Mastering your GPA – a Guide for Second Year Students

Posted by Megan on May 15, 2014

Journey to the Centre of York

Morning readers 🙂

Today I thought I’d tackle one of the more stressful components of university – your GPA. And while I titled this a Guide for Second Years, truthfully, it’s useful for everyone. However, an important thing to note – it is 100% normal and common to have a less than satisfactory GPA in first year. While your grades might not have been what you were expecting, university is also about discovering yourself and the important thing is that you learned some lessons along the way. Less than satisfactory marks (which differ from person to person which is why I’m not including numbers) can point out a number of things, including:

  • Lack of understanding
  • Lack of interest in the material
  • Mental or physical health struggles
  • Lack of effort
  • A bad prof/TA
  • Your skill level in the academic field/concentration (hey – nobody is skillful at everything, even when trying their hardest)

All of which are VERY important lessons which come into play with this article. Mastering your GPA is ALL about learning these lessons, the sooner the better.

So say you’re a new second year student. You aren’t feeling too good about your GPA. First, take a mental step back. Why are you feeling bad? Did you learn from your experience? What are you going to change for next year? The point is…

Ask yourself the hard questions

A GIF that reads
It’s for your own good, I promise.

My first year of university was at a different Ontario university where I studied Life Sciences. I did abysmally. I failed some courses, and got mostly C’s and D’s in the others. Despite being an A student in high school I was questioning if university was really for me. But then I took a second look at my grades – I had an A in Psychology. And then I took a mental step back and looked at my situation – not only was I struggling immensely with my mental health… I also didn’t like my environment or program. I realized then that I wasn’t pursuing this degree for myself, I was doing it for my parents (re: the whole ‘doctor dream’). And when I thought on that Psychology course and how interesting it was and how engaged I felt every class, I found myself a new path. So despite a really horrible GPA, I actually learned a really huge life lesson and got myself on a more enjoyable path. My average ended up jumping from a D to a C+. When I came to York it jumped up to a B. My goal is finish with a B+ or higher and it feels really attainable now that I’m studying something I’m passionate about. So just remember  – your grades are not a reflection of your intelligence or worth. And those life lessons you learn can balance out those bad grades if you learn from them and tackle the problems that you identify.

That still leaves some problems though – what if you did have a really horrible first year? What can you do?

Damage control

A GIF that reads
Yes, yes it is.

NOW is the time to damage control. Don’t wait until school starts up again, or it might be too late. So where can you start?

  • First things first, is this the right program for you? Do you enjoy what you are studying? If you aren’t studying something you are passionate about it’s a LOT harder to force out the effort required to be successful. In this case you might want to consider applying for a new program.
  • Consider petitioning. What is petitioning? I wrote a guide to petitioning, but essentially you can formally ask the university to replace your bad grades with a W (Withdraw) which can help repair your GPA. The catch is that you often need documentation – for example an official diagnosis or doctor’s note. However there is often some leniency with first years because the transition from high school can be quite difficult.
  • What about all that money and time? You’re right. You might feel like you are ‘losing’ a whole years worth of credit and tuition – but again, think of the lessons you have learned. As well, it is entirely still possible to finish in four years if that is a goal of yours – you can take up to 15 credits each summer to make up for the missed year. And because you will have a clean slate to work with you will have less pressure on your back and more motivation (and skills) to be successful in your future endeavours.

So what next?

Calculating and Mapping your GPA

A GIF of Mr. Krabs, from Spongebob, crying.
It’s not that painful, I promise!

York has a nine-point system instead of the traditional 4. I recommend using their GPA calculator which is super easy to navigate. Below is what it looks like (with some explanation of course).

A graphic explaining the GPA calculator.
Click me to make me bigger.

At the bottom of the link above there is also a useful Reverse GPA Calculator where you can enter:

  1. The amount of credits taken
  2. Your current GPA
  3. How many credits you are planning on taking next session (F/W)
  4. What GPA you want to achieve

And it will calculate what GPA you will need to achieve in that session to attain your desired overall GPA. This can be a useful tool for calculating realistic goals for the next session. For example if you need to attain a 8-9 GPA in the next semester and you’ve previously been averaging 3-5’s… it’s probably not realistic. This is when people start playing the ‘Bird Courses’ game, taking courses that they’ve heard are easy but aren’t a personal or academic interest – which essentially robs a place in that class from students who are interested in it.

Instead, I suggest setting smaller and more attainable goals. Take courses that you feel passionate about. Look up their syllabi on Google and maybe even check out the prof’s ratings on Rate My Professor. Be critical about what you read and remember that everyone has a different learning style so think about what type of teaching you might benefit from. Or what tools you could use to to minimize that gap (handwriting vs typing vs recording, etc). This way you don’t have to risk putting too much on your plate and then feeling overwhelmed and disappointed at the end results again. You’ve already learned these lessons, so apply what you’ve learned!

 Moving Forward

A GIF that reads
Words of wisdom right there.

By now you should have a pretty good idea about how to master your GPA. It’s not necessarily going to be smooth sailing right off the bat, but with practice and a lot of introspection, you will find your own path to success. Also remember that York has tons of academic advisors just waiting to give you a hand if you need further assistance. They also offer a number of free workshops and other free resources such as a writing centre, SPARK (online paper-writing resource), and tutoring.

You got this!

Feel free to leave any questions, comments, or concerns below and I will do my best to answer.


Updated September 2, 2014


Megan is a third-year Psychology student. Follow her on her journey of self-development as she explores and ventures through campus.

See other posts by Megan