Can taking community college courses after graduating help raise my GPA for admission?

I am understandably not too happy about my cumulative GPA (3.29), nor my major GPA (3.39). My academic performance was a bit sporadic changing from major to major, but I want to put it behind me. I had all A’s in all my upper division courses for my last quarter before graduation and got a 3.88GPA taking upper division courses (I studied molecular cell biology at UCSC). Can taking post-bachelor classes at a cc help? I am also interning/volunteering at a synthetic biology research lab at Stanford that could possibly lead to a publication. I am also taking linear algebra, differential equations, and a programming class at a community college, and I’m thinking of taking a microbiology lab through UCB extension. My professors have been supportive of me, but I feel so discouraged by my GPA, and I fear that my grad school applications won’t even make it past the GPA screening even if I work my ass off the entire year and get some good publications and recommendations. Has anyone been in a similar situation? I want to do a PhD or a Masters in bioengineering with an emphasis in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology.

If there is a course or two you are lacking for admission to a particular grad program, then taking it at a cc would not be a bad idea. Taking a bunch of cc courses in an attempt to raise your overall GPA will not be that helpful. Your GPA isn’t terrible. You should devote more energy to getting a great score on the GRE.

Okay. I have been studying for several months for the GRE and I’m planning to take it next month. In terms of getting research experience, would you recommend doing the UCB microbiology lab extension? I figured it would be nice to be able to network with UCB professors to possibly get into a lab there as well, but I’m not sure if it’s worth paying for the class I don’t need, especially since my tuition waiver covers CC and masters programs, but not extension courses. The class is almost $900.

Search for several programs in that area and see what their requirements are. If you are lacking those courses, then certainly take them. But don’t take them just to raise your GPA. Instead, focus on getting some actual research experience - not necessarily more coursework – if you can.

At this point, such work experience is much more important than taking a class at a cc (unless that class is a pre-req/required.)

Stanford is a fine place to get research experience. Stay there as long as is possible. The only worthwhile courses to take are pre-reqs or graduate courses as a non-degree student. Where did you want to apply?

Okay, well the math courses are necessary for applying to some of the programs since I did not complete all of the math I needed as an undergrad. I sort of made a tentative list based on which departments were doing research I was interested in. Many of these are reaches for me though :(. Has anyone on this forum applied to these programs before?

pretty much impossible reaches:
Stanford: PhD Bioengineering with a focus in cell and molecular Engineering
UCSF: PhD Bioengineering with focus in synthetic biology
UCB: M.Eng. Bioengineering with focus in synthetic biology (although I’m a bit unclear if this is a terminal degree)

Seemingly less impossible reaches:
UCSC: PhD or M.S Biomolecular Engineering and Bioinformatics
UC Davis: PhD or M.S. Biological Systems Engineering
University of Colorado Boulder: PhD Chemical and Biological Engineering with focus in synthetic biology

Less impossible still:
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology: M.S. Biotechnology
Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden): M.S. Biotechnology

There are other schools in Europe that I was also interested in. Because I have Swedish/European citizenship and a tuition waiver from the military in California, I can study at the Masters level for free in either California or Europe. Would I have a better chance of getting in as a Masters student and then trying to get into a PhD after I’ve been admitted to a university?

I think you have the best options by applying to some for Ph.D. and others for M.S. (or, if they let you, both M.S. and Ph.D.). The negatives to your application are that your B.S. is not in engineering so it might be that starting with an M.S. is a good choice. Are there any M.S. programs in the field you want among the CSU schools?

hmm… I had not consider going to a Cal State before, but that might be worth a shot too. I think Cal Poly SLO has an MS program in engineering where you can specialize in bioengineering. Do you think I might have a better chance getting into a program there?

I have actually given this more thought and I might just do an MS in chemE or biochemE and then do an exit thesis involving synthetic biology, because I don’t think I’m mentally or academically prepared for a PhD program yet (I’ll still apply to both if I have the option to, of course). I’m sorry if this is becoming tangential, but maybe this realization will help someone who is in a similar situation. I am going to continue taking engineering prereqs at cc, upper divs (like p-chem and thermodynamics) through open university at a Cal State, and then try my best to do publishable research at the Stanford lab before the next admission cycle.