Almost everybody has a dark spot on their GPA. Usually it’s a failed class or a semester of poor grades. But lately, I’ve received several queries about how a “W” on your transcript will affect your chance of admission to medical school.
The truth is that withdrawing from one or two classes is not going to hurt you at all. In fact, it’s a lot better than having an “F” on your transcript, since Ws are not factored into your GPA.
But what if you have a series of Ws? Then you need to look at them a little more carefully, just as the medical schools are likely to do. Are your withdrawals grouped around one or two semesters, indicating a difficult time in your life? Or are they scattered throughout your academic career? Are they mostly in science classes? Are there multiple attempts at the same class?
Each of these situations can lead an admissions committee to a different conclusion, and it is something that you will want to explain. However, in most cases, you should avoid doing this in your primary AMCAS application. Of course, if your reasons are integral to the story of how your interest in medicine emerged or evolved, then by all means include it in your personal statement. But otherwise, you can incorporate your explanation in a variety of secondary essays. Questions like “what challenges or obstacles have you faced?” and “what makes you unique?” can be great venues to explain any setback that you’ve experienced:
• Did you have a rough semester (or year) because of a family situation? Describe the situation, subtly mentioning your grades but keeping the focus on qualities like your compassion, the responsibilities you took on, and the personal growth you experienced.
• Were you or your family in dire economic straits, leading you to work too many jobs and not manage your time well? Then tell us how you gained control, learned to prioritize, and developed better study and work habits.
• Did you struggle to master organic chemistry, withdrawing a time or two before you finally got the hang of it? Detail how you overcame this mental block with the help of your determination, extra study time, and outside resources.
Different programs view the significance of dropped classes in different ways – some will see them as a red flag, others as a natural part of a student’s academic career. In either case, if you can address the challenges or obstacles you faced, your ability to overcome it will highlight your strong potential as a med student.
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