by-step. I can not stress this enough: Not following an existing guideline and losing points that way is definitely something you want to avoid.
Another good idea is to ask your professor for a thesis from a former student (to get a better idea of how it should look like) or ask any former students directly. Remember that you don’t need 100% to get a good grade on your thesis. Usually, you are allowed to make some minor mistakes. However, if you are terrible at writing, take only courses, watch tutorials, or get a grammar checking tool like Grammarly.
21. Always keep your average in mind
Create an Excel sheet (or similar) and put in all your classes from your entire program. Now, whenever you receive another final grade, put it in there and check how the average changes. This does several things for you:
– It keeps you motivated if the average is around or moving towards your desired grade
– You can check which grades you need in the remaining classes (play around)
– Good way of checking if you are still on the right track and if achieving your goal is still possible.
Finally, let’s talk about your lifestyle and spare time.
22. Keep an overview of everything
The best way to keep an overview of everything in your life is by printing out a calendar for the entire semester. Search for free templates online, print them out, hang them on your door, and keep adding all the major deadlines. This gives you the best overview of everything and holds you accountable for your tasks.
For your daily business, you should have an actual paper-based calendar* (notebook). Writing down all the deadlines, tasks, meetings, or appointments manually helps you memories and organize everything better. I would not recommend using To-Do apps for your major deadlines in college. They might be great for household chores and birthday reminders but are not suitable for all the day-to-day college stuff.
23. Don’t waste time
I’m sure you knew this was coming at some point: don’t waste so much time. Again, graduating with a 4.0 GPA is solely based on hard work and dedication if you are not a genius. Cut back on all the streaming services (which also saves money in the long run) and focus more on your goal. Always keep your motivation in mind (tip #1) and study or work whenever you are not doing anything important. I studied most of the time when I wasn’t seeing friends, cooking, doing household chores, or exercising. And I enjoyed it 100%.
24. Say “no” more often
This one builds on the previous tip. To have more time to study and work on your projects, you have to say “no” more often. Sure, you will miss some events and parties here and there. But what’s most important to you? I am not talking about not seeing your friends anymore. But on cutting back on some parties (including the hangovers) to be more productive throughout the week.
Do you have to go to all the pub crawls and game nights? If a high GPA is the only way of receiving scholarships for study abroad programs or the only way of standing out from the crowd on the job market in your country, chose wisely. And if your friends turn their back on you, they never were your real friends in the first place. Saying “no” more often isn’t easy, and it is almost like a skill you have to learn.
25. Exercise, eat well, get enough sleep
This is kind of a no-brainer. Since I am not an expert in these fields anyway, I am not going into too much detail here. Let me just tell you that exercising and getting out in nature can help you feel much better and more relaxed. It also prevents you from the frustrating feeling of “sitting at home” and “doing the same thing” all day long. Ultimately, it prevents you from gaining weight during stressful periods of your study program, making you feel better. I can recommend running since you can do it anywhere and don’t need to schedule it with anyone. Just do it 😉
Getting enough sleep is just as important as exercising. Attending lectures or tutorials after a night out is just pointless. In that case, it is even better to sleep in and catch up on the lecture by yourself in the afternoon. Try to find a good rhythm and stick to it throughout the entire week (yes, also the weekends). To graduate with a 4.0 GPA, you have to use the weekends in the best way possible anyway. Ideally, you set your alarm only as a backup and wake up naturally at the same time every single day.
Here are some bonus tips that might not apply to everyone.
B1. Live close to the university
If you have the choice, always choose accommodation close to your university. As I pointed out in previous posts, I am a massive fan of on-campus housing. You can experience campus life way better and don’t waste so much time on public transportation. If you have to commute long distances every day, try to be productive by going through your index cards* (tip #13) or prepare for the following lecture. Of course, your commute can also be your “me-time”. In that case, do whatever you want and relax.
B2. Eat at the school cafeteria or meal prep
Suppose you have the financial resources and enough tasty food options in your school cafeteria, go for it. Not only does it save you time for grocery shopping, cooking, and dishwashing. It is also an excellent social activity you can do with your friends.
If your university doesn’t offer so many tasty options or you want to stick to a particular diet, cook once or twice a week and prep your meals in advance.
B3. Be prepared for one dreaded question
Let’s say you take all my advice to heart and graduate with a 4.0 GPA. In that case, please prepare a solid answer to the following question for your next interview: Do you have any hobbies?
German Intro for Google Search:
Den Master in Maschinenbau mit 1,0 bestehen dürfte das Ziel vieler Studenten in Deutschland sein. Doch wie schafft man es, ein Studium der Luft- und Raumfahrttechnik mit der Bestnote von 1,0 zu bestehen? In diesem Artikel möchte ich Tips und Ratschläge geben, wie auch du dein Masterstudium mit dieser Traumnote abschließen kannst. Nach vielen Erfahrungen aus meinem Bachelorstudium und diversen Stationen weltweit, teile ich hier meine „lessons learned“ und „best practices“ für sehr gute Noten im Studium.