What Was Albert Einstein's GPA?

In a letter to her sister in 1886, Albert Einstein's mother Pauline bragged about her son's grades. Albert was 7 and had just begun elementary school. "Albert got his grades yesterday," she wrote (via "Einstein in Berlin"). "He was ranked first again." Throughout his scholastic life, Einstein, one of the most influential scientists in history, did well, with grades ranging from "good to excellent." He even excelled in classes he wasn't really into, like Latin and later, business studies such as banking and the stock exchange, that his father insisted he take in college.

The myth has persisted for years that Albert Einstein failed math in high school, but in fact the theoretical physicist who helped shape our understanding of the universe was a fine student. He never failed a single class. A report card from when Einstein was 17, shows he received the highest possible mark, a 6, in algebra, calculus, physics, and two different geometry classes. Later, Einstein's GPA at the highly respected Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (known as ETH Zurich) was a respectable 4.6 out of a possible 6.

Childhood problems and a hatred for rigid learning techniques

Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany in March 1879 to Pauline and Hermann Einstein. As a small child, his parents believed he had learning difficulties and they consulted a doctor. Einstein didn't begin speaking until he was 2 years old and thereafter constantly repeated his sentences to himself until age 7. This eccentricity led the family's maid to give him the derisive nickname "the dopey one," just an ironic part of Albert Einstein's tragic childhood.

His formal education began at Petersschule, a Catholic elementary school in Munich, where he did well, although he despised the teaching methods then in use and had issues with some of his teachers, which continued into high school. 

"The style of teaching in most subjects was repugnant to him; moreover, his homeroom teacher did not seem very well disposed toward him," his younger sister Maria Einstein, known as Maja, recalled in a biographical sketch of her brother (via The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein: The early years, 1879-1902). Even so, his grades were exceptional enough to allow him to attend the Luitpold-Gymnasium when he was 9 years old where he began studying calculus at age 12. But three years later he quit school and moved to Italy to avoid Germany's mandatory military service and to be with his family who had gone there for Hermann's work.

The myth of being a bad student followed Einstein

After Albert Einstein joined his family in Italy, he took the university entrance exam for EFT Zurich at 16 — without a high school diploma — and while he did well on the math and physics sections, he failed several others, including French and biology. Einstein then finished high school in Switzerland (where he received the aforementioned excellent grades) and at 17 was admitted to the university.

Not only did Einstein have good grades throughout his academic career, it's believed (not surprisingly) that he had a very high IQ. While he was never given the test, researchers have concluded that Albert Einstein's estimated IQ was around 160, putting him in the 99th percentile of the population. Still, the myth of Einstein being a bad student plagued him both while he was alive and after his death. 

A syndicated 1929 "Ripley's Believe It or Not" cartoon alleged Einstein had failed the math portion of his university entrance exam for EFT Zurich when he first applied. When Einstein later learned about the cartoon, he exclaimed: "I never failed in mathematics. Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus" (via Time magazine). If Ripley's cartoon had mentioned French, on the other hand, Einstein wouldn't have been able to deny the accusation.