In the “science GPA vs cumulative GPA” debate, which is more indicative of success in the medical school admissions process? Assuming anyone can get a high GPA if they only spend enough time studying, there has to be a breaking point. How much study is enough? And which classes deserve the most attention? Let’s go back to the original consideration…
…Science GPA vs cumulative GPA?
As much as I’d like to give all anxious pre-meds a definitive answer, in this case, I’ll have to throw in quite a few qualifiers. There really are no hard-and-fast answers to the questions above, but I’ll take a stab at providing some general rules of thumb.
“What’s more important to the adcoms, my science GPA vs cumulative GPA?”
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, because 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.
All you really need to know about your science GPA
The take-home here should be that your science GPA means more to adcoms than your cumulative GPA, but both are important. If you’re trying to decide which classes to give more time and energy to and 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 just because you did 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 such-and-such 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 2010 for students accepted to medical schools was 3.67, and the average science GPA was 3.61. 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.
Also, as I’ve recommended in many posts, if you’re starting to think about choosing where you want to apply, you have, have, have 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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