I stumbled upon my school's grad school admissions criteria today. The GPA requirement was a 3.0 in junior- and senior-level coursework. I was always under the impression that the 3.0 cutoff was for your entire coursework. I then looked at UCLA's requirement and it was the same way. But another school (I believe it was USC) had a 3.0 cutoff for the whole degree.

I had a rocky first couple years, and I'm trying to improve my performance for my last two years for grad school. Is this method of gauging one's performance common for grad school? It'd be nice to see the next couple years as a way to redeem myself for my prior mediocrity.

I'll answer your question directly and then throw in my $.02. Most schools look at your entire GPA AND your major GPA. They use this as part of their holistic approach at gauging you as a potential contributor to their research base. Some schools do not care about your major GPA, they want to see how well rounded you are. I know from personal experience that USC looks at the entire GPA and, unfortunately, rarely admits those with a cumulative GPA below 3.5 into their STEM grad programs (not to mention that they also usually don't fund grad students, a right they reserve for their PhD students solely). Now my$.02 :