This is a topic I am passionate about because I had to live through this exact scenario. I started out as a premed student with a terribly low GPA and continued to perform poorly until I was a Junior in college.
But here’s the thing, I got accepted into medical school. I am living testimony that you CAN get into med school with a low GPA.
Is it hard to get into medical school with a low GPA? Yes. Recovering from a low GPA and getting into med school is going to be an uphill battle. You will need to be unrelentingly determined to get in.
Don’t worry, in this article, I am going to teach you how to get into med school with a low GPA based on my own experience and the help from lots of advisors in my life.
Can I Really Get Into Med School With A Low GPA?
I understand the skepticism when someone tells you that you can get into med school with a low GPA. We are constantly told throughout our premed years that a competitive GPA is very important.
If we were to scan through some student doctor network posts, it would seem that only premeds with 3.9 GPAs or higher are getting in.
As I mentioned earlier, I am living testimony that you can get into med school after getting a low GPA in undergrad. And trust me, there are lots of other premeds who were in the same boat.
However, this doesn’t mean you can just fill out an application to med school with a sub 3.0 GPA and expect to get in. If you have a low GPA, you will need to make some drastic changes to compete with other applicants.
In this article we are going to give you a step-by-step guide for 2 different kinds of students:
- Premeds with low GPAs that have not reached their 3rd year of college.
- Premeds with low GPAs that are at least 3 years into college.
In other words, are you starting out in college and have time to change some things before you apply? Or are you almost done with college and now it’s time to apply but your GPA sucks?
Whatever your situation is, there’s a solution. Before we get into the guide, we need to cover a few concepts.
Why Is GPA Important For Med School?
Every premed knows that a good GPA is important for med school. But do you really understand why it’s important?
Think about it from the med school’s perspective. Their program is academically rigorous.
Because of this, med schools need to find students that are not only successful academically but able to take on more and more workloads and still perform well.
So your GPA demonstrates an ability to handle academic challenges.
In addition to this, med schools are very competitive. Only about 41% of students who apply get in.
Therefore, med schools have the luxury of being picky. GPA is another metric that factors into the overall decision criteria for students.
If your GPA is low, how are you going to convince med schools you have what it takes to perform well at their school? Think about this question as you continue to read through this guide.
What Is Considered A Low GPA For Med School?
There are a lot of differing opinions on this topic but the general consensus is that anything below a 3.7 GPA is considered “low.” That can be discouraging for students to hear if they are nowhere near that number.
In my opinion, “low” is not the right word. If you are below a 3.7 GPA I consider you “less competitive.” This means that you will need to be more competitive in other aspects of your application to compete.
Between 3.0 and 3.7 you are still in a position where the rest of your application can make up for the lower GPA. You may get away with not having to increase your GPA through a post-bacc. Although there are no guarantees.
Below 3.0 is what I consider a “low” GPA for med school and you will need to make some profound changes to get in. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just harder. In these cases, a solid plan to increase your GPA is almost always required.
Determine Why Your GPA Is Low In The First Place
Before we get into the guides, you need to be honest with yourself about why your GPA is low in the first place.
For me, it was simply not being engaged in my studies. I grew up in a small town and college was the first time I had a huge community around me. I spent way too much time socializing and put minimal effort into my work.
If your plan is to one day become a doctor, you will have to sacrifice some of your free time now and buckle down. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a life, you just need to prioritize your time.
Rekindle that spark that drew you to medicine in the first place and put your nose to the grindstone.
Another reason why premeds suffer with their GPA is inefficient studying. College can be a tough transition from high school. You will be busy all the time and there won’t be enough time to cover every topic 100%.
Learn how to take notes effectively. We wrote a guide on how to study as a premed in order to succeed.
If GPA is holding you back from getting into med school, you need to address what went wrong first. Stop the bleeding before you begin the recovery period.
Getting Into Med School With A Low GPA Guide: Student Before 3rd Year Of College
This first guide is for freshmen and sophomores who have low GPAs and want to get into med school. Most students will fall under this category because it’s common to struggle with your transition from high school to college.
There’s Time To Recover
The good news is that you have time to recover. If you follow our steps, you have a great shot at getting in.
But the key is to make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice. Otherwise, you are digging yourself into a deeper hole that will make the recovery much worse.
Step 1: Create An Upward Trend
An upward trend in your academics can do wonders. You would be surprised by how many students apply to med school with low grades their first 2 years but then have a steep growth curve.
A lot of students who start poorly but show a strong upward trend get accepted into med school. Personally, my upward trend was a huge factor in getting me in.
When creating this upward trend in your GPA, you need to make sure you are taking challenging courses. Anybody can improve their grades by taking a bunch of blow-off courses. You need to prove that you can handle very difficult classes while performing much better.
Step 2: Invest Time Into Extracurriculars
Extracurriculars can mean anything outside of your academics. This includes volunteering, clinical work, research, shadowing, etc.
Even with an upward grade trend, your GPA is going to be weak. Luckily, med schools have been looking at applicants much more holistically over the years. They want interesting students that are going to add to their overall diversity.
Make sure you are spending a lot of time in good quality extracurriculars. This doesn’t mean picking up some volunteer or hospital gigs here and there to check off the requirement boxes. You want extracurriculars that are unique and that you have put a lot of time into.
Let’s use scribing as an example. Alone, scribing is a great experience and it will look impressive. But if you are trying to WOW the administration committee of a med school, you need to spend a couple of years scribing to the point where you can become a scribe leader/trainer.
Another example is becoming an important member of a volunteering operation. This is more than just signing up for a shift or two at a soup kitchen. The idea is to spend so much time volunteering in one area that you become a well-known leader in that space.
A great example is one of my friends in college. She worked for an organization that helped people with down syndrome. At first, she was just another volunteer. But towards the end, she was the one organizing events for our university.
Do you see the difference between a high-quality, heavily involved extracurricular vs a mediocre one? That’s what you want to focus on.
Step 3: Score competitively on the MCAT
Love it or hate it, the MCAT is important. Since your GPA is not going to be a strong part of your application, you’ll need more pull from the MCAT.
If you haven’t taken the MCAT yet, I highly recommend you check out our ultimate guide to MCAT self-study.
If you have taken the MCAT but need to improve, check out our 1-month MCAT plan designed to help improve your score in a short period of time!
Step 4: Apply to a variety of med schools
We wrote a post on how many med schools you should apply to.
Normally we recommend you apply to 10-12 med schools focusing on schools that complement your application. If you have a low GPA, you’ll need to consider upping that number to at least 16 schools.
Applying to 16 or more many med schools will be expensive. But if you have followed the other steps and set yourself up to be as successful as possible, applying to additional schools will increase your odds of getting in somewhere.
Every school you apply to should be realistic. Often times students have “reach” schools they apply to in addition to their fallback options. You should be focusing on only “fallback” schools. Schools that are known to accept students with less competitive stats.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what med school you go to as long as you become a physician.
Getting Into Med School With A Low GPA Guide: Students After 3rd Year Of College
Let’s turn our focus to the premed students who don’t have much time left in college to improve their GPA. If you’re in this boat, things will be tougher. But again, you can always turn things around and get into med school.
Invest Even More Into Extracurriculars
We talked about the importance of extracurriculars in the previous section. If you don’t have time to improve your GPA through traditional college, you really need to make sure your extracurricular activities are spectacular.
Remember, quality over quantity. It’s better to invest a lot of time in one or two extracurriculars vs spending less than 10 hours on a bunch of things.
Consider A Post-Bacc
If it’s impossible to increase your GPA at your current university, you may need to consider a post-bacc program.
For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to lump all post-baccs into 2 categories:
- The academic enhancers. These are post-bacc programs designed to increase your GPA and help you finish your prerequisites (If you haven’t already). These are popular options for career changers who have not completed any of the prereqs but are also good for the type of student that just needs to increase their GPA. These programs are cheaper but don’t offer a degree so financing can be difficult. They are designed for premed students which means there are a lot of extracurricular resources.
- The special master’s program. These are programs designed for students who have completed all their med school prereqs and are needing to enhance their application. These programs are designed by med schools and are geared towards the premed student. You can expect to take similar courses as med students and have plenty of options for extracurriculars. These programs give you a master’s degree and tend to be very expensive. However, financing is much easier.
Personally, I did the special master’s program. The amount of support you get is very good. Here’s a list of benefits we received:
- Classes with med school professors and cadaver labs
- MCAT Bootcamp course
- Volunteer, research, and general extracurricular opportunities
- Med school advisor
- Preceptorship opportunity with partner hospitals
- Mock interviews with the actual med school admission team
- Master’s degree in medical sciences
I’m not going to lie, this program I went to really set me up for success. They got me into med school so what more could I ask for?
However, the major downside is the cost. SMPs are very expensive for people like me. The program mimicked the rigors of med school so it’s impossible to work while attending it.
Since I was married at the time, I had to take out a significant cost-of-living loan. That increased my overall loan tremendously.
However, If you are a student who lives at home with his or her parents, it might be worth it. The tuition alone wasn’t bad since mine was at a public university.
If I could go back in time, I would have chosen a cheaper option and figured out a way to work while taking classes.
Apply To D.O. Schools
Finally, I highly recommend you apply to D.O. schools. D.O. schools tend to have slightly easier requirements for getting in and they also put a lot more emphasis on looking at the applicant holistically. If grades are an issue, you can convince them with some great extracurriculars.
Now to address the elephant in the room: There is a premed stigma against having D.O. after your name vs having that M.D.
I think that’s dumb. The only people who care about whether someone has D.O. or M.D. on their coat are premeds. In the outside world, people don’t even notice. They only care if you are a physician or not.
A lot of students also have a fear of not getting into competitive residencies. As long as you work hard and prove to be successful in med school, you can get into a competitive residency through a D.O. program. I know students who have gone to a D.O. school and matched into neurosurgery.
The Power Of A Strong Personal Statement
We have talked extensively about strengthening other aspects of your application to compensate for a lower GPA. Another way to do that is through your personal statement.
Your personal statement is a way for med schools to really get to know you. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your motivation to pursue medicine. When done correctly, your premed personal statement is a powerful tool that can sway the decision of an admission team member.
Don’t forget that med schools have to read hundreds of these. The human brain can only handle so much material at a time. Make sure your story is engaging, straight to the point, and clearly articulates your desire to go to med school. Storytelling is key here because it will hold your reader’s attention.
What About A Caribbean Medical Schools?
In my opinion, Caribbean medical schools are a last resort. They are significantly easier to get into but there are some significant downsides:
- Expensive: Caribbean med schools are for-profit institutions with a large portion of their profits going to investors. This makes them very expensive.
- Low match rates into residencies: Caribbean med schools on average match students about 30% lower than US-based schools which average around 94%. If you aren’t top of your class, you could end up having to obtain a residency outside the US which can be problematic if your plan is to return to the states.
- High competition within the schools. Although getting in is less competitive, once you are in there is more competition. This is due to the fact that the match rate is low and you will need to be top of your class to get back into the US for a residency.
Not every Caribbean school is created equal. Some have higher match rates and some even let you do medical rotations in the states.
Here’s an example of Dr. Tommy Martin and his wife matching into a US residency. Both attended SGU which is a Caribbean med school. This is an example of a Caribbean school with higher match rates.
I’m not saying no one should go to a Caribbean med school, but you should definitely be careful when choosing this option. It should really be a last resort and there is more risk involved.
Can I get into med school with a 2.8 GPA?
Some schools will not even look at applicants with a 2.8 GPA. But if you are a spectacular applicant in other aspects of your application, you may have a shot with other schools.
However, at some point, you will need to prove you can handle a tough academic workload. This could be the last semester or two of college or a post-bacc program.
Can you get into med school with an F?
Yes, you can! Plenty of students have done it. We wrote an entire post on the topic of getting into med school with an F on your transcript.
Is GPA or MCAT more important?
Both are very important. Some argue the MCAT is more important because it is the only standardized academic metric med schools can go off of. Others say GPA because it demonstrates a long-term ability to excel in class.
Ideally, you want to do well in both. In the case of your GPA being low, you want to make sure that MCAT is as high as possible.