Editors note: This article has been updated March 2017 and all the information in it is up to date
If you’re like most premeds thinking about applying to medical school, you’ve gone through this routine: You head over to a site like USNews.com and start hunting for admissions statistics to see how you measure up to last year’s class of incoming medical school students.
The problem: How do you make sense of the numbers you see? Are they important to you, and how did medical schools calculate those numbers?
“What’s the average GPA (Grade Point Average) of students accepted to medical school? Am I anywhere close to that? Is my GPA competitive?”
What you’ll find is that most medical schools are accepting applicants with science GPA’s (BCPM) in the 3.6+ range. How exactly is this value determined?
How do Medical Schools Calculate Your GPA?
There are many ways to crunch the raw data on your transcript, but medical schools look at your GPA very differently than you might expect.
That’s the problem: You know you need to aim for a 3.6 GPA or higher, but you don’t know how medical school’s calculate that number.
First Thing’s First: How to Calculate a GPA. Any GPA.
You know how to calculate your GPA, right? Here’s a refresher course. Pull out your transcript, a spreadsheet, or a pencil, paper, and a calculator. Then hold your breath and start adding.
For each of your classes that you’ve completed, give yourself the correct number of points that corresponds to the grade you earned (See table at right). Then, multiply that number times the number of units (also known as credit hours or credits). Do that for each course and add up all the numbers. That sum is the numerator in your equation.
Next, add up all the units (or credit hours). That’s your denominator. Divide the numerator by the denominator and bam, that’s your GPA.
But wait — is that how medical schools calculate the number? Yes and no. They use the same arithmetic but they pick and choose a subset of courses — that dramatically changes the number. In fact, medical schools evaluate three different GPA’s.
Terms to Know: Overall GPA, BCPM, and AO
As you dig deeper into the mystery of calculating a GPA for medical school, you’ll unearth at least three types of GPA represented by confusing acronyms that you will want to know how to decipher.
There are three types of GPA that medical schools calculate, and you need to know about each:
- Overall GPA – The raw GPA calculation of all of your undergraduate coursework combined.
- BCPM – “Science GPA.” Your GPA for all of your science coursework. This is the big one.
- AO GPA – “All Other” GPA. Also known as your “non-science” GPA because this calculation only includes non-science college courses.
Part of the mystery is solved: Those are the three numbers you need to know if you want to see where you stand compared to other premeds.
But with those answers come even more questions: What counts as a science course and what doesn’t? How do medical schools draw the line between science and non-science? Calculating each of the three GPA subsets is a challenge, but there’s a way to clear the mess.
Is it a Science Course, Non-Science Course, or Both?
How are you supposed to categorize science and non-science courses? What you count as science and non-science is the most important thing you keep in mind as you figure out your BCPM (science) GPA.
At some universities, a course can count as both a science and a non-science course. Uh oh, ambiguity.
Fortunately for you, the AAMC has your back. Check out this updated page: Coursework Classification. That page tells you which of your courses is science, non-science, or both. That should help you come up with an accurate BCPM and AO GPA. BCPM = Science, AO = Non-Science. Drill that into your head.
The Plot Thickens: Some Units Come From Different Schools. Now What?
Let’s say you’re using one of those online GPA calculators to figure out your GPA. You’re inputting your numbers until you reach a cluster of Biology courses that you took at a community college. Are those weighted differently? And what about that AP Chemistry class you aced the heck out of in 12th grade? How does that AP test score factor in?
Calculating your GPA gets even more confusing when you have eligible college grades coming from:
- Multiple colleges, including community college
- AP Test Scores
- Both quarter and semester system schools
- When your grades come from various sources
- Classes taken abroad (“London summer 2016 WOOO!!”)
- Post Baccalaureate courses
- Masters programs
How do you correctly calculate your GPA when your coursework is such a complicated patchwork of grades (the nicer way to say “clusterf#$%”) in different disciplines coming from different programs?
What You Should Know: Discover Your True GPA
I tried and tried to make a GPA calculator that accounts for all of these complexities. It was taking forever to program, so I came up with a great solution: I can you all of the ins-and-outs in a quick video. Once you know what to do it’s really fast and easy to calculate.
Watch me as I explain all the ins-and-outs of calculating your GPA for medical school in a video for premeds who are asking these questions:
- What’s my science GPA? What’s my Non-Science GPA?
- Which courses do I count as science?
- How do I calculate my GPA when my courses come from so many different programs?
- Is my GPA good enough? Am I competitive? What are my chances?
After you watch my video you’ll be the resident medical school GPA expert, and you’ll understand the bigger picture too.
The bigger picture is this: You need to know whether your GPA is competitive or not so you can begin taking steps now the maximize your chances of getting accepted to medical school.
Sign up above right now to watch my video: “How to Calculate Your GPA For Medical School.” The video will tell you everything you need to know about grades, GPA, and being a competitive applicant.