What is a "Competitive" GPA?
(Guidelines for pre-OT, PT, and PA students)
Everyone Worries About GPA. Help Is Available!
"What is a competitive GPA?" Almost every prehealth student asks this question at some point, and we understand that it can be pretty intimidating. Not everyone feels immediately ready to discuss it, but be assured that if you are concerned about your GPA, or have other questions, HPPLC advisors can help you assess your circumstances, level of competitiveness, and options, as well as offer honest, constructive feedback about any steps you can take to enhance your success.
Below we provide some straightforward, no-nonsense information and guidelines to address the question, "What is a competitive GPA?" The short answer is, "It depends," because competitive is a relative term. Still, even though by their nature guidelines are not hard and fast, not written in stone, they can still greatly aid your general assessment of your circumstances.
It's okay if you find the information below daunting or outright scary. Come and see us; we can help! Simply click the Make An Appointment link on our homepage.
What Does "Competitive" Mean? How Do Programs Calculate GPA?
Do not be misled by a program's "minimum GPA required to apply"! The minimum required is rarely competitive for admission. Successful applicants almost always have a significantly higher cumulative GPA (CGPA), and prerequisite / science GPA. Take your GPA research a step or two further, as indicated below, and avoid the pitfalls of planning your application according to "minimum GPA" requirements.
Also note that while GPA is critical to the admission process, just how competitive you might be for admission to a given program depends on a number of important factors:
- The particular programs you are considering, and how competitive each of them has tended to be, in terms of GPA (ranges can be quite broad), as well as other admission factors, such as experience, the personal essay, and so on.
- The competitiveness of the applicant cohort for a given program in a given year - for example, the average, lowest, and highest GPAs from the same application cycle in which you applied.
- And usually other admission components - the Graduate Record Exam, a personal statement and/or interview, clinical experience, and so on (the OT, PT, and PA pages all have sections related to each aspect of the admission requirements). Programs factor in these non-GPA items according to the quality of your work, but it is also the case that how much emphasis a given program places on each admission component varies considerably. (For ideas about how to find this information, refer to the Researching Accredited Programs page for pre-OT, PT, and PA students.)
- Hundreds, even thousands, of people apply to a given program each year, which means most programs can afford to be highly selective about who they admit. A series of excellent clinical observation and pertinent volunteer experiences are an important part of your application. If professionally undertaken, and well presented in your application and essay, these experiences could possibly bump you into an interview or help you be more competitive for admission if your GPAs are on the lower end of the range a given school has admitted in the past.
- Most OT, PT, and PA programs consider cumulative GPA and science / prerequisites GPA as two separate admission criteria. Therefore, your science courses, and possibly your other prerequisites, will usually count twice, since they are included in these two separate GPA calculations. Obviously this aspect of the competitive admission process means you must do especially well in your prerequisite coursework.
- It's important that you always know what both your CGPA and prereq / science GPAs are, and that you calculate a realistic estimate of what they are each likely to be at the time you apply.
- To calculate your current CGPA and science / prerequisite GPA, or forecast your possible future GPAs, visit the HPPLC GPA Calculators page. In conjunction with the GPA Calculators page, read Understanding the Process of Raising Your GPA. Remember to include all college courses in your calculations, whether taken at IU or someplace else.
- While it is not always possible to do so, try to find out what the average and lowest cumulative CGPA and the average and lowest science or prerequisite GPA has been for recent applicants admitted to your programs of interest.
- When programs calculate your CGPA and science / prereq GPA, they will take into account all grades from all colleges and universities you have attended - two-year and four-year institutions, including dual credit. Applicants must therefore report every grade from every class taken, including dual credit and retakes. Central application services, and programs themselves, will calculate all original courses and grades in a total cumulative GPA and total science / prereq across all higher education institutions you've attended.
- So, from their standpoint, it doesn't matter whether or not grades from other schools you've attended appear on your IU transcript.
- Nor from the standpoint of professional programs does it matter whether or how courses have transferred to IU, or whether transfer grades appear on your IU transcript, because when you apply you will send copies of all original transcripts anyway.
- Programs are not obligated to honor IU's Extended X policy. Some programs are willing to only calculate the retake grade into the total cumulative GPA; many programs will simply average the two grades.
- Some programs - especially a fair number of PT programs - place more emphasis on an applicant's last 60 or even 40 credit hours more so than a total cumulative GPA. Even in these situations programs will still take into account prerequisites taken in the earlier semesters. Sometimes these policies are clearly stated on program websites and sometimes not. A phone call or email may be necessary to confirm.
- When it comes to GPA, it is not merely your grade point average itself that matters, but also the quality and consistency behind the numbers. For instance, a 3.4 GPA consisting mostly of B+-range individual course grades, with perhaps a couple of B's and a couple of A-range grades, and with no C-range grades (especially in prerequisites), is arguably a much stronger GPA than a 3.4 consisting of a number of C's in gen ed courses, C's and B's in prerequisites, some A-range grades in less difficult courses, and/or more than one or two W's (Withdrawals). In the eyes of admission committees, solid, consistent grades are more likely to reflect a strong work ethic, a firm grasp of the material, reliable academic skills, excellent time management, and the ability to handle difficult course loads. These in turn are among the characteristics health professions programs like to see in applicants because these same characteristics are necessary to succeed in challenging graduate-level professional courses. For the same reasons, admission committees are concerned about inconsistent, erratic academic performance, even if on the surface the GPA appears reasonably solid.
- Even the strongest clinical experience and volunteer résumé is not likely to make up for low or inconsistent grades, and that goes double for science prerequisite courses. While doing extremely good work with regard to the non-GPA admission components will strengthen your application, nothing can truly substitute for strong academic performance and solid grades. Professional programs will always rely upon undergraduate GPA as an important predictor of success in challenging graduate-level coursework. They will assume that students who could not do well above average work in undergraduate courses, and thereby firmly establish excellent academic skills, will likely struggle in a professional program.
- It is common practice to apply to one or two "stretch schools" - programs for which (objectively speaking) you may not feel particularly competitive, but for which you feel you may be able to earn an interview (for those programs requiring one), and possibly admission, if everything goes just right. But applying to stretch schools alone is an unwise application strategy. We urge you to apply to a good number of programs for which your GPA numbers are solidly within or above the averages of successful past applicants.
Some General GPA Range Guidelines
The provisory GPA outlook below is contingent upon the factors we've noted above. Please read it in a qualified manner. It is intended for basic planning purposes only, so that pre-OT, PT, and PA students can gain a general sense of where they might stand with regard to the competitive admission process. It is safe to assume that the guidelines below apply to both cumulative GPA and science / prerequisite GPA.
- 3.7 - 3.8+
Potentially very competitive when combined with an otherwise solid application portfolio (and interview, if required).
- 3.6 - 3.7
Quite competitive for a good many programs, especially when combined with careful research and an otherwise solid application portfolio (and interview, if required). Fully utilize the resources and suggestions in the Researching Programs section of the HPPLC OT, PT, or PA site.
- 3.3 - 3.5
Thorough research can reveal a good number of programs that have recently admitted applicants in this range when combined with an otherwise very solid application portfolio (and interview, if required).
For many programs, students within this range face an uphill challenge for admission; however, careful, thorough research may reveal some programs that have recently admitted applicants in this range when combined with an otherwise excellent application portfolio (and interview, if required). Consider developing a specific and reliable contingency plan. Utilize the resources at What if I Continue to Struggle in My Science Coursework?, which offers specific ideas about how to assess your academic situation with regard to both science and non-science courses.
At high risk, and probably not within range for most programs. Very careful, thorough research to identify newer and less competitive programs must be combined with an otherwise superb application portfolio (and interview, if required). For some programs, does not meet minimum GPA required to apply. Students within this range face an uphill climb for admission, and should develop a specific and reliable back-up plan. Begin by utilizing the resources at What if I Continue to Struggle in My Science Coursework?, which offers specific ideas about how to assess your academic situation with regard to both science and non-science courses.
- 2.9 and lower
Not competitive for admission except under the most rare and unusual circumstances. For many programs, does not meet minimum GPA required to apply. Develop a specific and reliable back-up plan. Begin by utilizing the resources at What if I Continue to Struggle in My Science Coursework?, which offers specific ideas about how to assess your academic situation with regard to both science and non-science courses.
This information was prepared for Indiana University Bloomington students by the Health Professions and Prelaw Center. Please note that specific requirements and policies can change at any time without notice. Students are responsible for obtaining the most current information directly from application and testing services, and the schools and programs in which they have an interest. Refer to each program's web pages, bulletins, and other publications for the most current information. Students are responsible for understanding degree course requirements, as well as other requirements, policies, and procedures related to the degree(s) they are pursuing; for enrolling in appropriate courses; for understanding IU policies/procedures; and for following through properly with regard to all of the preceding.