As premeds, we strive for perfect grades – but our expectations can’t always align with reality. Classes can be difficult, concepts can be confusing, and sometimes life just gets in the way. There are many things that can go wrong and leave you with a bad grade in a class.
If you’re in such a situation, you might be bogged down with a number of concerns that your non-premed friends may not be able to relate to. Does this class count? How much will it affect your GPA? How much does it matter for medical school? You might be wondering if you should retake the class, which is no easy question. Here are 7 key points you should consider before retaking a college course.
1. Research Your College’s Stance on Retaking Courses
Each college has a different policy for retaking courses. For some, if you’re in your first semester of Freshman year, you can retake any class you want. In other schools, you can only retake a class if you score lower than the passing grade, and you may have to ask the Professor for permission to retake it. Yet for other schools, you may not be allowed to retake classes at all. Before you consider retaking a course, see if it’s even possible. If this information isn’t readily available on your college’s website, schedule a meeting with your academic advisor. While you’re at it, you should probably schedule a meeting with your college’s pre-med advising office as well. Note that some premed advisors can be really helpful, while others can lead you astray. So take what they say with a grain of salt. However, the one thing they will likely be familiar with is your university’s policies, and specifically, where your university stands on retaking courses.
2. Deliberately Consider the Class
Of course, if the class you didn’t perform well in is required for medical school, or if it’s a course that’s required for your major, then it carries substantially more weight than a random elective. You should deliberately consider where the course will show up in your medical school application (other than your transcript). For example, will it count for your science GPA? Will it count for your major GPA? Knowing how the course grade will affect your statistics can help you decide whether you want to retake the course or not. It is also important to consider the class level. If this is your basic, intro-level course, receiving a C does not look so bad if you can continue on to higher-level courses and earn A’s there. Medical schools love to see improvement; it provides insight into the transformation you underwent as a college student, while also illustrating that over time, you became increasingly dedicated to your goals.
3. Plan Your Course Load
Juggling both your premed coursework and the coursework to complete your major is difficult, and you may not have the opportunity to retake the class you’d like to. It is essential to have a roadmap outlining your four years of college, with the exact coursework that you’re supposed to take laid out, ensuring that you complete your premed and major requirements. If not, it is critical to get started on this! Consider which classes are necessary to graduate, which are necessary to apply to medical school, and also consider if there are any classes worth taking that you’d regret missing out on if you didn’t. During this process, be conscious of exactly when classes are offered! Generic classes may be offered every term, while smaller classes are only offered once per year or even once every other year. Make sure you do your research on this so nothing comes back to bite you in the long run. And always keep in mind that you can reach out to your advisor, or the school’s premed advisor, for help.
4. Understand Why You Received the Grade That You Did
If you don’t really think that you can do better in the course, there’s no point in retaking it. However, if you suffered some personal loss or perhaps forgot a calculator for the final (Tip: don’t do that), then you could probably really improve your grade. Every grade you get, even if the class is retaken, is factored into your GPA. So going from a C to a B isn’t worth the retake so much as going from a D to an A. Retaking a class takes time, effort, and money, so always be sure that you can improve your grade before deciding to do so.
It is also important to consider whether you actually failed the course or not. Again, receiving a C in an intro course and improving in later advanced courses is not the end of the world, and again, schools appreciate improvement and positive trends. But failing a course is a different matter entirely. If you fail a core course, you may be forced to retake it just to continue on the path of your major. It is very important to keep true fails to an absolute minimum (ideally, zero), but if you are in a situation with one or two F’s, don’t lose hope just yet – your circumstance may still be salvageable.
5. Work Out the Logistics
Another important consideration is where you would be retaking the course. In most cases, a course only counts as a “Retake” on your transcript if you retake the course at the same campus you did before. Retaking the course at another university, perhaps a local community college, does not count as a “Retake” but as another grade in your GPA. Make sure you’re clear on what would count as a retake and substitute for your previous grade.
6. Keep Things In Perspective
Keep in mind that schools look at a range of variables when considering your application. If your GPA is low, consider bolstering other metrics on your apps. Get more patient contact hours, blow the MCAT out of the water, or even volunteer more. Perhaps your time, money, and effort would be better spent on these things than retaking a course you just barely got a C in. Remember that you will often have a chance to explain your thought process,and why you just missed that A or B in interviews! You just have to get your foot in the door first.
7. Remember That Every School is Different
These tricks and tips are generalized. Always do specific research into the medical schools you are really shooting for. For example, some schools allegedly only take the last 60 credit hours on your transcript into consideration when looking at your GPA. Some schools consider your GPA much more heavily than others. There are over 150 medical school programs within the US, and they are all different from the next!
If you’d gotten a bad grade in a class, don’t fret! There are plenty of ways to get into medical school. Maybe retaking the course is the best option. Alternatively, focusing on getting better grades next term may be all you need. Perhaps you’re a non-traditional applicant and your story is more complicated than that. Every person has their own journey to becoming a doctor. That said, don’t worry if you feel like you’re not on the “right track” because there is no single right track to medical school. Work hard, but most importantly, remember that if you really want make it happen, there’s always a way.