The GPA

How important is the GPA in the medical school application?
The GPA (along with the MCAT) is a major component of one's application. While the medical school application is composed of many parts, the GPA and MCAT are used by many schools as the initial screen to determine if a student will be invited for an interview. For these reasons, students need to pay particular attention to these two components of their application and have a realistic appraisal of their competitiveness based on these two parameters. 

What is a competitive GPA for medical school?
This one of the most common questions asked by undergraduate students and also one of the most difficult to answer. First of all, one's application is composed of many parts. Therefore, a competitive GPA really depends on the rest of one's application. One can have an exceptional GPA but if one's application is weak in the other areas, a high GPA probably won't be enough. Likewise, one can have an exceptional application in all other areas but with a poor GPA an applicant is unlikely to be successful. According to the latest data provided by the AAMC, matriculants to U.S. medical schools in 2015 had an average total GPA of 3.70 and an average science GPA of 3.64. With this being said, there is a certain "reputation bump" that goes along with graduating from Washington University in St. Louis. Most medical schools know that Wash U is a very competitive school with a rigorous pre-med curriculum and no grade inflation. Our reputational advantage means that students can be in a very strong position even with grades below the national average.

What is the BCPM?
BCPM stands for "biology, chemistry, physics and math". BCPM is really a more accurate definition of the "science GPA". On your AMCAS application, your GPA will be divided into a grid. Your BCPM, AO ("all other") and cumulative GPAs will be calculated for each year. This allows schools to see trends in academic performance in both your BCPM and cumulative GPAs from year to year. 

What's the most important - the cumulative, science (BCPM), or non-science (AO) GPA?
While all components of the GPA are important, medical schools tend to pay particular attention to the science GPA for obvious reasons. With this being said, a good performance in your non-science courses is still important.

Does it matter to medical schools that I my GPA has improved every year from the prior year or do they only care about the overall number?
While the cumulative total and cumulative science GPAs are important, medical schools do take into account an upward trend in performance. Schools understand that students can sometimes have a difficult start early in college. Improved performance demonstrates the ability to adjust and learn from past weaknesses as well as perseverance - two qualities that are important in medicine. 

Is there a GPA below which I shouldn't consider applying?
While your GPA should be taken in light of your entire application, in general if your science and/or cumulative GPA is lower than a 3.0 it is very unlikely that you will be successful in your application to medical school. Even with GPAs in the 3.1 to 3.3 range, acceptance to medical school could be challenging. For this reason, it's very important, regardless of your GPA, for students to meet with their pre-health advisor in order to review their entire application and determine their competitiveness for the upcoming application season. 

Should I re-take any classes in which I received a C?
While answers will differ depending with whom you speak, it is the general advice of the Wash U Pre-Health team that students should not re-take classes in which they've received a grade of C or better. Instead we recommend that students take higher level courses within the same discipline (e.g. biology or chemistry) and do well in those courses.

If I retake a class do I have to average the new grade with the old grade?
Yes, AMCAS requires that the new grade be averaged with the old grade. This needs to be taken into account when you calculate your GPA. Osteopathic schools, however, will take the higher of the two grades instead of the average.

I've heard that if a student takes a course pass/fail when it could have been taken for a grade, that some medical schools consider a pass equal to a C-. Do you know how pass/fail courses are viewed by medical schools and if they matter at all?
There can't be a recalcuation of a "Pass" to a C- in terms of your GPA because there needs to be consistency between schools. It might be that you heard that some schools subjectively view a passing grade in a pass/fail course that could have been taken for a grade, but there is no GPA recalculation that is done. With this being said, however, a student should limit the number of pass/fail classes to no more than one per semester. In regard to specific courses, it's best not to take any course pass/fail that could help assess your capacity for science (and you won't be able to classes pass/fail that are required for your major). Most pass/fail classes should be in subjects that don't play as major of a role in assessing your aptitude for medical school. 

How harmful is a "W' on my transcript?
There is no clear cut consensus on this. Some may view a "W" as equivalent to failing a course but others feel that it's not that big of an issue as long as there aren't too many. If you can avoid a "W" then do so, but if it means you are going to fail a course, a "W" would be preferable.  

What's more important, the GPA or the MCAT?
Both are important. This is one of those questions where the answer shouldn't really make a difference because the goal is to do everything possible to maximize both.