You’ve gone through close to 4 years of college, but your GPA just isn’t where you were planning it to be, and you’re worried about your chances for 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 what you should do.
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.
We provide dozens and dozens of videos and blog posts on how to optimize your GPA and MCAT – if you haven’t already, these free resources are going to be the best place to start in improving your study habits and strengthening your numbers.
Why is 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?
At Med School Insiders, our team’s combined dozens of years experience on medical school admissions committees and advising students have made us intimately familiar with the ins and outs of the medical school application process. Medical schools are particularly interested in your science GPA and MCAT to 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.
Understanding this, it makes sense that the best thing to do with a low GPA is to perform well on the MCAT. That won’t happen from just wishing it into existence. It’s a matter of restructuring your study strategies and habits. We have several videos on this channel and blog posts on our website outlining how I got a “100th” percentile score (in reality there’s no such thing as 100th percentile, only 99.9th) 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 offer tutoring with top MCAT scorers on our website, so you can learn from the best.
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 Re-Take Courses
If you have a D or F in any of your pre-requisite courses, including biology, chemistry, physics, math, english, biochemistry, psychology and 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, not only for the MCAT, but schools will also require at minimum a passing grade to count the pre-requisite 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 were to 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 – perhaps 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 D.O., and a 3.7 or higher if going the M.D. route.
Formal post-bacc programs are more targeted to those who are switching careers, and mostly provide the pre-requisite courses. Certain programs have reputations of 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 be gaining exposure to medical school 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 at Med School Insiders believe in a more individual approach. Many of us were competitive college athletes, dancers, artists, and musicians.
Every applicant will have completed volunteering, gotten clinical exposure, and done some level of research. Definitely do not overlook these important aspects of the medical school application. However, I advise you to consider a more holistic picture to 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 interest 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, and 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 in an organization which allowed me to pursue my artistic interests and hone my leadership skills. Ultimately, both the stroke research and being lead designer were beneficial in my path to becoming a doctor.
4 | Consider D.O. and Caribbean M.D. Schools
The fact remains that osteopathic D.O. schools and Caribbean M.D. schools are significantly easier to get into than United States allopathic M.D. schools. In addition, D.O. schools are much more forgiving for low GPAs with an upward trend. If you haven’t already, be sure you consider your options and weigh the pros and cons of each. For most students, I advise going D.O. over Caribbean M.D., but that may change based on a few variables.
But What About ME?
Ultimately, each applicant is unique and there isn’t a single answer that is best suited for everyone. Hopefully you found this advice helpful and relevant to your situation. If you need additional personalized help, speak with one of our physician advisors – they have real medical school admissions committee experience. 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 editing your personal statement or even need help planning out the next 2 years to optimize your performance on the MCAT amidst a busy schedule, we’ve got you covered.