UCLA vs UPenn

Hello! I was accepted into Penn CAS (Biology) off of the waitlist and I would be MCDB at UCLA. I’m deciding between UPenn and UCLA (in-state). had a few questions about the university.

What is pre-med culture like at UCLA? Is it cutthroat?

How difficult is it to maintain a 3.7+ GPA at UCLA?

How easy is it to obtain research opportunities?

How is the overall atmosphere like at UCLA?

Would you recommend UPenn (~50k) over UCLA (~35k)? My end goal is to attend medical school with the intent of doing medical research (pre-med).


Can you give me some reasons why/answer my questions?

@BallpoinkPen . . .

Per your questions:

Some of these are moderately tough questions. I’ll try to tackle the toughest of the questions.

Re, Question 2:

There used to be a graphic for each UC campus and overall that showed gpa by when students graduated: at three, four, five, and at six years from the point of entry.

Here’s the link: https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/infocenter/ug-outcomes

I know it had gpa information because I’ve seen it before and the notes section mentions Graduation GPA. They might be in the process of updating it which might explain its absence right now.

The average gpa was a 3.34 average for an earlier cohort that entered UCLA – I think it was ~ 2010. So I figure that the average gpa at UCLA is between 3.35-3.42 now, because the incoming classes have improved quite a bit. Add that the longer a student took to take a degree, the lower the average was. So at UCLA graduation at four years, the average was in low 3.4 range. But this flows from the fact that better students graduate on time or early.

The specific question would be: What is the average gpa of a life-science major (and as compared to other departments)? The Engineering (“Engr”) students will pull the average down. The five-year graduates had an average gpa in the 3.05-3.15 range if I remember correctly, and I think a lot of these were Engr students, because of their exceedingly large requisite coursework. But at the same time, the social-science majors would bring the average up a bit.

So for life sciences, the average will probably be somewhere between 3.30-3.40 is my guess. So to maintain a 3.70 gpa would be upper quarter, again per my estimations, maybe around 80-85th percentile. MCDB sounds tough – the name would probably scare a lot of people off, but I don’t think it would be quite as tough as Biochem.

Edit: But if I may add, I’m thinking that you could add a fallback in case it doesn’t go quite as well as you would hope: a lot of students add some quant-based perusal for a possible business career if upper-level MCDB grades don’t comply in attaching to your transcript if you choose UCLA.

But UCLA has put together a good pre-health coursework schedule with the link here:


There are various majors from UCLA who apply to med school including your MCDB fellow majors.

As far as the other three questions, maybe there’s a life-sciences major or grad who can answer. I’m guessing that the department isn’t cutthroat, research is tough but doable – keep asking professors throughout for opps; and the atmosphere at UCLA is friendly and outgoing.

I’m guessing you’ll do well at either school, so pick whatever one would have the greater pull of attraction, including factoring in finances if you need to.

All the best…

With respect to research, there’s also a Biomedical Research minor, and here’s its link:


“How difficult is it to maintain a 3.7+ GPA at UCLA?”

Cum laude is top 20% and requires a 3.752 GPA for L&S. Magna is top 10% and 3.866. https://www.registrar.ucla.edu/Registration-Classes/Graduation/Final-Degree-Audit/Honors

So 3.7 is probably top ~25% in L&S. I doubt that is more difficult to achieve at UCLA than at Penn where the competition is probably a bit more intense.

I would choose UPenn. A private university means more funding and more research opportunities (as it’s an ivy league so more alumni) as there are lesser amount of students. Additionally grade inflation at private universities which makes it easier to obtain a good GPA. However, I would also consider cost factors. Will you be able to afford all 4 years of undergrad if you decide to attend UPenn? UCLA also has a big student population. It will definitely be hard to maintain a 3…7+ GPA in that kind of population. With the big student population, it will also be hard to grab any research opportunities. However, both are great schools but I would choose UPenn over UCLA. UPenn also has a great med school and is in the top 5 med schools in the nation. Going to UPenn as an undergrad may be an advantage for med school. As for UCLA, they don’t really tend to pick their students for med school. Additionally, I’ve read in other blogs and forums but not sure if this is true at all but apparently if you go to a more prestigious school and don’t get the GPA you wanted or the MCAT score you wanted, med school admissions look at the prestige of your school you went to for undergrad.

On the other hand, I live in Orange County, CA and have visited the UCLA campus before. I have friends who go there and tell me the student life is great and there are a lot of resources. Additionally, it’s in the better part of Los Angeles which is the hub to a lot of resources. This makes easy to grab any job opportunities. The campus atmosphere is great and the students there are very friendly which makes it easy to make friends as everyone is social and outgoing. If it also helps, majority of the students who attend UCLA are pre-med as they all are in L&S and L&S has the majority of the student population at UCLA. Also, UCLA has great food and is known to have the #1 best food in the nation!

All in all, it’s up to you! Good Luck! :slight_smile:

@Twoin18 . . . excellent link. I was going to present things in Latin Honors, but I would have still been largely guessing, so I didn’t proceed with it, so your link is extremely helpful to estimate percentiles.

Summa Cum Laude (“SCL”), just to clarify is top 5%, or SCL is 95th percentile or >.

Magna Cum Laude (“MCL” not a reference to a knee ligament) is the range of top 90th ≤ MCL < 95th.

Cum Laude (“CL”) is the range of 80th ≤ CL < 90th.

These are approximations, obviously, but updated yearly and are pretty close.

If CL is ~ 3.752 at the 80th percentile for L&S that would be pretty close to the norm for the Life Sciences, especially since HSSEAS has a CL designation at 3.715 at its lowest point. I would have figured a CL for Computer Science/Engineering to be at 3.4-3.5 at the 80th percentile because these are arguably the hardest majors on campus, or certainly the hardest grading with toughest curves. So that’s good news that the grading has loosened probably in the last decade, [edit:] in addition to UCLA stepping up its profile for HSSEAS admits – something like 4.0/4.6/1,530-1,540 median for incoming freshmen.

So I would agree that 75th percentile for a 3.70 would probably be the case, though it might even be in the 72-73rd range, because a drop in .05 grade points could span greater than a 5 percentile range.

As far as Penn being more competitive, maybe so, because UCLA’s trying to foster more of a collaborative environment. This is the reason why the University is putting more collaborative capstones in various majors, to prevent the cutthroat things that premeds have been known to do.

Thanks for the information.

@samkr14 . . .

Per your quote:

That’s not necessarily the case wrt your second sentence, as evidenced by the following link:


And UCLA does have significant research opportunities with a Biomedical Research minor, the 198-199 coursework, and UCLA Reagan Medical Center being on campus along with associated research groups.

But what I wanted to do was add to some of the statistics from your link @Twoin18, even if I don’t have much authority (or effectively any) to be presenting statistical information.

Since we’d be working top down from those who’ll graduate with Latin Honors, it wouldn’t be hard to estimate the median gpa of life-science students who will graduate this June.

If a 3.70 gpa conservatively graduates at the 75th percentile, then it’s not hard to estimate that a 3.50 would run pretty close to the 50th (at the median), because those who have a 3.50-3.69 gpa would be greater in number than those who have a 3.70-4.00, if we’re assuming a normal curve would would undoubtedly be the case.

A 3.50 wouldn’t be the mean, though it would be estimable at the median or pretty close. There isn’t sufficient information for the lower-half students in the Life Sciences, so we can’t make any assumptions about the mean/average.

But graduating with a 3.0 would be pretty useless for med school (if not for those who go into a grad program to try to qualify), so I wouldn’t think that there would be many with this gpa or certainly less in the Bio-sciences. This is how they would differ from some of those in the social sciences, to which most with lower grades in the Bio-sciences would switch majors. But with a 3.25 they might have a chance for Dental, Pharm, or a DO program, maybe coupled with a post-baccalaureate program beforehand.

So the mean could be in the 3.4 range, but the median will be close to if not in the 3.5 range. Seemingly…

Edit: But the median typically can’t stray too much from the mean under the tenets of statistics.

@firmament2x Thank you for correcting me but I’ve heard from others and saw in other forums that UCLA doesn’t tend to pick their undergrad students for med-school. Probably to balance out the entire “diversity” thing. But I’ve also read in other websites/forums and heard from other people that going to a more prestigious school like an Ivy League will be more weighed as a factor for med school admissions if your GPA/MCAT score isn’t that great

I know of 3 recent UCLA grads, currently in or recently graduated from medical school. One went to Loma Linda and did not get into other CA medical schools. The other 2 are at the SUNY schools and did get admitted to UCLA or other CA medical schools. There is a 4th one and I believe she did not get into any CA medical schools. The point is whether it is UCLA or another CA medical school, be prepared to go out of state to pursue your medical school goal.

@samkr14 The majority of L&S students are not premed actually. And the majority of life science students also are not “pre med”. The largest majors are econ, bus econ, poli sci, comm, and sociology. Many students in life sci come in intending to be pre med but the majority don’t end up doing all the reqs and pivot to other post grad plans.

@UCBUSCalum . . . per your quote,

most UCLA grads who go to med school do end up attending out of state. Let me work out some statistics per the UCLA-SAIRO website:


**1a. Calculate the number in the five years listed per my link above, of UCLA baccalaureates who are accepted to med school./b I’ll want to recalculate their acceptance rates.

Year…Accepted…Applied…Acc. Rate
2019…500…963…51.9% (* aamc had 1,014 UCLA bacs)

*I think the difference in numbers between the aamc.org and SAIRO website is that there’s some mixing of applicants from one year to the next. The 2018 SAIRO numbers were higher than the aamc’s and it was reversed for 2019’s.

The SAIRO website is excellent because I can take a five-year snapshot of UCLA grads who are accepted to med school, instead of just using one year’s which can be aberrant. The average number of UCLA grads who were accepted to med school in the five years, 2015-19 was 506.

**1b. I will have to figure the total who matriculated because I want to compare that to the number of grads who matriculated at CA med schools. **


The average per year who enrolled in med school was 488.

2. Total the number who matriculated at CA medical schools for the five years in question.

CA Northstate…61
CA University…41
Geffen UCLA…130
Keck USC…161
Loma Linda…37
UCLA Prime…13
UCLA Drew…21

3. Take figures from 2. and 1b. and compute percentage who enrolled at CA med schools.

901/2,438=37.0% of UCLA bacs who enrolled in CA med schools in the years 2015-19. That’s not as bad as I would have thought. The typical UCLA student from CA will choose a UC med school over an OOS one, typically, no matter the prestige of the latter. Same within the state by choosing a UC over a private. Addiitonally, if someone is from SD, he/she’ll probably choose UCSD SOM over UCLA or any other UC. Since there are more OOS students who are enrolling at UCLA who are premed, they may end up choosing their home-state’s SOM over a UC (inc. UCLA) because of residency also.

Also, I think the aamc website states that around 1/4 of a year’s applicants re-applied from a previous year, and the typical first-time applicant does so after a one-year “gap,” and a typical grad from a particular year will apply anywhere within 5 years.

Here’s a link with the gentleman featured in the video who says “find your passion” of study no matter what it is. I’ve noticed that there are some dance majors at UCLA who are also doing the premed coursework.


10s4life . . . I have to somewhat disagree with your post:

Especially in the bold. I agree that econ, bus econ, poli sci are extremely popular, with bus econ growing in popularity (I think soc is dropping significantly; the transfers choose that major because they just want to get in and they use it as prelaw and pre-dent, or if they want to go into marketing).

Most of those who enter UCLA with life-science majors are premed, but there is an attrition as you said. However, I don’t think it’s as high as some may make it out to be.

@samkr14 . . . per your quote:

The part in bold runs counter to most on College Confidential who state that admissions from a typical SOM will not consider the degree-granting institution and make upward adjustments to grades and MCATs because of prestige of institution. Edit: However, if you want to present the argument that there will be a higher percentage of Harvard grads have higher grades and scores, there wouldn’t be any disputing of this.

@firmament2x If you take out these no name or lesser name schools: CA Northstate and University, the percentage goes down to about 33%. I am not sure what is UCLA Prime or UCLA Drew. Interesting analysis.

@UCBUSCalum . . . I was just doing a rehash of my post and shaking my head at my grammatical faux pas.

UCLA Prime & Drew are apparently both affiliated with Geffen with each taking 18 and 42 students per year, respectively, with the purpose of giving medical care to underserved communities. UCLA students over a five-year period would have comprised 14.4% and 10% of each’s entering class on average.

CA is non-profit and CA Northstate is for-profit. Acceptance rate for the 1st was 1.8% and for the second, 2.3% for the 2019-20 year. Geffen as a reference had a 1.3% acceptance rate for that year. Both are allopathic and not osteopathic. UCLA doesn’t present students applying to the latter, nor to dental, pharmacy school, etc.

Edit: But you do make a good point about the reputability of CA and CA Northstate, but one can also question a DO’s school’s rep also, seemingly, or an off-shore’s med school.

Some corrections:

California University of Science and Medicine (“CA”) actually has a not-for-profit status not a non-profit. Can’t really find anything on its yield, but it’s obviously higher than 1.8%, which is its enrollment/applications (“E/A”) rate, not acceptance rate (“A/R”).

California Northstate University College of Medicine (“CA Northstate”) per one website said that it had a 77.9% yield, which would mean a 3.0% A/R if the 2.3% E/A per above is correct.

Geffen has had a 2.1% A/R recently, with a 1.3% E/A, which means 61.9% yield. Geffen does give a small material preference to in-state students, 3.0%, to OOS, 1.4%.

Here are the overall A/R rate breakdowns for the UCs; apparently, there isn’t enough information coming from UCR to post statistics:


Which school did you choose? Best of luck!