How To Get Into Medical School With A Low GPA In 2020

Desk of a student learning how to get into medical school with a low GPA

Getting into medical school with a low GPA is something that many students think is impossible.

But that’s not the case at all.

In fact, med schools accept students with a low GPA every year. It’s really quite common and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future.

So how did they do it? Were their parents on the admissions committee?

Nope (well maybe some were). These students took a low GPA and made it a non-factor by using a smart application strategy, making up for it in other areas.

And this guide will teach you how to do the same thing.

How Much Does Your GPA Really Matter?

There’s no getting around the fact that your GPA is something medical schools will pay attention to. In addition to your MCAT scores, your undergraduate GPA is one of the most important metrics factored into the admissions decisions.

But your GPA is not as black and white as many students think.

Your grade point average helps to paint a picture of your time as an undergraduate student. Admission panels are going to look at the broader picture, not just raw numbers.

The reason why your GPA is important is that it helps medical schools determine how successful you’ll be in the program. Are you going to work hard to get the best grades possible or are you going to buckle under the pressure and fail?

Schools will analyze every facet of your GPA to understand your performance as a student. In addition to your final cumulative average, they’ll take a look at a year-by-year average and the types of courses you took.

Your GPA in science-based courses is going to have more weight than those in the liberal arts. However, that doesn’t mean that those grades don’t matter.

Schools will examine the entirety of your schoolwork and look for grading trends that offer more information than a basic number average (more on that later).

For this reason, it’s still possible to get into medical school with a low GPA. However, it’s just a reality that having that a lower GPA will make things a bit more difficult.

What’s Considered A “Low” GPA Anyway?

So, what exactly is a low GPA for medical schools? The answer is it all depends on the school you’re trying to get accepted into.

Admissions standards and difficulty vary across the board. What might be low for one school may be on par with applicants at another.

Before you start worrying about how your GPA will affect your chances of getting into your first-choice medical school, you need to see what the average GPA for applicants is. This information can easily be found from the class profile and national ranking publications.

Once you have those numbers handy, compare your GPA to see where you stack up.

Say, for example, that you have a final cumulative GPA of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. If your target school’s average GPA for new students is 3.8, it is considered low. However, if the average GPA for entering students is 3.6, your score would not be considered low.

As a general rule, a “low” GPA is 0.3 points lower than the average GPA of a medical school’s entering class.

The Importance Of An Upward Trend

As we mentioned earlier, medical schools look at far more than just your final cumulative GPA to make an admissions decision.

Grading trends pay a very important role in the process as well because they can help paint that important picture of your academic performance.

You’d be surprised at how much grading trends can say about your years as an undergraduate student. As an example, say that your GPA shows an upward trend. This would increase your chances of getting accepted.

You might have had a hard time adjusting to college in the first couple of years. This could be reflected in poor grades when you were a freshman. However, once you got into the swing of things, your grades continued to improve in subsequent years.

This shows a positive upward trend. Admissions panels will see that you overcame whatever held you back and you were able to succeed with your education.

A positive trend can do a lot to sway medical school admissions. Even if your GPA isn’t perfect, that trend may be putting you in a better position than you think.

However, the opposite applies if there’s a downward trend, too. Even if you have a good GPA, a downward trend would indicate that you lost incentive. That would be a red flag for admissions panels.

Getting Into Med School With A Low GPA: Steps To Take

If you’ve crunched the numbers and realized you have a low GPA, what do you do? Is the dream over?

Absolutely not.

Getting into medical school with a low GPA is still very possible, it’s just going to require you to make good decisions and work hard. Below are some high-level steps we recommend that will help you out.

1. Figure Out Why Your GPA Is Low In The First Place

The first step to addressing GPA issues is to understand why it’s low in the first place. Knowing how your score got to where it is will help you understand what you need to do to make your application more attractive.

Analyze your transcripts and think back about your performance in those classes where your grades could have been better. Why did you struggle?

Several factors can affect your academic performance. Maybe you were studying something you weren’t passionate about early on in your academic journey. You might have experienced lower grades until you finally found your place and started to pursue medicine.

Maybe some personal issues prevented you from focusing on your studies. Things like a major illness, family problems, and more could come into play.

Was there an issue with time management? Extracurriculars and work commitments could have caused issues with your grades.

Whatever the case may be, identify it and use that information to decide how you want to proceed. Don’t play the blame game. The goal is to understand and take responsibility. Medical schools appreciate personal growth, and a big part of that is taking responsibility for why your GPA is lower than it should be.

2. Make Up For It

Once you understand why your GPA has suffered, you can take the steps to address the problem. There are several things you can do to show that your low GPA is not a representation of what you can actually do in medical school.

The first is to simply retake classes and try to improve your GPA. There’s not a whole lot you can do in a short amount of time, but retaking a class you scored poorly in can show that you understand the curriculum.

Focus on classes with the lowest scores. Turning a C or D into an A is a major upward trend. Even if your school’s retake policy doesn’t factor the A into your cumulative GPA, medical schools will be able to see that you retook the class.

This shows that you have initiative, overcame the issue that caused the poor grade, and that you understand the material.

One of the best ways to get into med school with a low GPA is to do great on the MCAT. The MCAT is one of the most important factors that schools consider. The test shows that you are ready to take on the heavy academic load that’s to come.

Take a lot of extra time to prepare for the MCAT and choose the appropriate time to take it. Try to score high on your first attempt. However, feel free to take it multiple times. Schools will see the scores of all your attempts, so you can take the opportunity to once again show an upward trend.

Finally, you can bolster your application by taking post-baccalaureate courses and Special Masters programs.

Formal post-bacc programs are usually targeted towards those who are looking to do a career change to the medical profession. They usually consist of medical school prerequisites.

If you don’t want to enroll in a formal program, you can bolster your application by simply taking additional classes. Focus on pertinent subjects to show that you are ready for the courseload of medical school.

Special Masters Programs, or SMPs, offers a unique educational experience. These programs are specifically designed as a route to get into medical school. Oftentimes, they’re affiliated with medical schools and contain many of the same courses first-year M.D. students are taking.

They can be risky, as the financial investment is significant. However, if you do well, your success can do a lot to improve your odds of getting into your target school despite a lower undergraduate GPA.

3. Be Ready to Explain Your Low GPA During the Application Process

Even after you’ve done all that you can to improve and make your application as appealing as possible, you will need to explain your GPA. Be prepared to address your GPA issues in your application and interview.

A low GPA is going to be a topic of discussion. Medical schools need to know that those issues related to your low average aren’t going to come into play in the next stage of your education. Figure out how you can address those concerns and show that you’re ready for the academic responsibilities that come with attending medical school.

Be factual and frank about the circumstances surrounding your low grades. Provide evidence that you have overcome those issues. This would be a great time to talk about outside clinical experience, class retakes, or any additional programs you took.

Another important tip about explaining your GPA is to take personal responsibility. If your low grades were caused by poor choices or a lack of time management, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Show that you have overcome those problems.

Let the admissions panel know that you have grown and matured. Personal growth is important. Being able to show that you have changed and can leave those problems in the past can do a lot to improve your chances of admission.

4. Consider DO Schools

Don’t let a low GPA affect your future career. Even if your GPA is preventing you from getting into your target medical school, there are some alternative options available.

Even the best DO schools tend to have more lenient GPA standards. Not only that, but these schools are often more forgiving to students that show an upward trend on their GPA. Becoming a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine still requires plenty of hard work and years of study.

While it’s a different path, DO schools still prepare you to become a licensed physician. It’s worth considering if a lower GPA is stopping you from getting into a traditional M.D. program.            

Closing Thoughts

By now we hope you realize that getting into medical school with a low GPA is totally possible. It’s just going to require some work.

There’s no hack or sneaky loophole that will solve this problem for you. However, your options are actually rather simple.

Make up for your low GPA and implement a smart application strategy. If you do this and work hard, attending med school can be in your future!

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