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Major GPA vs cumulative GPA for grad school

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Main Question or Discussion Point

I want to apply to graduate school for physics but I'm worried that my cumulative GPA might be too low. My GPA within the physics major is 4.0, but my cumulative GPA is 3.1. I started college in electrical engineering but wasn't happy in the major, and my grades were not very good. I have another year in college along with summer courses so I definitely have the time to improve that a little but I'm worried the damage may have been done.

Would poor grades in engineering courses significantly hurt my chances of acceptance into a physics graduate program? Even if it was 2 years ago?
 

Answers and Replies

Vanadium 50
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Would poor grades in engineering courses significantly hurt my chances of acceptance into a physics graduate program?
Yes. But so what? How do you propose to change that now?
 
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Yes. But so what? How do you propose to change that now?
I've never understood why you ask this to every OP who asks this question. If their chances are hurt by their GPA, they could:
  • apply to lesser-ranked graduate schools
  • look into retaking some courses
  • explain reasons for shortcoming in their applications (some schools have a section in the app for this)
  • ask graduate schools if they look at the major GPA or cumulative
They still have one more year in college, it is important that they know to what extent their GPA hurts their chances so that they can adjust their application accordingly, hence asking the question. So there is a "so what?", contrary to your belief.
 
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Yes. But so what? How do you propose to change that now?
Wait, my GPA outside of physics affects my chances of acceptance into a physics grad school? Man, I better start taking my non-physics courses more seriously then.

Do they really care about how I did in my gen eds?
 
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I've never understood why you ask this to every OP who asks this question. If their chances are hurt by their GPA, they could:
  • look into retaking some courses
I'm thinking about it, the only hang-up is that the problem classes were all freshman-level. Retaking calculus 2, intro VHDL, and intro circuits would replace 10 credit hours in which I earned C's with A's, but the question is really one of relevance. It could bring my GPA from 3.1 to 3.3 or 3.4 (I haven't calculated exactly), but if I've earned A's in everything that depends on those classes, does it really matter? Like with calculus 2, I might have earned a C in that, but since then I've aced calculus 3, complex variables, linear algebra, differential equations, introductory real analysis, and advanced calculus, so I'm just at a loss as to how much it matters that I didn't master integration by parts the first time around.

I don't mind doing that if it would help, I'm just wondering if it's worth it. The original grades from the retaken courses would be removed from my GPA calculation but they would still be listed on my final transcript as an 'X'. I understand that acceptance committees often filter applications by GPA so I can see the usefulness of pumping up my cumulative GPA, but the problem is that those 10 credits of retakes would be 10 credits that I could also use for advanced physics electives.

So to answer Vanadium's question, my proposal would be first to retake some of the classes in which my grades were poor. The question I have about this proposal, however, is that since the courses that are weighing down my GPA are all low-level and not physics courses, is retaking those courses a better use of those 10 credit hours when it comes to graduate school acceptance than using those credit hours to take advanced physics electives?
 
Vanadium 50
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I've never understood why you ask this to every OP who asks this question.
I ask that because changing the past is extraordinarily difficult. Focusing on the past is not helpful. Most of the advice about the future is the same irrespective of the past. Of course you want to do well on the GRE. Of course you want to ensure that you are well prepared for the classes you'll be taking. And so on. Now, if someone has a specific question - like "Given that the past was X, is it better to do A or B?" then they can ask that and get specific advice. But doesn't that answer the "So what?" question?
 
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Wait, my GPA outside of physics affects my chances of acceptance into a physics grad school? Man, I better start taking my non-physics courses more seriously then.

Do they really care about how I did in my gen eds?
I imagine if you did THAT poorly (as in OP's case) then it's an example that you only do well in courses you're interested in, which doesn't bode well for doing well in graduate school. But that's only a guess.
 
radium
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It really depends on how strong the rest of your application is. They are much more forgiving with regards to GPA in grad school admissions if you have outstanding research experience and letters, especially if the bad grades occurred early on. However, they are obviously going to look at your transcript and having a lot of low grades will probably be a turn off.

How many physics courses have you taken?
 

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