Science GPA vs cumulative GPA…which has more bearing on one’s success in the med school admissions process? If you thought the answer was easy, you’re right. The answer is both!
We often hear the argument that anyone could get a high GPA if—they only spent enough time studying. But the truth is, there has to be a point of diminishing returns. So, how much study is enough?
And which classes deserve the most attention? Let’s go back to the original question…
…Science GPA vs cumulative GPA?
I’d love to give every anxious pre-med a definitive answer. But in this case, I’ll have to throw in quite a few qualifiers, since there really are no hard-and-fast answers to the question. But below are some general rules of thumb.
“What’s more important to the adcoms?”
Your science GPA (sGPA), or BCPM (biology, chemistry, physics and math) score is going to be critical to your application, for obvious reasons. It’s calculated by taking the average of your combined grades from your core pre-med classes as well as any science classes classifiable as “BCPM.” There’s no way around the fact that this number trumps the cumulative GPA (cGPA), as it tells the adcoms your aptitude in the sciences.
Also, since pre-med courses tend to be more competitive and time intensive than, say, humanities courses, your performance in these courses reflects, to some extent, how hard you’re willing to work to succeed academically. Be warned though—a high sGPA won’t compensate for an abysmal cumulative GPA. In the mind of an adcom, it doesn’t speak particularly well to your aptitude for medicine if you can’t do well in classes that require you to think creatively and critically.
Science GPA calculators
There are a lot of calculators out there provided on university websites to calculate your science GPA vs cumulative GPA. Here’s one offered by Temple University. And here’s one created at Kennesaw State University that gives you the option of calculating your GPA when you’ve retaken a class, or calculating what GPA you’ll need next semester if you’re shooting for a specific end-point GPA. Here’s a helpful tidbit: you should be shooting for your science GPA and cumulative GPA to be within .2 of each other if you don’t want to set off any red flags.
Bottom line on science GPAs
The take-home here should be that your science GPA means more to adcoms than your cumulative GPA, but both are important. If your primary goal is getting into medical school, put the extra time and energy into the BCPMs. They’ll not only improve your GPA, but better prepare you for the science sections of the MCAT.
That said, there’s a wide range of BCPM-worthy classes, so don’t feel limited to retaking pre-med core classes if you happen to do poorly in them. Getting a good grade in a re-take class counts the same on your GPA as getting the same grade in any other science class. (Med schools do not replace old grades with better ones.)
“What’s the lowest GPA I could have and still get into my dream school?”
If your science GPA vs cumulative GPA are lower than 3.0, you may want to reconsider your career choice. 3.0 is a cut-off for most schools, and even if you can bring it up into the 3.1-3.3 range, you’re in dicey territory.
Most medical schools consider a 3.75 overall GPA competitive. As a rule of thumb, your science GPA should not be more than .2 lower than your overall GPA. The average cumulative GPA in 2015-16 for students accepted to medical schools was 3.77, and the average science GPA was 3.64. What does that tell you? Not much. Because there are plenty of medical schools out there that will want you even if you fall below those numbers but can prove you’re a great applicant in every other way. The low and high barriers do vary wildly from school to school. If you’re a sophomore or junior, you might want to talk to a pre-med advisor to help you match your application to the schools you’re best suited for.
How to find med schools where my sGPA is acceptable…
Also, if you’re starting to think about where you want to apply, you need to get your hands on the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) Guide. It gives the average science and cumulative GPAs and MCAT scores for the students matriculating at every MD school in the United States and Canada. It’s relatively cheap on Amazon, and invaluable, in my experience.
So, if you want to bulk up your GPA, you know what to do. To bulk up your other application features, see these posts:
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