Do you want to help your premed child get into med school…without having to nag or stress them out? This series has loads of concrete, actionable advice that will help your premed discover their
competitive advantage and get Accepted!
A low GPA is probably the hardest area to improve. This makes sense – it was years in the making, and can’t be undone without time. It can take about a year in advanced level science courses to bump a ~2.7 GPA over 3.0. The lower your child’s GPA and the more classes he’s taken, the longer it will take him to reflect improvements in his academic record.
Fortunately, whether your child’s GPA is just a bit off the mark or well below the competitive level, there are a number of different options you and your child can consider, including the following:
1. Applying to an international medical school.
Pursuing a medical degree abroad might be a viable option for your child. The required GPA is often lower than the U.S. average and in some programs, the MCAT is not required. Courses are often taught by U.S. academic physicians with clinical rotations in the U.S. If your child does decide to attend an international medical school, realize that there will be other challenges – from language barriers to culture shock – that could affect your child’s studies.
Probably the biggest challenge for international medical graduates is securing a residency program after completing medical school. Only 54% of IMGs match to PGY1 programs, although the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates reports a consistent increase in this number over the past decade. I’ve worked with many successful IMGs over this same time period. What sets them apart is that they make up for any lack in their initial qualifications by working harder than the average medical student. They’re heavily involved in university activities, community healthcare initiatives, and international competitions. And significantly, they’re the ones who can express the advantages of their non-U.S. medical education, including resourcefulness and the deep grounding in diagnoses that comes from doing without modern diagnostic equipment.
If your child is interested in an international program, make sure you both do your research. Some Caribbean programs such as Ross University, St. George’s University, and the American University of the Caribbean have consistently high placement rates. Israeli programs like Sackler and Ben-Gurion have partnerships with American programs; likewise, the University of Queensland has an attractive option for U.S. students. And Ireland’s Atlantic Bridge program, although quite competitive, is flexible in its approach to the GPAs of qualified American and Canadian students.
2. Applying to a DO program.
If your child’s application is competitive, but he just didn’t make the cut, he might consider an osteopathic medical program. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) focus on integrating the whole person into the healthcare process, which makes them especially strong in family practice, general internal medicine, and pediatrics.
They are fully licensed physicians; they train in the same residency programs, take the same national board exams, and sit for the identical USMLE exams that the MD students do. Your child’s chance of securing a residency might be less but the steady rise in DO matches suggests that any stigma against osteopathic physicians is waning.
The good news for borderline candidates is that DO schools have lower GPAs and MCAT requirements: The average GPA in the 2015 application cycle was 3.44 while the average MCAT score was 26.38 (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine). There are a number of programs worth exploring: West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, Lincoln Memorial (Harrogate, TN), Nova Southeastern (Ft. Lauderdale, FL), Touro (Vallejo, CA, Lake Erie (Erie, PA), and Western University (Pomona) all have strong programs that are less competitive.
If your premed cares more about being a doctor than the letters following his name, the DO route is definitely something to think about. However, getting into one of these programs is still going to require a strong GPA.
3. Boosting GPA with post-baccalaureate classes.
This is a popular route, especially for applicants who did well on the MCAT but need some help with their GPA. Retaking science classes can show that one has mastered the material, but a better strategy is for your premed to take advanced classes and do well. If your child has any doubt about his ability to get an A, then this is probably not the best path for him.
The quality of the institution offering the courses is important – community college won’t cut it. The best option is to see if your premed’s own alma mater will allow him to take additional courses; often this can be done at a reduced cost. If this doesn’t work out, Syracuse University has a very useful list of programs that offer post-bac courses in the sciences.
4. Improving GPA with a science-based master’s program.
This is another preferred route for would-be reapplicants, because it provides opportunities for more independent, self-directed research and demonstrates scientific acumen. It can be especially useful if your student doesn’t have a research background already. Keep in mind though that applicants need to excel in their coursework and finish the entire program; making below-average grades or dropping out before the program ends will do premeds more harm than good when they reapply to med school.
Master’s programs aren’t right for everybody – your child might not want to commit to a multiyear program, or might not be confident about his academic performance. Or he might not have the minimum GPA required for admittance in the first place, ruling out this option.
5. Proving potential in a special master’s program (SMPs).
These programs, usually a year long, are often associated with a medical school. Students are immersed in a rigorous science-based curriculum almost identical to what they will face in medical school; often, they are even taking classes or being graded alongside first year med students. Success in these courses can show the admissions committee that your child is ready for medical training, which means that once he’s accepted into a special master’s program, the odds are very good that he’ll eventually get into medical school.
Several programs cater to the lower end of the GPA/MCAT spectrum, including:
• East Virginia Medical School M.S. in Biomedical Sciences: In the past five years, 90% of students have been accepted to med school after completion of EVMS’ program. The program runs for two semesters; the majority of courses are taught by faculty in the medical school. They require at least a 2.75 GPA and a 27 on your MCAT. They recommend applying by April, but applications are accepted through May.
• Virginia Commonwealth University’s premedical Basic Health Certificate Program: Graduates completing the program with a 3.5 GPA/28 MCAT are guaranteed an interview at VCU School of Medicine. They require a 3.0 GPA and 25 MCAT for admission. Applications are accepted until July 1st.
• Drexel’s Medical Science Program (MSP): The year-long MSP offers graduate level biological science coursework, formal MCAT preparation, community outreach, and undergraduate review courses in chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry. A 3.0 GPA and either a 17 on the MCAT or 70th percentile on the GRE is required for entry to the program. Success in the program guarantees admission to Drexel’s Masters of Biological Science or the IMS course.
• Drexel’s Interdepartmental Medical Science (IMS) Program: Students spend 18 months in first-year medical school classes. Successful completion of their coursework enables them to continue on for another year to earn the MS of Medical Science. They are also guaranteed an interview at the Drexel School of Medicine. Applications are accepted year-round; a 3.0 GPA and an MCAT score of 27 or better is required.
Because SMPs have a reputation as a more certain path to medical school, they can be quite competitive.