By Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising
Let’s see, what do I want to say about grades? Hmmm . . . A better question might be, what don’t I want to say? Or better yet, what should I say and what should I keep to myself? There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t engage in a discussion with pre-health students about grades. Some professors think pre-health students are overly grade-conscious. Not entirely true. In my office, I see the overly, the underly, and the in-between. When it comes to grades, no two pre-health students are alike. Kind of like the snowflakes falling outside my window as I write this.
The first thing to realize is that quality is more important than speed. Taking the pre-health courses at the “usual” pace doesn’t work for everyone, and if your grades are suffering then you need to slow down. Secondly, while we don’t want you to be overly grade conscious, please have some sense of how you’re doing. First-years, you do not need to worry about your GPA, but by the time you’re almost halfway through your time at F&M (sophomores, take note!), it’s smart for you to know your overall GPA and your science GPA. To calculate your science GPA (not found in your F&M academic record), classify courses according to the AAMC Course Classification Guide. Once you’ve identified which classes the AAMC will consider “science” when you apply to medical school, calculate the GPA based on those courses only. There are many places to find information on how to calculate a GPA—here’s one (your courses are generally 4 credit hours each). This number is often referred to as your “BCPM” GPA since it is comprised of courses in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math. The applications services for osteopathic medical school and other health professional schools will ask for a similar number. In terms of timing your courses and ensuring your academic success, it’s hard to know how to advise you if you don’t have some sense of the science or BCPM GPA.
I made this point in a post back in October, but it’s worth making again: One bad grade is just that, one bad grade. Not only is a poor grade on one test a mere part of your overall performance for the semester, but one grade for an entire course is but one item on a transcript that will ultimately reflect four years of hard work. Health professional schools look at the big picture. They look for trends on the transcript (usually upward!). They admit people every year with a poor grade in one of their prerequisite courses. That said, please do not continue to the second half of a two-semester pre-health course if your grade in the first half was very weak. Most health professional schools are going to want to see the course repeated if you received a grade of C- or lower. At F&M, only courses where the grade was D+ or lower can be repeated on our campus, so we will need to talk about your particular situation and where you should retake the class. F&M also has a policy by which you cannot repeat the first half of a course if you’ve already completed the second half. My overarching concern, beyond policies and procedures, is that you’ll dig yourself in deeper if you continue to more advanced courses when your mastery of the introductory material isn’t sufficient.
As I write this, it’s 19 degrees in Lancaster. The snow falls hard, with nearly a foot expected. Most of the cars’ windshield wipers along College Ave stand at attention, sticking up in defiance of the cold and wet that’s on its way. “Unless you have to go out tonight, don’t,” barks a National Weather Service official on the radio. Some of my Facebook friends are definitely grumpy, complaining of the crazies at the supermarket who are buying more than their share of bread and eggs. Other friends are happier, posting pictures of the backyard snow angels they made with their kids. The F&M students outside my window are having an impromptu football game. I guess people have different perspectives. Like a snowstorm in many ways, grades bring adversity, angst, and ultimately your best and worst. You never really know what to expect—will you get buried or will it be a mere dusting?—and you never quite know how you’ll react in face of disappointment. You might stop in your tracks, or you might see it as a chance to learn, grow, and move on. The point is, health professional school is an ambitious goal, and grades are going to matter. This is an indelible fact. How you behave amidst the blizzard of college academics is up to you.