Does this sound like you? You’ve gone through close to 4 years of college, but your GPA just isn’t where you hoped it would be, and you’re worried about your chances of getting into medical school. Or maybe you decided late in your college career to pursue something as rigorous and competitive as medicine. I have good news—there’s still hope. Here’s how you can get into medical school with a low GPA.
I’ll start by saying your GPA is one of the most important factors in your application. The importance of learning from your mistakes and changing systems to produce more desirable results cannot be overstated. This is a skill that will serve you well as a future medical student, physician, and human being. If you are unwilling to revisit your systems and optimize your studying, learning, and testing strategies, you will not be successful in this journey.
The Med School Insiders blog is filled with resources to help you optimize your study strategies, time management, and habits, as well as guides for each element of the medical school application process, including your GPA.
Why is your GPA Important?
In order to strengthen an application with a weak GPA, we first have to understand why medical schools care so much about your GPA. It comes down to one thing: can you handle the rigors of medical school?
Medical schools are particularly interested in your science GPA and MCAT score. This helps admissions committees judge whether or not you can keep up with the demands of medical school. The material isn’t particularly challenging, but the quantity and rate at which you learn is unprecedented. As they say, learning in medical school is like drinking from a fire hydrant.
Therefore, the best thing to do with a low GPA is to perform well on the MCAT. But this won’t happen just by wishing it into existence. It’s a matter of restructuring your study strategies and habits.
Learn how I scored 99.9th percentile on the MCAT and how you can also achieve a top score by utilizing a series of systems and study strategies. To take your score to the next level, we also recommend pursuing MCAT tutoring with top scorers, so you can learn from the best. At this point, you need to do everything you can to ensure you get an exceptional MCAT score that can help balance out your GPA.
But let’s say you’ve already taken the MCAT and your score isn’t where you want it to be. Here are the next steps.
1 | Decide if You Need to Retake Courses
If you have a D or F in any of your prerequisite courses, including biology, chemistry, physics, math, English, biochemistry, psychology, sociology, etc., you need to retake the course. Simple.
Learn from your mistakes the first time around and crush it on the second go. It’s imperative that you master this material, and not only for the MCAT, but because schools will also require, at minimum, a passing grade to count the prerequisite as fulfilled.
There’s no need to retake a course for a B or a B-. Retaking a course with a C is generally not necessary either, unless you are particularly weak on the material and need it for the MCAT. Some suggest retaking or even auditing a course if you need a refresher prior to taking the MCAT. I would argue against this. Your time is better spent learning from high-yield MCAT resources and doing practice tests.
2 | Bolster Your Transcript
Let’s be realistic here. Your GPA can only change so much, even if you get straight A’s from here on out. That’s just simple math. With each subsequent semester, your GPA becomes more and more set in place and harder to change, either up or down.
Schools understand this, and if you had a suboptimal early career in college, they don’t expect you to have a 3.9 by the time you graduate. Rather, demonstrating a consistent upward trend is essential. This is much more encouraging for a medical school to see, as it shows you have learned to hone your study strategies and are now ready for the rigors of a medical school curriculum. For this reason, the second half of your university transcript is going to be more important than the first half.
If you’ve already graduated, consider taking 1-2 years for a post-bacc or special master’s program (SMP), preferably one offered at a medical school. Do not take these programs lightly—solid performance is warranted. Shoot for at least a 3.5 or higher if you’re applying to be a DO, and a 3.7 or higher if you’re going the MD route.
Formal Post-Bacc programs are more targeted to those who are switching careers, and they mostly provide the prerequisite courses. Certain programs have reputations for graduating a significant portion of non-traditional students into affiliated medical schools.
You could absolutely do the same thing independently at a nearby college. Of course, a four year program would be stronger than a community college. However, if costs are a major concern, don’t rule out the community college option. If you do opt for a do it yourself path, take classes that are similar to what you will be taking in medical school. For example, anatomy, cell biology, histology, immunology, molecular biology, pathology, physiology, etc.
Special Master’s Programs
SMP’s generally offer classes that are medical school level or, at least, cover the same material and last either 1 or 2 years. These are generally affiliated with medical schools and can be promising routes to gaining admission. You’ll get exposure to the medical school’s faculty in the process, which can be a significant advantage.
However, this comes at a significant financial cost. Additionally, SMP’s are considered high risk, high reward. If you perform poorly and cannot get into medical school, an SMP degree won’t be of much help elsewhere. Ultimately, the Post-Bacc vs. SMP route is highly personal and will depend on multiple factors on an individual level.
3 | Strengthen Your Experiences and Extracurriculars
While applying to medical school requires you to check certain boxes, we believe in a more individual approach. Many of us were competitive college athletes, dancers, artists, and musicians.
Every applicant will have completed volunteering, had clinical exposure, and done some level of research. Do not overlook these important aspects of the medical school application. However, I advise you to consider a more holistic picture of the process rather than just checking boxes. Target research you enjoy—it doesn’t have to be basic science cancer research. By doing research you are genuinely interested in, you’ll be more likely to work harder, excel, earn an abstract or publication, and even get a stronger letter of recommendation.
By pursuing extracurriculars you enjoy and by working on developing yourself into the type of person that will become an excellent physician, you will be much more successful in the end.
I was fascinated by the brain, so I volunteered in the emergency department, where I enrolled stroke patients into clinical research protocols. I enjoyed it. I got volunteering experience, and clinical research on top of that. On the side, I was the Lead Designer for an organization, which allowed me to pursue my artistic interests and hone my leadership skills. Ultimately, both the stroke research and being a lead designer were beneficial in my path to becoming a doctor.
4 | Consider DO and Caribbean MD Schools
The fact remains that osteopathic schools and Caribbean MD schools are significantly easier to get into than United States allopathic MD schools. In addition, DO schools are much more forgiving when it comes to low GPAs. If you haven’t already, be sure to consider your options and weigh the pros and cons of each. For most students, I advise going DO over Caribbean M.D., but that may change based on a few variables.
Finding the Best Path for You
Ultimately, each applicant is unique, and there isn’t a single answer that is best suited for everyone. If you need additional personalized guidance, speak with one of our physician advisors—they have real medical school admissions committee experience and will work with you to determine the best path forward.
These are the best people to learn from because they’ve been in your shoes and have actually served on the adcoms at top institutions. Whether you need tutoring in chemistry class or help with editing your personal statement or even need help planning out the next two years to optimize your performance on the MCAT amidst a busy schedule, we’ve got you covered.