Your grade point average (GPA) is a metric of your academic performance for each school you attend. That means if you, for instance, take summer classes at a community college but attend a university, you will have a separate GPA for that community college and a GPA for your university. Because GPA can play a factor in students' academic and professional career (e.g., good academic standing, scholarships, professional/graduate school,  employment), it is important to take a closer look and understand the different types of GPA and how GPA is calculated. 


 Types of gpa

Two common types of GPAs are overall GPA and BCPM (Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Math) GPA. In general, overall GPA takes into account ALL grades you earned at that school while BCPM GPA only uses grades earned from specific classes that fall into areas of biology, chemistry, physics and math. Which areas classes are categorized in will depend on a number of factors like the school you are reporting your GPA to (graduate school, medical school, pharmacy school, etc.) or the application service (TMDSAS vs AMCAS).


Also note that these are not exclusive. Many of these GPAs may overlap, for example, overall GPA can be across all schools, overall BCPM GPA across all schools, etc. The use of different GPAs can give a better assessment of a student. For example, a student with an overall GPA of 3.8 but a BCPM GPA of 2.8 may indicate weakness in BCPM-type coursework or a student that has a perfect 4.0 but has seemingly taken the more difficult courses at a community college. Though there are many types of GPAs, they generally fall into three types:

  • Specific Time Period - GPA of the classes taken during a specific time span. Examples:

    • Overall or Cumulative GPA

    • Semester GPA

    • Undergraduate GPA

    • Graduate GPA

  • Specific Classes - GPA of classes that are included in the calculation. Examples

    • BCPM GPA

    • Science GPA

  • Specific School - GPA from where the courses are taken (multiple GPAs if you attended more than one school).


Community college vs state university vs ivy league

Is a perfect GPA from a state school better than a 3.6 GPA from a private, prestigious school? It can be difficult to compare the GPA of students that take different professors, much less ones that have different majors or even attend different schools.  Factor in students that choose to take their "difficult" courses at a junior or community college, and it can seem impossible to compare. This is often why a standardized metric is used especially in graduate and professional schools. These usually take the form of some exam (GRE, MCAT, LSAT, etc.). Remember, GPA is only one component, although a critical component, that is used to assess students. 


low gpa

You often will hear that you can compensate a low GPA with volunteering, research, scoring high on a standardized exam, etc. This is not necessarily the case. It can be said that GPA measures academic consistency. Maintaining a GPA class after class, semester after semester, year after year, speaks to one's tenacity and the ability to adapt. Dramatic fluctuations may indicate obstacles that are non-academic and can give better context or reason to investigate further when assessing an individual. 

Because of this, GPA is a unique longitudinal metric that is difficult to substitute. Do not delude yourself. Understand where you stand and your competitiveness. Many resources are available that can give you insight into the average GPA of those accepted (matriculants) to certain programs, internships etc. If this is an area of weakness, find out ways to improve and address it.


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