In our last post, we talked about how to best present yourself in your secondaries and interviews. Today we’ll move forward and discuss ways to boost your GPA, another important feature of your med school application profile.
Feeling a bit fragile after those intense last few blog posts? That’s to be expected – you’ve just undergone a pretty brutal review of your application, and in some ways, your life! But the admissions committee is scrutinizing submissions with the same critical eye. Anticipating the problems so you can correct them is critical for success in your next attempt.
So let’s move straight on to fixing some of these weaknesses and take a look at your poor GPA.
Why is it so hard to “fix” your GPA?
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 high 2.x GPA over 3.0. The lower your GPA, and the more classes you’ve taken, the longer it will take to reflect improvements in your academic record.
Fortunately, whether your GPA is just a bit off the mark or well below the competitive level, there are steps you can take.
Apply to an international medical school
Pursuing a medical degree outside the U.S. or Canada might be a viable option for you. 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. But if you do decide to attend an international medical school, realize that you will have to contend with many different challenges – from language barriers to culture shock – that could affect your studies.
Probably the biggest concern for international medical graduates (IMGs) is securing a residency program after completing medical school. While it is a challenge, it’s certainly not an insurmountable one. In the 2018 Main Residency Match, US IMGs accounted for nearly 14% of the applicant pool; 51.2% of these matched to their preferred specialty. These vary by specialty, and the primary care fields (such as Pediatrics, in which 69.8% of US IMGs matched) fare the best.
I’ve worked with many successful IMGs and found that 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 you’re interested in an international program, 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.
Apply to a DO program
If your application is competitive but you just didn’t make the cut, you 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. Although still extremely competitive, with a more holistic criteria for evaluating applications, DO schools tend to have lower GPAs and MCAT requirements. The mean GPA of matriculants in the 2017 entering class was 3.53 while the mean MCAT score was 503 (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine).
If you care more about being a doctor than the letters after your name, the DO route is definitely something to explore (and be sure to shadow some osteopathic physicians before you apply). With the merger of allopathic and osteopathic residencies, the distinction will be blurred even more.
However, getting into one of these programs is still going to require a strong GPA. So what can you do if your grades are lower?
Boost your 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 you’ve mastered the material, but a better strategy is to take advanced classes and do well. If you have any doubt about your ability to get an A, then this is probably not the best path for you.
The quality of the institution offering the courses is also important – community college won’t cut it. An attractive option is to see if your own alma mater will allow you to take additional courses; often this can be done at a reduced cost.
Improve your 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 you don’t have a research background already. Keep in mind though that you need to excel in your coursework and that you will have to finish the entire program; making below-average grades or dropping out before the program ends will do more harm than good when you reapply to med school.
Master’s programs aren’t right for everybody – you might not want to commit to a multi-year program, or you might not be confident about your academic performance. Or you might not have the minimum GPA required for admittance in the first place. In that case:
Prove your potential in a postbac or special master’s program (SMP)
These programs, usually a year long, are often associated with a medical school. Students are immersed in a rigorous science-based curriculum similar 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 you’re ready for medical training, which means that once you’re accepted into a SMP, the odds are very good you’ll eventually get into medical school.
Several programs cater to the lower end of the GPA/MCAT spectrum:
• East Virginia Medical School M.S. in Biomedical Sciences: In 2017, 88% of students were 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 496 on your MCAT. They recommend applying by April, but applications are accepted through May.
• Drexel’s Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Program (IHS): Drexel offers a variety of pre-med programs, but the 2-year IHS program is designed to help boost the academic qualifications for medical school. A 2.5 GPA and greater than 20th percentile on the MCAT or 50th percentile on the GRE is required for entry to the program. Success in the program guarantees an interview at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Because SMPs have a reputation as a more certain path to medical school, they can be quite competitive. If you are still determined to be a physician but don’t have the GPA to get into a program, there’s one more route available:
GPA bump followed by an SMP
This method is a bit circuitous, but it does work. First, you need to get your GPA up – a year of good grades in upper-level science courses might be enough to get you up to a 3.0. At that point, you can apply to an SMP with strong links to a medical school. This will take you a minimum of two years, which might not seem appealing at this point. However, look at it as a way to build your confidence and shore up the science and study skills that will enable you to excel in medical school.
Boosting your GPA is likely to test your resolve to be a doctor. The next year(s) won’t be quick or easy, and you may question whether the effort is even worth it. You might find it’s not, and that is fine – there are many other worthwhile careers you can pursue. But if you keep your eyes on the prize, then in all likelihood you’ll be wearing a white coat someday.
“Boost Your GPA for Med School Admissions” is the fourth post in our series: Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success.
Next, we’ll look at some of the other concrete steps you can take to improve your profile – and your chances of succeeding in medical school.
If you want to improve your chances even more, take advantage of Accepted’s application review service to get a tailored assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.
Feedback from a reapplicant client
“I really wanted to thank you again for all of your help and support. The reapplication process was a rough one for me. I dealt with a lot of uncertainty regarding what went wrong the first time and many in my inner circle telling me to look at other professions. Your taking the time to work on my essays, bring out my voice, and speedy responses and feedback definitely made the difference in making sure I got my secondaries in, and I deeply appreciate you going above and beyond in wrapping up my application.”
We look forward to helping you too!Want Cyd to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• A Second Chance at Medical School: The A-Z of Applying to Postbac Programs, a free guide
• Johns Hopkins Postbac Programs: An Interview with the Director, a podcast episode
• 10 Reasons Why You Should Consider Participating in a Special Masters Program (SMP)