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What to Do If You Have a Low GPA

“I Have a Low GPA – What Can I Do?”

Most med students will tell you that their path to where they are now was anything but smooth. 

One of the most stressful parts of the journey to med school is consistently performing well in your coursework, maintaining a high GPA to compete with the thousands of other pre-med students vying for admission to M.D. and D.O. programs. Between extracurriculars, family responsibilities, work obligations, and the fact that the pre-med curriculum is just plain difficult, it is all too easy to find yourself slipping academically for a few quarters or semesters. It may have been that you endured a particularly difficult season of life (the loss of a loved one, the COVID-19 pandemic, etc.) while also taking org chem. Or, you just overloaded yourself and found yourself struggling. Regardless, you find yourself with a lower GPA than you’d like to list on your medical school application. Thankfully, you can turn the ship around and/or increase your odds of acceptance to medical school.

What Is a Low GPA?

We should define what a “low” GPA is—because “low” is relative. Low for one student may be 3.8, whereas another student may dream of having a 3.6. 

To provide context, the average GPA of students accepted to M.D. programs for the 2021-2022 cycle was 3.74, and the average GPA of accepted D.O. students in the 2020-2021 cycle was 3.56. This means that a GPA of 3.5 or greater generally puts you in the vicinity of being a competitive applicant to medical school (depending on the school, of course; an Ivy League school will be more selective). As your GPA goes below a 3.5, though, there will likely be more ground for you to make up via the other areas of your application. A strong resume of extracurricular experiences, a compelling life story, and/or a stellar MCAT score can certainly help compensate for a lower-than-average GPA.

With the rise of holistic admissions at medical schools across the country, admissions committees are fortunately beginning to consider more than just GPAs and MCAT test scores. More and more schools are taking into account students’ lived experiences, personal responsibilities, and/or professional obligations that may have affected their academic performance. That said, you should strive for the highest GPA possible for you, your abilities, and your unique circumstances to maximize your chances of getting into med school.

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Catching It Early: How to Improve Your Bad GPA Long Before You Apply to Medical School

If you’re in your early pre-med years (e.g., you’re a freshman or just a few months into your sophomore year) and you find yourself struggling in your coursework, don’t fret—there is still plenty of time. 

Medical schools do value upward trends in GPA—in other words, if you struggle in your early years of undergrad but steadily improve, this demonstrates your growth as a student. What medical schools are most concerned about is how prepared you’ll be—they want students ready for the academic rigor of medical school. As part of a well-rounded application, this upward trend may compensate slightly, but not entirely, for a lower-than-average GPA. 

“How then,” you may be asking, “do I get myself back on track?”

1. Seek out free tutoring services.

Many universities, colleges, and community colleges offer free tutoring services, particularly in challenging science courses like chemistry, biology, and physics. If you’re struggling in your pre-med coursework and lucky enough to have this resource available, take advantage of it! One-on-one or even group tutoring can be invaluable in helping you better understand the material and can be the difference between you just getting by and you setting the curve in the course. You may also learn more effective study strategies that can translate to better grades in other pre-med courses.

2. Attend office hours.

Most undergrad professors hold office hours when you can bring your questions. Depending on how busy the professor’s office hours are (some professors will have a line outside their door), this could be even more helpful than tutoring. You can get clarification from a subject matter expert who also happens to be the person writing and grading your exams. Not only will they help you refine your skills, but professors are also notorious for providing invaluable advice. For example, they may specify what topics are most important to study for the upcoming exam and which ones are lower-yield. (On an unrelated note, attending office hours is also a great way to build rapport with your professors, setting the stage to ask for a letter of recommendation later.) 

3. Sign up for supplemental workshops.

Some undergrad institutions offer supplemental workshops alongside challenging science courses. These workshops provide additional practice of the material. Typically, they are graded on a pass/fail basis and a student who has already taken and excelled in that course runs them. 

4. Use other sources (YouTube, etc.).

Last, but not least, grab your laptop and use outside resources (such as Blueprint’s MCAT YouTube account) to supplement your content knowledge. Each of us learns differently, and sometimes professors’ lecturing styles don’t mesh well with our learning style—seeking out the same information explained in a different way or in a different medium can be a great option.

“Now What?” – For Students With a Low GPA in Their Later Pre-med Years

If you find yourself approaching college graduation (or if you’ve already graduated) and your GPA is lower than you’d like, don’t worry—there’s still time for you, too. It’s never too late to start seeking help, changing your study habits, and improving your academic performance. Here are three options.

1. Grade forgiveness—retake prereqs.

If you’re lucky enough to attend a school that allows you to retake courses for grade forgiveness, this may be the time to take advantage of it. Grade forgiveness policies typically fall into one of these categories:

  1. A student can retake a course if they received a particular grade or LOWER (for example, one university may allow students to retake courses if they received a C- or lower).
  2. A student can retake units for grade forgiveness but the number will vary between schools.
  3. The new, retaken grade will replace the original grade in the GPA calculation, meaning that the GPA will be calculated as if the original grade never existed (this may be true even if the new grade is lower than the original grade!)
  4. The original grade WILL remain on the transcript—this means that medical schools will know that you retook the course, and they will be able to see your original grade.
  5. Students are usually NOT able to receive grade forgiveness after they have graduated—course retakes typically must be before graduation.

Talk with an advisor at your school about whether this is an option for you. If your college does offer grade forgiveness and you meet the eligibility criteria, it may be worth retaking one or multiple prerequisite courses to boost your GPA. Retaking and improving in a prereq will demonstrate resilience and grit, while also showing that you are prepared for the academic challenge of medical school. 

2. Complete a post-bacc program.

Students looking to improve their GPA and academic readiness for medical school can also choose to complete a post-baccalaureate (post-bacc) program after receiving their undergraduate degree. These programs are designed to help students prepare for medical school coursework while also increasing their competitiveness as an applicant. There are a few different types of post-baccalaureate programs for pre-meds, but let’s focus on academic enhancement post-bacc programs. 

Academic enhancement post-bacc programs are typically 1 to 2 years and let you improve your science GPA and demonstrate your academic abilities. Academic enhancement post-bacc programs are for students who have already completed the prerequisite coursework for medical school—these programs generally consist of more advanced science courses that build on prereqs. 

Some post-bacc programs also offer community service and/or clinical opportunities, assistance with the med school application process, and access to MCAT prep materials. You can browse AAMC’s post-baccalaureate program database or AACOM’s osteopathic medicine post-bacc program database.

3. Bolster the rest of your application.

Thankfully, your GPA isn’t the only factor that medical school admissions committees consider. Beyond your GPA, you have the opportunity to set yourself apart through your extracurricular activities, personal statement, and MCAT score. While excelling in these areas won’t necessarily “compensate” for a low GPA, they can certainly help increase your odds of receiving secondaries, interview invitations, and eventually, acceptance letters. Fortunately, we’ve written at length about extracurriculars and the personal statement.

Don’t let a “low GPA” or anything else stop you from pursuing your dream of becoming a physician if that’s what you want to do. Everyone’s path is unique, and virtually no path to medicine is linear. Your future patients need you, so don’t let a low GPA stop you.

When it comes to getting a great MCAT score to boost your application chances, we’ve got you covered there. Blueprint MCAT Prep offers exceptional MCAT preparation courses (both live online and self-paced), personalized tutoring services, and tons of free resources, including 1,600 free flashcards, an online study planner tool, a full-length practice exam, chemistry and physics formula sheets, and more! Sign up for a free trial today and see for yourself why our former students rave about Blueprint MCAT Prep.

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