Med School Admissions Statistics, Part III: What’s the Average GPA? (And What Can I Do About It?)

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been taking a look at some of the medical school admissions statistics.  While we’ve tackled the question of how many people get into medical school and the average MCAT score, we turn our attention today to the average GPA.

Remember, AAMC keeps this information public through their FACTS tables.  In addition to what we’ve covered here, check out what other great information you can glean from these resources.  In the world of medical school admissions, knowledge is power! (credit:  Schoolhouse Rock!)

Interestingly, medical schools are actually given three GPAs when they look at your application.  Your science and math courses are considered in what is called the BPCM (Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Math) GPA, and your non-science courses (humanities, social sciences, language, etc.) are considered as another entity.  Finally, schools see the overall (amalgamated) GPA.

While each school has a its own average GPA for the incoming class (information, by the way, that is easily found in the Medical School Admission Requirements guidebook), the national averages in 2011 were as follows:

  • BPCM GPA – applicants 3.43 ± 0.43, matriculants 3.61 ± 0.32
  • Non-science GPA – applicants 3.65 ± 0.30, matriculants 3.74 ± 0.25
  • Overall GPA – applicants 3.53 ± 0.34, matriculants 3.67 ± 0.26

Unlike the MCAT, for which many of you still have a clean slate, GPA is set during your college career.  So what can you do if your GPA isn’t quite into the range above?

  • Explain the GPA Tactfully – on your applications, you have the opportunity to bring up any blips in your GPA in both the primary application (as part of the Personal Statement) and secondary applications (in one of the essays, or as an addendum to the application).  When talking about a problem in your GPA, explain the reason behind the drop, but don’t make excuses!  Medical schools want mature applicants who can take ownership of the problem, and – perhaps more importantly – can explain how it served as a learning experience.  Did getting a not-so-great grade in Organic Chemistry I teach you how to study better, utilize office hours, or find new ways to learn so that you knocked Organic Chemistry II out of the park?  These skills may better you as a physician – tell the medical schools that!
  • Be an MCAT Rockstar – according to a Harris-verified poll a few years back, 90% of medical school admissions officers polled consider GPA and MCAT to be the two most important factors in admission – at least in the early stages.  Thus, a not-so-great GPA can be significantly abated with a stellar MCAT score.  Prepare wisely and work towards that 45 you deserve!
  • Consider Re-Taking Courses or Post-Bacc Work – there are a number of post-baccalaureate programs in the country that can be optimal for a student who needs to boost their GPA (especially the BPCM GPA).  These programs may also afford you opportunities to become involved in research or shadowing, thus helping your application portfolio that much more.

This is the end of this particular series on medical school admissions statistics, but we want to hear from you!  What other statistics (or aspects of the medical school application process) would you like to learn more about?  We want to arm you with the knowledge to help get you into the medical school – and career! – of your dreams.

This article is Part III in a three-part series on Medical School Admissions Statistics.  For more information, check out:

  • Simmayer

    I wish you had put the max number of GPA that can be achieved.  I’m assuming all numbers are the score based on 4.0 top score.

    • Alex Macnow

      Simmayer –

      You are correct; all GPAs are calculated on a 4.0 scale.  If you go to an institution that uses a different scale (I’ve heard of schools with GPAs out of 5 or 7 before), AAMC will actually calculate what that should be on a 4.0 scale as part of your application so that all applicants are compared on the same scale.  Hope this helps!

      -Alex

  • Upstate NY NPP

    I am a seasoned Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, have owned my own successful private practice for over a decade now. State law requires a collaborating MD of record and mine is awesome and coincidentally was a year or two behind me undergrad at an Ivy but had far lower GPA and testing numbers. He attended a state school for medicine, but by nature and basis of scores I would’ve stayed in the Ivies. I was advised by a former Ivy League college president and Nursing Scholar in 1982 to pursue my chosen specialty via the Nursing path rather than medicine (women being not as prevalent in medicine at that time.) This was because as psychiatry is not as highly regarded in the medical field as other specialties, at that time a woman with my numbers–and I’ve never been an overstudier, this comes easily to me–would be discouraged from that field and pushed into a prestigious specialty: say, neurosurgery? And BTW at that particular school, the undergrad premeds and nursing students took the same ultracompetitive science prerequisites and I also chose to have a double major in the business school, played sports and wrote for the school newspaper.

    My very wise mentor advised me that I would likely in that era at least, make a load of money but hate my job. I do not make a load of money but I can’t wait to go into work each day in my chosen career working with children, families and young adults.

    • Alex Macnow

      Thank you for sharing your experiences.  Certainly, pre-meds can take a page from your book in terms of choosing a specialty or path that best suits them.  It is important to take a path you find rewarding, whether that means intimate patient care, clinical or laboratory research, or teaching opportunities.

      Of note, by the way, the gender inequities in medical school admissions are improving; in 2011, 46.2% of applicants (and 47.0% of matriculants) were women.
      (https://www.aamc.org/download/161128/data/table1.pdf)

  • Guest

    Does the school you receive your undergrad degree come into consideration or is it strictly GPA/MCAT scores only?

    • Alex Macnow

      Schools will also see what school you came from and will analyze the depth and difficulty of the courseload you took.  Schools do report average GPAs so that admissions committees can get a sense of how your GPA compares to other students at your school (this is important to standardize for grade inflation/grade deflation).  All of these factors play a role in interpreting your GPA.  This is less true for your MCAT score since this is a standardized exam and thus controls for many of these other variables.

    • Jim Lou

      I would like to hope so.

      Why would someone who goes to a very tough school that is hard to get A and thus have a potentially lower GPA have less of a chance when competing with someone who goes to easier school to get A and thus get higher GPA?

      I was told that the MCAT was the equalizer. It is expected that the student from the harder school would have higher MCAT scores.  In many ways the SAT was considered to be the equalizer. So the expectations are similar.

    • Jim Lou

      I would like to hope so.

      Why would someone who goes to a very tough school that is hard to get A and thus have a potentially lower GPA have less of a chance when competing with someone who goes to easier school to get A and thus get higher GPA?

      I was told that the MCAT was the equalizer. It is expected that the student from the harder school would have higher MCAT scores.  In many ways the SAT was considered to be the equalizer. So the expectations are similar.

    • Jim Lou

      I would like to hope so.

      Why would someone who goes to a very tough school that is hard to get A and thus have a potentially lower GPA have less of a chance when competing with someone who goes to easier school to get A and thus get higher GPA?

      I was told that the MCAT was the equalizer. It is expected that the student from the harder school would have higher MCAT scores.  In many ways the SAT was considered to be the equalizer. So the expectations are similar.

    • Jim Lou

      I would like to hope so.

      Why would someone who goes to a very tough school that is hard to get A and thus have a potentially lower GPA have less of a chance when competing with someone who goes to easier school to get A and thus get higher GPA?

      I was told that the MCAT was the equalizer. It is expected that the student from the harder school would have higher MCAT scores.  In many ways the SAT was considered to be the equalizer. So the expectations are similar.

  • Jim Lou

    My daughter goes to school that doesn’t use the credit system. All students take 4 courses a term that are considered to be the same. A course in History is treated the same as a course in Neurobiology. The GPA is calculated on the grade being translated into points that are added together and then divided by 4.

    The difference comes when the student applies to medical school. The school will consider that a 6 hour Neurobiology course  with lab is more than a 3 hour course in History and calculate the GPA accordingly.

    The medical school will thus get the official GPA, the recalculated GPA as well as the GPA for all science and math courses.

    My daughter goes to school where it is very hard to get A. She is 4th year student and finally got A- last year. She has around 3.40 GPA, which is considered average for those students applying to medical school. The school has statistics that say if have B+ average then have 80% chance of getting accepted in medical school.

    Unfortunately, courses that are taken as part of International Program aren’t included in the GPA. She went to Spain to Anonymous University of Madrid. She got 3.68 for the term but only got credit for the courses. The grades are shown on the transcript but not calculated in GPA. Hopefully the medical schools will look at those grades and recalculate. If those grades were include then she would be approaching 3.50.

    • Jonathan

       I’m at UVA and it is hard to get an A there as well. When you factor in 30 other schools that are hard to get A’s in, or 50, or 100, the point is, if she is going to be a doctor, well. I will let you fiqure it out from here.

  • Bluecollarbiochemist

    As a medical school faculty member who sits on the admissions committee, I can say that grades alone are not enough, it depends on how you got those grades. Someone who spreads all their difficult courses out is not as impressive as one who takes a couple of semesters with several very tough courses. And don’t tell me on your application that you’ve wanted to be a doctor since you were 5, but never got around to taking upper-level biomedical science courses. It’s OK to major in the humanities, but you can still take a lot of biomedical-related material. And don’t take organic chemistry from a community college. I know cost is an issue, but very few community colleges have high standards, and your “A” from County Technical College does not look nearly as impressive as an “A” from a four-year university.

  • ikonoklast

    I suggest an easier path to med school then studying hard.  Spend a lot of time in tanning booths until your pigment becomes quite dark, and change your name to a Spanish sounding name.  You will be admitted without a problem and they will throw money at you instead of charging you tuition.
    [/sarcasm off]

    • Sparta of Phoenix AZ, USA

      Sadly this is very, very true….The ultimate prerequisite now is ANYTHING BUT WHITE MALE. You will have to work three times as hard to have a chance and then you still might not even get a shot…NP, despite the poster above DO NOT need the same undergraduate courses in science but they are doing much better overall then Family Medicine Docs career wise. If you want to SERVE people go the NP route..IF you want to call yourself DOCTOR, make money and act smart go Medicine specialties…

      • Fuck. You.

        See now, this is kind of hilarious because that’s what literally everyone BUT white males had to deal with since the beginning of the American Higher Education system. Oh, just kidding, y’all didn’t even let us GO to college for a long ass time. Gee, those sure were the days, huh? Don’t you miss the time when you could just shelter yourself from all the people of color and women so no one could stand in Daddy’s Little Boy’s way of becoming a doctor?

        Live your dreams, you precious little snowflake!

    • Tesoro88

       Perhaps you should have spent less time studying bigotry hating Hispanics. Better hurry! You will be late for your kkk meeting.

    • Carlo Coello

      Ikono-last, you should stop feeling pity for yourself and quit giving excuses for your failures. I don’t know if you are a faulty white trash, weed-filled brain cracker, or just another low self-esteem dude who was abandoned while still was being breastfed, which would definitely explain your lack of sensibility and excess of bigotry and disdain to other people in your disgusting, and inaccurate statement.

  • Bagels

    I’m in pharmacy school considering the switch to medical school. My GPA is fairly low but above a 3.0; my reason being because I had no vision of what I wanted to do after I graduate and wasn’t even sure if this field was the right one for me. I am doing rotations right now and absolutely loved my time in my internal medicine rotation-rounding with doctors. It was incredibly satisfying and I learned a lot more in one week than I did in all 6 years of pharmacy school. I feel like I learn much more with experience than with classes, so I want to spend more time shadowing doctors than worrying about classes if I do plan to go to medical school but my GPA is really what’s worrying me.

  • c6h12o6

    matriculant?

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