The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) has applicants manually enter all coursework and grades into the AMCAS application. You may wonder why they have you complete this seemingly repetitive and arduous section, given that they collect official copies of all transcripts. It allows them to create a standardized GPA calculation from which to compare all applicants.
3 must-know facts about retaking courses
Do you need to retake courses or are in the process of deciding whether or not to retake a class? The following facts will help you decide:
Must-know fact #1: All grades earned are calculated into the cumulative GPA.
While your college campus may offer grade forgiveness on transcripts for any classes failed and repeated, AMCAS does not. They will calculate all attempts for the course. Even though the failed grade will hurt your GPA, not retaking the course and earning a passing grade—whether it is a prerequisite course or not—is worse. Yes, people get accepted into medical school even though they have failed a course or two in the past. It’s all about demonstrating improvement.
Must-know fact #2: Only courses retaken on the same campus will be labeled “repeats.”
If you pass or fail a course and decide to repeat it, only those courses taken on the same campus can be labeled a repeat course. In other words, if you fail a class on Campus A and take a similar class on Campus B, you cannot label the second course as a “repeat.” While you will receive GPA credit for taking the course, it won’t be considered a retake.
Must-know fact #3: It’s not necessary to retake a course if you passed it the first time.
If you received a C or higher in a course, there is no need to retake it. In my experience, it is far more impressive for a student to take new upper-division biological science courses and excel in them rather than to repeat lower-division coursework. Upper-division courses are more similar to the level taught on medical school campuses. The only situation in which I would advise a student to retake a course that they have already passed is if they have been out of school for years and plan on taking more courses in that subject and need the foundational knowledge.
To sum up, here are some do’s and don’ts to consider when deciding if you should retake courses before applying to medical school.
DO: If you fail a course, retake the course on the same campus.
DON’T: If possible, don’t fail classes to begin with! If you do, it’s not the end of the world. The most important thing you can do is to learn from the experience and improve. Many students have been accepted into medical school after failing and retaking a course or two early in their college education. Three or more F’s may be considered a deal-breaker.
DON’T: Don’t retake courses that you have passed unless you are returning to school and need the foundational knowledge.
DO: If you are not able to retake a course that you have failed on the same campus, it is still better to take an equivalent course on a different campus, even though AMCAS will not consider it a “repeat” because you can explain that you retook the course for a higher grade in your application essays.
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Alicia McNease Nimonkar worked for 5 years as the Student Advisor & Director at the UC Davis School of Medicine's postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and other health professional programs. She has served Accepted's clients since 2012 with roughly a 90% success rate. She has a Master of Arts in Composition and Rhetoric as well as Literature. Want Alicia to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!