let's not make out like all successful candidates are essentially perfect, because they aren't. This sentiment unnecessarily discourages people. It'll cause people to give up once they drop to the 3.7-3.8 range.
You're right, most aren't perfect. The average person accepted to med school from Emory in the past 4 years averages about a 3.63 GPA and 31.4 MCAT. I'm just pointing out that for MD/PhD acceptees that average will be much higher on both the GPA and MCAT, but definitely not perfect.
Now-a-days, a 3.9-4.0 seems a dime a dozen and is hardly impressive (especially from a private school) unless complemented with a very high MCAT.
This may be true at some state schools like UGA where anyone who barely tries can have a 3.9+. But I don't think grades are that inflated at Emory when compared to colleges across the country, especially for intro pre-med classes here where averages hover around a B- or even C+. Again looking at premed data in the past 4 years from the PHMO website, 119 out 1350 who have applied to med school had 36+ MCATs, while 114/1350 had 3.9+ GPAs so the numbers are about the same. Nonetheless having a high GPA + low MCAT definitely casts doubt on your course rigor, which med school adcoms can often see right through on your transcript. Lower tier state med schools probably won't care much if your GPA is high, but the more selective ones will.
Seems that Emory is too afraid to take a step toward forcing students into that type of rigorous environment (I'd imagine there would be a lot of resistance).
I don't understand why they don't just send the better teachers to 151/152 (how can you encourage more physics majors by having an unstable gateway sequence?)
There's definitely going to be resistance from the pre-med students, but even more so from places the PHMO and Career Center, who essentially tell premeds to take lighter courseloads (they advise most freshmen to not double in sciences) to not get overwhelmed and keep their GPAs high. Any since a good majority of those in the 100 level physics classes are premed and very few premeds are physics majors, the Physics department tries to cater to the premeds, but not in a way that is necessarily helpful to them in the long run. At the same time, they may also turn away many potential physics majors with genuine interest in the subject (which is really bad for them since the Physics department is already much smaller than the Chem, Bio , or NBB departments and doesn't get as much attention on campus).
And since at the moment about only 51% of Emory premeds who apply to med school get in each year, the PHMO is currently worried more about getting the students on the lower end into a medical school than getting the top premeds into better ones. In fact, they generally tell everyone to apply to just lower tier med schools so they can hopefully more people to get in somewhere. While this advice may apply to some students (many Emory premeds with mediocre stats think that just because they go to a top 20 undergrad they'll automatically get into a top 20 med school), it doesn't apply to others.
My point for incoming freshmen premeds is, take the advice from the PHMO with a huge grain of salt (you'll probably hear them speak at at least one session during the first few weeks of school) and don't be afraid to challenge yourself beyond the minimum requirements.
Tougher flagship state schools often curve some of their classes to C/C+. Emory's graduating GPA is like a 3.38-3.4 (this puts us .1 above most top flagships with similar talent-pools) with almost 1/2 of the students earning over 3.5. I'd imagine there are an abnormal amount of 3.9s or 3.85s and higher here or at many of these top privates than there are at top flagship universities or even normal state schools. While the state schools generally have a "less talented" student body, they clearly challenge that student body enough to make sure a 4.0 is not that common (I think there were plenty of 4.0s in my graduating class and a bunch of 3.9s. A couple were indeed extraordinary students in the sciences, but sometimes on just knew that it meant a little less in cases where the student often took easy curving/grading courses). Private schools do it to an extent, but also want to make sure we graduate and are happy. Only some schools go far enough to even challenge the notion that high GPAs for everyone should= happiness. These are, as far as I know, Princeton, Reed, Harvey Mudd, MIT, and Johns Hopkins. Emory is in the WashU, Northwestern, Chicago, Vandy suite of grade inflation (kind of the middle as many schools have exceeded 3.4 and in the case of Stanford, Yale, and Brown, 3.5). A lot of it comes from the grading practices in the social sciences and humanities, but also from some weird stuff in certain upper level science courses (let's just say, that we don't get better grades in them because they are more challenging and we are just more prepared, but because some are just plain easier, or grade easier. I am okay with the latter moreso than the former. This is how a place like Harvard or Yale is still significantly more rigorous while also inflating the grades. They can actually argue that the curve was well-deserved. We can't always argue that, yet people here automatically expected when the average isn't a solid B)
As for the grading curve/distribution in pre-med courses. I would say that only chemistry courses are left with a B- average (actually this is the first year in a while, that gen. chem is probably a B- instead of B/B+). And that is expected (some organic chemistry classes even curve slightly lower than B-, like Gallivan's and some of the other researchers, but Gallivan's curve is generous considering his averages on those difficult exams he gives for 222). Grades in general biology have gone way up (in the interest of "fairness", many professors will water down their own testing style from previous years so that students won't complain that they are too hard compared to others. If the biol profs. give one hard test at like 75-80, then they must give an easier one to make up for it at 80-85. I think most have been pressured to become easier, like Spell, and some, like Passalaucqua are becoming pressured to become slightly harder. Some were just kicked out of there altogether, like Eisen, who is probably considered too tough, even after curving. I feel like biol 141 has lost a gem), they are probably a B/B+ at this point (When I took it, there was more a mixture of B-s, Bs, and B+, etc. among the sections, except in 141, where it was a B- for about every section). Only huge classes like Biochem, NBB 301, and Cell Biol drag the biol dept. grade distribution down. Also, I get the feeling that physics is a B when there are other non-Bing professors. It will go back down to B- once Bing teaches all of the sections.
But yeah, pre-meds students at Emory should ask themselves, do they want to compete amongst each other, or with a national applicant pool? And the best way to do the latter is to push yourself to see what you can do. Assess your own strengths and limitations, take a risk every now-and-then, don't let others (including phmo) tell you that you cannot or should not do it if you have been shown to be a strong student. They really need to personalize their advice and stop treating everyone as if they are the same.
Kev, you and I both are deciding between brown and Emory (although I'm just a wait lister at Brown) Emory has much better research. Especially with the CDC literally across the street. Lots of great volunteering at Emory and Atlanta is a wonderful city. I haven't visted Brown either so I can't really speak much on that end.
From what I heard, they feel a lot different. I hear (and research tells me) Brown has somehow managed to maintain a lot of its liberal arts type "feel". Emory still has it to a degree, but the undergraduate student body makes it feel otherwise. It seems that the only thing making the school feel somewhat liberal artsy is the look and design of the campus (we don't have those huge, towering, gothic or colonial style buildings in our core like many of research university peers. Our architecture is somewhat gradiose with the marble and all, but relatively modest at the same time as the greenery sometimes obscures the architecture and Emory buildings are not as grandiose without being supplemented by trees. It looks more "quaint" kind of like some of the LACs. The medical and research complexes on the periphery of this core are a different story. These make it clear that we are research intensive). I would imagine a lot of the campus initiatives as spearheaded by certain faculty and administrative figures have also help Emory maintain somewhat of a liberal arts social culture (and due to this our extracurricular activities tend to be much more grounded in the liberal arts or interdisciplinary approaches to real problems). Due to the level of pre-professionalism, the academic culture is nowhere near as "liberal artsy" (define this as you may. I know how I define it. For example, I do not necessarily consider a person majoring in a science and a non-science as a liberal arts oriented person as sometimes such a decision is moreso strategic than representative of a curiosity to learn something cool.) as the social/ EC scene.
Don't take what I said as truth. Continue to research both and follow chazsf advice and visit.