Dear Mentor:

Please explain US terminology like GPA and official transcript.

As I looked into the university admissions information for the US and Canada, I came across some terminology that I do not fully understand, such as: official transcripts, grade point average (GPA), etc. Can you please help?

Rajat, Delhi, India

Dear Rajat:

We appreciate your difficulty with the differences in terminology and common practices. There are many variations in the terminology. Below are some major differences.

First of all, the Bachelor's degree is referred to as the undergraduate (undergrad, for short) degree, and the Master's or PhD degree is referred to as the graduate (grad, for short) degree. Thus, for admissions purposes, you would be applying for the undergraduate (Bachelor's degree) or graduate (Master's or PhD degree) programs.

Canada and India have similar British terminology for the term "Faculty" - for example, Engineering programs are offered by the Faculty of Engineering, and Commerce/Business programs are offered by the Faculty of Commerce. The corresponding language in the US would be the College of Engineering or Engineering School, and Business School. As you can see, the term "school" refers to college and university as well. The term "Commerce" does not exist in the US college or university system.

The terminology for the degrees is also different. The Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Science, called B.Sc. and M.Sc. in India, Canada, and UK, are called BS and MS in the US. Another variation is for the degrees in engineering - the Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Engineering are referred to as B.Eng. and M.Eng. in Canada, but BS in Engineering and MS in Engineering in the US.

Now let's turn to the issue of "official transcript" and Grade Point Average (GPA). The transcript refers to a record of your academic performance. The analogous term for India would be your Marks Sheet. The Marks Sheet contains your Marks (called points or score in the US and Canada) on various courses you have taken. Similarly, the transcript in the US or Canada contains your Grades on the various courses you have taken. The Grading System in the US and Canada translates your actual Marks (or points or score) into a Letter Grade for every course. While the Grading System may have variation across colleges and universities, the most common Grading System uses the letter grades A, B, C, D and F. Each grade is assigned points (or Grade Points) to calculate the Grade Point Average (GPA).

Typical Grading System in the US and Canada:

Grade Marks (Points or Score) Grade Points
A 80+ 4
B 70-79 3
C 60-69 2
D 50-59 1
F (failing grade) <50 0

Here is an example for calculating GPA:

  Grade Grade Points
Course 1 A 4
Course 2 B 3
Course 3 A 4
Course 4 C 2
Course 5 F 0
Total   13

The grade point average (GPA) for this example would be 13/5 = 2.60, since the total grade points score is 13 for 5 courses.

The translation of Marks in India to the Grade Point Average System, as shown above, does not fairly reflect the performance. The direct translation tends to downgrade the actual performance of a student in India. The Grading System in the US and Canada "inflates" the performance of a local student in relative terms. For example, the First Division performance of 60% or 65% Marks in India, considered good performance, translates to a mediocre C grade performance in the US and Canada. Similarly, a Distinction in India at 75%, considered outstanding performance, translates to a merely good performance under the Grade Point System. Thus, when the minimum GPA requirement for admission is 3.0, which it is for most Graduate (Master's or PhD) programs, we believe that a First Division performance from India is the comparable threshold for eligibility (which does not necessarily mean that the student would be accepted).

Given all this, does it mean that students from India are treated unfairly relative to other students in the admissions process in terms of evaluating the academic performance? The simple answer is no. Most schools, which admit international students, have a reasonably good understanding of the evaluation system in India. They do not use the literal translation of Marks into Grades as shown above. They also take into account the reputation of the school (or college or university) from which the student has graduated. Although they make every effort to be fair, they may not be familiar with your particular school (or college or university), so it is your responsibility to provide them with all the relevant information.

So what are you supposed to do? When the admissions application asks for your GPA, provide your Marks as well the GPA (using the above translation scheme). Also attach to your application a write up which explains the performance evaluation system, giving such details as: passing marks, marks required for the First Division and Second Division performance, and marks needed to achieve Distinction in a single course as well as overall. A write up on the reputation of your school (or college or university) would also be appropriate, particularly if you can quote from an objective, third-party source.

Now let us address the term "official transcript." We have already explained what a transcript is. It is a common practice in the US and Canada to ask for a copy of the "official transcript," which simply means that the transcript from your current or former school (or college or university) be sent directly to the school (or college or university) to which you are applying. The applicant is required to request his or her former academic institutions, which typically charge a fee, to send the "official transcripts" to the prospective academic institutions. This practice generally does not exist in India, and the academic institutions in the US and Canada understand that. You best bet would be to attach to your application a copy of your Marks Sheet which has been "attested" by an official at your former and/or current institution.

Rajat, we hope this information helps, and we wish you success.

Dear Mentor: Mainpage More Questions and Answers


   Search Help

Tell a friend about this webpage!