Making the Grade: G. P. A. and More
- Why Do Grades Matter?
- What Grades Do I Need?
- How Grades Affect G.P.A.
- Repeating a Course
- Don't Intentionally Fail!
- A Story From the Pre-Health Program Director
To professional schools, your undergraduate grades matter for just one reason: they provide evidence that you can make it through the courses you'll face in their programs.
This varies from track to track and from school to school, but some aspects are nearly universal:
- Very high G.P.A.s (above 3.7) don't matter much. A student who gets an A- in every course is nearly as likely to make it through professional school classes as a student who gets an A in every course. Professional schools know this, and so there isn't much of an advantage to having a 4.0 rather than a 3.7.
- An applicant with a 3.3 G.P.A., while not ideal, will generally receive some consideration for admission, regardless of the track. For some tracks (e.g. pharmacy), minimum realistic G.P.A.s may be a bit lower.
- If an applicant's G.P.A. is on the low side, test scores (MCAT, DAT, PCAT, OAT, GRE) become especially important.
- If an applicant has low grades early in their academic career, but then "turns a corner" (perhaps by changing their work schedule or simply becoming more serious about school), they may receive consideration by consistently and exclusively receiving B+, A-, and A grades over an extended period of time, even if their overall G.P.A. is low. In some cases, a student might be able to demonstrate this in their junior and senior years; in other, post-bac classes or a master's degree might be helpful. Consult your pre-health advisor for specific advice and options.
While you can look up the formula for G.P.A. or use a G.P.A. calculator, it's helpful to think in terms of what you need to do to maintain a 3.5 G.P.A., which is a reasonable target for pre-professional students.
- If you receive an equal mix of A- and B+ grades, you have a 3.5 G.P.A.
- If you receive a B, you can stay on track for a 3.5 by receiving an A in another class (assuming they are the same number of credits)
- If you receive a B-, you can stay on track by receiving A's in two other classes
- For a C+ or C, you need A's in three other classes
- For a C+ or C, you need A's in four other classes
- For a C-, D+, or D, you need A's in five other classes
- For an F, WU, or other failing grade, you need A's in seven other classes
From this, you can see how hard it is to recover from even a single D or F! If you think you are headed toward a D or an F in a class, do not give up. If it is not past the withdrawal date, you can withdraw--that's better than the D or F, but don't do that too often. Otherwise, speak to the professor to see if she has suggestions for how to improve your standing, get tutoring, form a study group, reduce your work hours...whatever you need to do (without violating academic integrity!) to get yourself back on track.
You can also see that you shouldn't panic about some B+'s, or even the occasional B. Most doctors practicing today had some B's and B+'s sprinkled across their transcript.
If you get a poor grade in a course, should you repeat it?
If your grade is a C or above, the answer is almost certainly no. It is better, instead, to take a later course which requires knowledge of the first one to demonstrate that you have mastered the material and successfully moved on. For example, if you got a C is in BIO 166, move on to BIO 167 and try to get a particularly good grade, such as an A- or an A. You can do this even if the course is at the end of a required sequence; for example, you could move on from poor grades in PHY 166 and PHY 167 by taking something like Physical Chemistry (which has PHY 167 as a prerequisite), even though PHY 215 isn't required by any professional programs. If you don't feel confident about the material in the course you did poorly in, consider auditing the course to review the material rather than repeating it.
If your grade is a C-, D+, or D, it depends on the detailed requirements of the programs you are planning to apply to, as well as requirements which may be set by course departments here at Lehman. For example, some physical therapy programs require you to have at least a C in each of the prerequisite courses. In general, it's best to talk to your pre-health advisor when considering whether to repeat a course in this range. Note: repeated courses might not count toward full-time status for purposes of financial aid, and can have other impacts on the way Lehman counts completed credits.
If your grade is an F, and the course is required by your professional program, you should retake it.
If your grade is an F, and the course is not required by your professional program or major, it is generally not necessary to retake it.
Why would someone intentionally fail a course? Because of a misunderstanding of the Lehman policy on repeating a course they failed.
Generally, Lehman is willing to treat up to 16 credits of failing grades as if they never happened, as long as you repeat the courses. As far as Lehman is concerned, if you get an F in BIO 166 and repeat it with a B+, the F doesn't count. Similarly, the repeated course counts toward, e.g., most financial aid requirements (but always check with financial aid in specific cases!).
For that reason, students sometimes think that if they intentionally get an F in a course they're doing poorly in, that they can retake it without penalty.
The problem is that professional schools don't use the G.P.A. that Lehman calculates! Instead, they recalculate it themselves from what appears on the transcript, and the initial F does appear on the transcript. So an F in BIO 166 followed by a B+ in BIO 166 is counted by many medical schools as an F and a B+, even though Lehman just counts it as a B+.
The bottom line: never fail a class intentionally. It is always better to get a D than an F.
"If you've read about me on this site, then you know that I failed a physics course at Brooklyn College, but that I recovered to have a successful career afterward. Let me tell you about a dream I had while I was taking that course.
"At the time, I was working full-time, running my own tutoring business, and trying to take the course as a part-time student. Part way through the semester, I had a dream where I was trying to get my homework done for the course. In the dream, I went through my day, and all the things I had to do, and when I got to class I didn't have the homework done.
"But then the dream started over, like in the movie Groundhog Day (although this was before the movie came out!). And, just like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day, I knew what had happened the first time, so I tried to make the day turn out differently. But at the end of the day, I still didn't have my homework done. And then the dream restarted, with the same result. And restarted again...
"At the time, I thought it was a funny dream, but I didn't think much of it. But it was a warning. I was trying to do too much, and there was no way I could keep up with that class and fulfill my other responsibilities. And so, in the end, I failed the class. Clearly I should have paid more attention to what my subconscious was trying to tell me!
"But at least I took the lesson after that. I recovered because I didn't do things the same way the next time I took a class. I thought more ahead of time about how to balance financial needs, time demands, self-care, and so on. And so while it didn't instantly turn me in to a straight-A student, I didn't fail any more classes."