Can you get into medical school with a low GPA? Short answer: Yes. But how to do it depends on your situation.
Having a low GPA is not the end all be all that prevents you from getting into medical school. There are many factors to consider to see where you stand and what you need to do.
Bad grades don’t define you. This post is all about what you can do to either improve your GPA or work hard to strengthen all the other aspects of your application so you can get into medical school!
Those sub-par GPA stats above are from yours truly. In 2017, I only applied to four schools and got 1 interview invite (before getting the 3.65 in my post-bacc) from my dream school! So far this current cycle, I’ve gotten 11 interview invites and two acceptances! And I don’t say that to brag by any means but to show that it really is possible to get into medical school with a low GPA!
What is a Low GPA?
For the 2019-2020 application cycle, the AAMCA published the mean GPA for matriculants to MD medical schools to be a 3.66 for science GPA and a 3.81 for non-science GPA (SOURCE).
Therefore, if you have a GPA below these numbers then you are “below average” compared to most students that get into medical school. The farther you are from these numbers, the more you will really have to strengthen the other aspects of your application.
Do You Have an Upward Trend?
This is a huge factor to consider! Do you have a low GPA because you got C’s and D’s your freshman and sophomore year, then you crushed it junior and senior year?
If you didn’t know already, the primary application breaks down your GPA by year. Medical schools can see that you may have struggled early on, but then something changed and you did great in your upper level classes.
Or maybe you didn’t do so hot in undergrad at all, but you did a masters program and got a 4.0 or 3.8. That is great too!
If you have an upward trend, then tell your story of why you struggled and what you did to improve. Were you working too much? Did something tragic happen in your personal life?
In my extra-curricular activities section I had working as a server one of my most meaningful. I told the story of how I was juggling 30 hours a week with school and the equestrian team and eventually it made me realize I needed to sit down and decided what I wanted to do with my life.
My job was affecting my grades and still had an undecided major my sophomore year of college. I wanted to do better so I cut back my work schedule significantly, explored my interests, and decided to go the premed route.
It may seem weird to put my server job as my most meaningful, but it allowed me extra space to tell my story (you get an additional 1,325 characters for your 3 most meaningful activities). To back it up, the admissions committee can see that my grades started to improve during my sophomore year.
So, if you have a low GPA but an upward trend then tell your story! How did your struggles make you better in the end?
Consider A Post-Bacc or Masters
If you finished undergrad with a low GPA and you don’t have an upward trend, then it would be a great idea to do a post-bacc or masters program. The only real downside is that it is unfortunately quite expensive.
I personally tried to go this route, but after two quarters I couldn’t afford to continue. I think doing this is really important if you haven’t shown the adcoms through your previous coursework that you can excel in upper level science courses. If you have an upward trend though, did well in tough science classes, and did well on the MCAT, then you could definitely just focus on all the things mentioned below to strengthen all the other aspects of your application!
If you do want an extensive list of post-bacc and special masters programs then I found a really great one HERE!
Strengthen the Other Aspects Of Your Application
If you are like I was and doing a post-bacc or masters program is out of the budget then no worries. Now I’m going to talk about ALL the things you can do to strengthen the other aspects of your application to get into medical school with a low GPA.
Getting a stellar MCAT score will definitely help you chances of getting into medical school with a low GPA. The mean MCAT score for students that matriculated into medical school during the 2019-2020 school year was 511.5 (SOURCE).
Even if you have a decent MCAT score already, retaking it to get an amazing one is literally thousands of dollars cheaper than taking more classes. Don’t underestimate how much you can improve either. I had no choice to retake my MCAT because my first score expired. Initially, I was boo hooing about the thought of going through that process all over again.
But in the end I was able to achieve a score SEVEN points higher than the first! Definitely something to consider if you know what areas you could approve upon from the first.
If you haven’t taken the MCAT yet, then make sure to dedicate PLENTY of time to study. I would recommend at least 3 months, but if you have a low GPA and really want to go for the gold I think 6 months is perfect!
Hands on Patient Care Experience
This is a huge one! Why? Because a lot of premed students have never actually worked with patients! I wouldn’t suggest trying to juggle a job with school if you don’t have to, but during summers and gap years it would be an amazing idea to get a medically relevant job.
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
- Medical Assistant (MA)
I work as an EMT and I may be biased, but I think it is the best clinical experience you can get. Mainly because the patients are actually in your care. You may have a limited scope of practice, but you are still the sole provider for a patient from the time you pick them up to the time you get to the hospital.
On the other hand, working as a CNA or MA has great benefits too. One thing I feel like I miss out on working as an EMT is having the chance to work around doctors and nurses.
As far as the time it takes to get certified, CNA, phlebotomy, and EMT are the shortest ranging from around 2 months to 6 months depending on the program. Becoming an MA takes much longer but depending on where you live you could get a job at a private practice and they will train you themselves!
I live haven’t had such luck and I thought it was because I lived in a big city. I figured small towns would be more likely to hire MAs without certification, but my friend lives in the DC area and she was able to get hired as an MA without prior training or experience.
I would suggest searching on Craigslist to see what you can find in your area. My friend was able to do some fun stuff like sutures, taking patient history, vitals, and more.
So I’m not talking about volunteering just to “check off a box” because you feel like you have to. I’m talking about finding an organization that stands for something you are really passionate about so you can volunteer long term and be involved in something that is really meaningful to you!
Admissions committees much rather see that you have one most meaningful volunteer experience that you have been involved with for 3 years versus six different volunteer experiences that you have done here and there.
Check out these awesome opportunities:
- Be a CASA Volunteer **I am super interested in doing this!
- Hospice Volunteer
- Crisis Text Line Volunteer
- The Smart is Strong Foundation
Those are just a few and Savvy Premed has an extensive list of virtual volunteer opportunities HERE.
Extra-Curriculars & Leadership
Highlight these experiences when you are filling out the “extracurricular activities” section in your primary application. I highly suggest you watch Dr. Gray’s video HERE before you start so you can learn how to tell your story.
When filling out this section, you don’t want to say “I’m really compassionate and hardworking because I did this, this, and this for this activity.
For example, maybe you were team captain of a sport in college and you want to convey that you are a good leader (great quality that adcoms want to see!). Don’t say, I was a great leader when I was the captain of my soccer team. Think of an example and tell the story! Did you organize a team event the night before a big game to help your teammates get motivated? Did you mentor incoming freshman by answering their questions and providing support?
These are random examples to spark your thinking. The takeaway is to use stories for each extracurricular on your application to SHOW the admissions committee who you are. THAT is the way to get noticed, even with a low GPA!
How to Give Yourself the BEST Chance Possible to Get Into Medical School With A Low GPA
These are things that are completely in your control and can make a big difference in whether you hear back from schools for interviews or its just complete crickets until it’s obvious you didn’t get in (not all schools do the courtesy of sending you an email that you won’t be getting an interview invite).
Most medical schools are rolling admissions which means you can be accepted at any time from October (specifically Oct. 15th for MD schools) to the week before class starts.
Ideally though, you should try to submit your primary application in May so you can get early interviews! Would you rather interview in September when all the seats at that school are open or in February when half of them are already filled?
September! Of course, there is no guarantee you will receive an early interview but you definitely won’t if you don’t even submit your primary until September!
Aim to Submit Secondaries Within 2 Weeks of Receiving Them
So you were super on top of it, submitted your primary in May, then got bombarded with secondary applications and you didn’t submit them until September. Don’t do this! Same reason as above, you want to be in the first round of applicants to increase your chances of getting earlier interviews.
Plan for secondaries, pre-write your essays, and try to submit them within two weeks of receiving them. I have a detailed post ALL about secondary applications HERE.
Be Intentional With Your School List
The MSAR is your best friend when deciding where to apply to MD schools and the Choose DO Explorer is helpful to search DO schools albeit not as detailed/in depth as the MSAR IMO.
In State vs. Out of State Schools: Many public schools have a strong preference for premed students that are residents of that state OR have “strong ties” aka grew up there/graduated from a high school in that state.
Acceptance Data: Looking at this is a great way to see the average or range of GPA and MCAT scores that each medical school has accepted. If you have a low GPA, it’s best not to apply to schools where the range
Cast a Wide Net: Applying to a lot of schools is stupid expensive, but only applying to four schools really doesn’t maximize your chances of getting in. First things first, check (HERE) to see if you could qualify for fee assistance and that will help SO much. If not though, I would suggest saving up because applying to a lot (20-30) of *realistic* schools is really going to help you get into medical school with a low GPA.
Only Apply When You Are 100% Ready
This is so important because so many people feel like the have to do things *now*. Waiting seems like the end of the world and premed students can’t even imagine pushing back medical school a WHOLE year (lol, ME in 2017).
Well, I’m here to advise you not to make the same mistake as me. If you don’t feel like your application is 100% as solid as it could be because you need time to improve your GPA, shadow, or gain some patient care experience, then it is OK to wait!
Better to apply next cycle and get in the first time around then have to apply twice AKA spend MORE money!
Best of Luck!
I hope this post gives you the motivation, confidence, and actionable advice to get into medical school with a low GPA. I am living proof that is is possible!
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