We all know that medical schools are competitive and they want students with high GPAs. Because of this, a lot of premed students will get this idea in their head that they can only get into med school if they are straight “A” students.
Therefore, getting an “F” or two during undergrad may seem like an application killer. Is it worth applying to med school if you have an “F” or maybe a “W” on your transcript?
The short answer is yes. You can get into med school with an “F” or two. But the number of times you fail classes and the context of why you failed matters. Any “F” you receive needs to have a legitimate reason for receiving it and clearly demonstrate to med schools that you have learned from your mistake.
In this article, we will dive deep into how medical schools view an “F” on your transcript and what you can do to overcome these failures in order to get into medical school.
Reasons Why Premed Students Get Bad Grades
First, we will discuss some common reasons why premed students get bad grades. I bet you will find yourself in one of these categories.
- The difficult transition from high school to college. It’s very common to struggle with the great increase in workload when leaving high school. Some students will transition fine but most will struggle to keep up. If you fail a class early on as a premed, don’t sweat it. This can easily be explained to med school admins.
- A challenging event in your personal life. Maybe a loved one passed away. You are struggling in a relationship. Getting bad grades during these kinds of events is understandable.
- Taking on too much. It’s not uncommon for premed students to overload their schedule with extracurriculars and too many classes. This could result in a failed course if you are not careful.
- Illness/injury. We all get sick in college with all the germs coming in from all over the country. But sometimes people get really sick or injured resulting in weeks to months of missed work. This might not cause you to fail a class but it could definitely result in a W.
What Does A “W” Do To Your Med School Application?
In college, a “W” means you dropped the class after the deadline for withdrawing. When you drop a class before the deadline, this is the universities way of saying that you tried the course but it wasn’t for you.
Like a 30-day money-back guarantee, you wouldn’t have necessarily failed it but it just wasn’t the right time. There is no record of the course and it does not affect your medical school application at all.
But if you miss that deadline, there is a big ol’ “W” on your transcript that medical schools will see.
One “W” in a non-science course isn’t going to mean anything to med schools. A “W” in a med school prerequisite does raise some eyebrows but a good story as to why that happened can redeem you.
A string of 2 or more “W”s is when you have a problem. This is telling med schools that you have trouble starting what you finished. Nobody withdraws a class because they are about to get an A. Clearly, you have some issues studying and you are pulling out early due to fear of not being able to redeem yourself.
Several "W"s will make your application to med school more of a challenge, but not impossible. Demonstrate that you figured out how to study by having a strong upward GPA trend. Then clearly explain to med schools why you struggled with these courses and what you did to improve.
How Does An “F” Look On Your Med School Application?
I want to start out by saying that one or two bad grades don’t define you. Unfortunately, there’s this idea out there that med schools will throw out applications with a couple of bad grades. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Medical schools will accept students with lower GPAs including GPAs that have a couple of “F”s. I’m not saying this to downplay how difficult getting into medical school is. Getting in is very challenging and should be taken seriously. I’m saying this to give hope to students who have already screwed up.
After all, I recovered from a sub-2.5 GPA in order to get into medical school.
That being said, you will need to show some serious signs of improvement in your later years of college while taking difficult courses. You will also need to impress med schools with your extracurriculars.
To med schools, an “F” in a class early on with some strong signs of improvement tells them that you struggled to transition into higher education but you ultimately figured out how to study effectively. However, a string of “F”s throughout your college years tells med schools that you couldn’t figure out how to study like a med student and you run the risk of failing out of their program as well. Not a good sign.
If you got an “F” or two, don’t be discouraged. You can change and become the kind of student that med schools want to see. As long as you are motivated and passionate about medicine, you will find a way in.
Does Retaking A Class Replace An “F” For Medical Schools?
Although most colleges will forgive your bad grade when you retake a class, medical schools will factor in both the original grade and the retake. Therefore, the “F” is not replaced and will still count against your overall GPA on your med school application.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t retake the failed class. Even though both grades count, you are still demonstrating to medical schools that you have improved a lot over the years.
Plus if you are close to earning better honors during your graduation, such as manga cum laude, retaking that class can really put you over that threshold.
Things To Consider When Retaking A Course
Some quick notes about retaking courses in your undergrad that you might not have thought about:
- Don’t retake the course if you got a C or better. This is a passing grade and it’s necessary to retake the course. Med schools will be more impressed if you take an upper-level biology course instead and get an A in that.
- Retake the course at the same school. If you retake a course you failed at another university, the credibility is lost. How is a med school supposed to know that the other college or university wasn’t much easier? Doing much better in a course at the same university proves that you improved your academic abilities.
Conclusion: So What Should You Do If You Have An “F” Or “W”?
Alright, so you made the mistake and you failed a class or had to withdraw after the deadline.
First of all, don’t panic. You can overcome this loss.
If this happens during the first half of your college years, you are in a good position to improve. Focus on getting stellar grades your junior and senior year while taking some high-level and difficult courses. Make sure you retake that class and get an A.
This kind of improvement will demonstrate to medical schools that you have what it takes to be a med student.
If you have any failed classes later in your college years, your strategy will change. Here are some options:
- Focus a lot on high-quality extracurriculars. I recommend focusing on one specific extracurricular and going all out. An example would be a volunteer organization that you spend years participating in. People from that organization will know you, you’ll work your way up to more managerial experiences, and med schools will see that you are committed to something instead of just checking off a box.
- Score high on the MCAT. A high MCAT score can offset below-average grades.
- Do a post-bac. There are a ton of post-bac programs out there that offer master’s degrees. These programs are designed to imitate the first year of med school. Perform amazingly in one of these and you have proven you have what it takes. But be warned, if you do poorly in a post-bac master’s program, you will most likely have missed your chance of getting into med school.
- Apply to a Caribbean Medical School. This is a last-ditch effort. When you go to a Caribbean medical school, you will have a harder time matching into an American residency due to the fact they don’t prioritize these students. They are also very expensive. If you decide to attend a Caribbean med school, make sure you are a rock star student at that med school. You will need to have stellar grades and scores to get the residency you want. It’s totally possible, I know people who became surgeons after attending a Caribbean med school.