The process of applying to medical school is stressful. Applying with a low science GPA can make the process even more nerve-wracking. For over five years with the UC Davis School of Medicine Postbaccalaureate Program, I specialized in helping students with low numbers apply successfully to medical schools across the country. In my last year with the program, 100% of the students whom I assisted received acceptances. I learned many valuable lessons from this experience.
If you are planning on applying with low numbers, I recommend that you reconsider if:
• You have a decreasing trend in your GPA. This is the number one reason why many students will receive a rejection from medical schools. If you have a decreasing trend and you have already graduated, I recommend that you complete postbaccalaureate coursework to create an increasing trend by taking upper division biological science courses, most similar to the level taught at medical school. I have written and published a book, The Definitive Guide to Pre-Medical Postbaccalaureate Programs, about all the different types of postbac programs as well as alternative paths to medical school.
• You have not retaken any of the classes in which you received failing grades. Retake any courses in which you received a D or F for a higher grade as soon as possible to demonstrate your improvement as a student. I recommend making this step your priority, if you have already graduated. It is best to retake the same classes, if at all possible. If not, you can take equivalent courses.
• You have not maintained a full course load of upper division science courses, earning all A’s and B’s. If you have a C every quarter or semester without consistent improvement, this can be a red flag. It’s best to take a full course load of all science classes and maintain a strong GPA before you apply.
Selection committees are looking for evidence that you are ready for medical school. It’s a terrible experience when a student is asked to leave a medical school. It’s painful for three reasons: 1. It hurts the student on an individual level—it’s devastating psychologically. 2. It’s bad for the morale of the student’s class. Medical school is already a high pressure environment. 3. It’s terrible for the reputation of the school and specifically the committee members who decided to admit the failing student. Selection committees are under enormous pressure to select only students who will thrive in their school’s academic setting.
If the criteria listed above don’t describe you, to be successful in applying with a low science GPA, consider the following strategies:
1. Carefully select and apply only to schools that have a history of accepting students with lower numbers.
2. Directly address the reasons for the low numbers early in your education in your essays—state the facts, don’t provide excuses. (See 5 A’s for Your Low GPA for more advice on addressing a low GPA.)
3. Demonstrate improvement by creating a strong increasing trend and earning a competitive MCAT score.
4. Show enormous commitment to medicine and community service.
Many students are accepted into medical school every year with below average numbers. In fact approximately half have below average numbers and science GPAs. It’s better to have an impressive record of service and to demonstrate the ability to overcome any obstacle than to have perfect scores.
The challenges you have encountered have helped you build character. Often, the students with lower numbers have the most heart and the most commitment. My colleagues and I would love to help you show both.
Alicia McNease Nimonkar is an Accepted advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs.