So if you guys read regularly you would have seen my post on how I organize myself in medical school and in that post you would’ve seen a sneak peek at this week’s planner layout. For those of you who looked closely
(or were being extra nosey) you would’ve noticed that I was supposed to have a post up on how to get into medical school with a low GPA and MCAT. If this is something you need help with, before you do anything else, please read this interview by Shan from Chronicles of A Rising Doctor. Honestly, when I read this, I was considering just linking this interview in my post and not writing anything else. Why? because she’s refreshingly honest, vulnerable, and speaks the truth and she gives great advice. Plus her story is empowering.
No don’t keep scrolling.
And then come back to this blog post.
Okay you read it?
Good, let’s chat for a bit!
**Side note: this is a long post… but I promise it’s helpful**
Y’all. I seriously was shaking my head in agreement, clapping my hands, and doing everything short of praise dancing as I read Shan’s interview. She basically said EVERYTHING that I have said to everyone who asks me about getting into medical school with low stats. If you’ve DMed me, emailed me, commented on a post, sent a carrier pigeon to my home, etc about low stats and applying to medical school I likely told you most (if not all) of the things Shan said. I have gotten back to everyone who has reached out but because I’m getting asked the same questions over and over again, I’m turning my answer into a post. So if you asked me a question and were directed here, I’m not blowing you off. It’s just that it is time consuming to keep answering the same questions so all of my thoughts, advice, and opinions on the matter will be here from now on.
Let me put a disclaimer and say that I AM NOT GUARANTEEING AN ACCEPTANCE. But what I am saying is that there are things that you can do to possibly help/ improve your application. As always, please consult with your own advisor/ pre-med committee/ school before taking my advice.
***DO BETTER*** Seriously. No matter where you are in your premed journey you just need to do better. Admissions officers know you’re not perfect but they do value improvement. If you’re getting poor grades maybe you won’t get straight As the following semester but moving up to Bs and hopefully As soon after is better than continuing to fail. But whatever you do, just try not to do worse. And I get it, life happens, situations are out of our control, and the further deep you’re in your pre-med requirements, the harder it is to come out on top because your foundation is likely weaker than most since you didn’t master the info in the earlier coursework. But an upward trend is better than consistently doing poorly or having a downwards trend. It’s never to late to start doing better. So even if you’re a senior, just try to show signs of improvement.
***CONSIDER A POST BACC OR MASTERS PROGRAM OR BOTH*** First let me say this. IF YOU ARE IN UNDERGRAD AND YOU ARE ALREADY PAYING TUITION AND YOU ALREADY KNOW YOU WANT TO GO TO MEDICAL SCHOOL THEN THE MOST IDEAL THING TO DO IS TO GET YOUR PREMED REQUIREMENTS OUT OF THE WAY NOW. Let’s be real… postbaccs are expensive and Masters programs are expensive. You’re already paying tuition for these undergrad courses so you might as well fulfill these premed requirements in college (this is the exact logic I used in college and exactly how I convinced myself to just knock out my pre-med requirements once and for all during undergrad). Ask people who did masters and postbaccs how much debt they have (actually don’t do this because its rude). The sticker price is NOT pretty and a lot of programs don’t offer scholarships and some require you to take out private loans. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know your situation so if you have a child, have other things to handle, have a demanding job, take care of your family, get sick, need to take mental health breaks, need to improve your GPA after college, or whatever your situation may be, then it may be better for you to do a postbacc. I get it. They’re not evil, in fact some are really awesome and have been a saving grace in helping prepare people for medical school and helping them prove to admissions committees that they are ready for the rigor that med school demands. All I’m saying is, if you’re in college and want to be a doctor, your pockets will thank you if you can just “one and done” your premed classes. Of course life happens and not everyone has that privilege so if you must do a postbacc then keep reading.
Okay so what if you already graduated, or if you’re a senior and you know your GPA isn’t too great? Then a postbacc or masters program may be the best option for you. I’m not going to go in depth about the difference between postbaccs and masters but you can do research on your own. I just want you to realize that these programs are NOT the end of the world. Yes they cost more and yes they add time to an already long journey, but if it will get you to the end goal of being a doctor then it may be worth the cost and the extra couple of years, especially if you do not meet the qualifications for medical school without choosing this option.
Lastly, some people do a postbacc and then decide they need an additional Masters to strengthen their application (or vice-versa). This is a lot of schooling, debt, and time. But honestly it has been done and lots of people who took this route are doctors now (or on track to being doctors) so don’t think you’re alone. Seek out those who have been in this situation and see what were the advantages and disadvantages to taking this route. Some might argue that you only need a postbacc OR an additional masters to strengthen your application but once again, life happens, mistakes happen, etc. At the end of the day do what’s best for you and if you think you may need the extra schooling then consult with a trusted advisor for your exact situation.
Basically my advice to you is to do as best as you can in undergrad so you don’t have to do a post-bacc (I’m just trying to save you money). However, if you do end up doing a post-bacc or a masters program then that’s okay too. Use that opportunity to really show up and show out academically and to prove to admissions offers that you should be part of the next future generation of physicians.
p.s. In addition to formal postbaccs, you can take the required courses at college or university near you. You don’t need to be in an “official program” for them to count. This option saves money but you may lose access to advising & services depending on the school your enroll in.
***DON’T BE LATE*** Picture this situation. You need a last minute flight so you decide to fly standby AKA you will be boarded on a first come first served basis given that there is availability on the plane that day. You show up and finally get to the gate and the gate door closes. You watch your plane take off and you’re upset because that was the last flight for the day.
Okay so this isn’t a perfect analogy because we’re talking about medical school applications and not planes but still you get the point. Don’t be late. If this person really wanted to fly that day, then they should’ve gotten to the airport earlier especially because they had a standby ticket. A standby ticket is nice but it’s not first class. Shoot, it’s not even a guaranteed seat on the flight. If you struggled academically then think of your grades as this standby ticket. Average grades are coach fare tickets and a 4.0 GPA is the equivalent of a first class ticket. Regardless of what ticket you have, if you show up after the plane door closes then you’re at risk for missing the flight. HOWEVER for standby, it’s especially important that you come on time or even early because you’re not even guaranteed a seat on the plane.
Yes, you can get in with a late application but your chances of getting admitted decreases severely, especially at schools with rolling admissions. Even someone with a first class luxury seat can miss their flight if they don’t show up on time just like someone with a 4.0 can still get rejected because they waited too late since the competition for the application pool only increases with time.
Moral of the story: submit early. The general med school app is pretty much the same each year. You have no excuse as to why you can’t get started with drafting your personal statement, requesting letters, submitting transcripts, well ahead of the opening date. Delays are bound to happen. Shoot to submit your app as soon as the application opens in June so even if you’re delayed by a month you are still relatively early by submitting in July.
***BE STRATEGIC*** Research. research. research. Some schools are known for screening numbers and others are pretty transparent about the fact that they have a more holistic application. Look up MCAT and GPA averages and include schools on your list that you fall into the ranges for. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apply to “reach schools”. It just means to make sure you diversify your application list. Also don’t forget your state schools. They really do love their instate applicants. Some states are really partial for their own, (I’m looking at you NC and GA) but not all. Also part of being strategic is to be realistic. You have a less chance at getting accepted to your reach schools but remember that your application is more than your grades and it does happen! With that being said, be sure to apply to ample schools within your MCAT/ GPA range too! Dream big but it doesn’t hurt to have a plan B. And lastly, remember that “fit” matters. Look up missions of the schools you’re applying to. If you want work with the urban underserved and that’s a theme throughout your application, you probably won’t get accepted to the school with a rural mission because you’re a bad fit even if you have a 4.0 GPA. If a school has a specific mission that aligns with what is expressed on your app, they may be willing to overlook some blips on your transcript because you genuinely are a good fit for the program and they’re willing to work with what you got.
***IF YOU NEED TO RETAKE THE MCAT THEN JUST DO IT*** Look the MCAT sucks. It really does. It’s time consuming. It’s expensive. There’s really no pros to it. I took the old MCAT and hated it and I’m sure the new MCAT isn’t any better. If you took your test and got a REALLY REALLY bad score that won’t get you anywhere (your advisor can let you know if it’s a score you can work with or not) then you probably need to retake it. Yes there are stories of people who are bad at standardized tests and get in with super low scores and perhaps you will be in that minority. But for those of you who do not receive that blessing then you’re just gonna have to retake the test.
If you have to retake the MCAT and you didn’t do well the first time then please try something new. If your study methods were so great the first time then you would’ve gotten a better score. The only exceptions I can think of to this rule are 1) you had a good study plan but for whatever reason wanted to rush your test date so you weren’t prepared but would have done well with more time or 2) you were on track to doing well but a stressor or distraction took place and it prevented you from excelling.
Medicine requires you to be humble and admit when you don’t know something or admit when you’ve made a mistake. If you can’t humble yourself for a standardized test and admit that you didn’t have the best study tactics or that you may need help, then you will have a hard time in any medical profession. Ask for help. Ask for advice. Look for effective resources. I get that everyone can’t afford a prep course but there are other effective and affordable resources out there.
***DON’T BE STUBBORN*** Some people give bad advice. They will tell you to do things or suggest things that you may not agree with. I mean, even I may have suggested something here that you don’t agree with. Use discretion when making these important choices. But also realize that there are good people who mean well that are trying to help you and you should at least listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to agree or actually follow through with their suggestions, but its worth it to at least hear them out. If you had all the answers you would’ve gotten into med school already on your own. I’m not saying that the advice you receive will always be 100% right, but try to be somewhat flexible and open to new suggestions. You never know what you can learn and take with you.
***SEEK COUNSEL*** Ask a friend, an advisor, a mentor, etc. You don’t have to do this journey alone. However, be smart about who you ask for advice because not everyone will want to help or support you. But at the same time don’t throw away resources. You may “hate your advisor because they’re so negative and annoying” or maybe the administration at your school is “rude and rubs you the wrong way” but at the end of the day these people have resources and knowledge that may be beneficial to you. Let the negativity, rudeness, and whatever B.S. they throw at you go through one ear and out the other, but be sure to store the gems and useful tips for later. Lastly realize you can get help from the schools you’re interested in. There are ways you can reach out to schools (without being unprofessional and annoying) to find out more information and learn more about what they’re looking for in an applicant. Also some schools host conferences, events, panels, and open houses so keep your eyes peeled for these events.
***BE COMFORTABLE WITH WAITING AND TAKING TIME TO FIX THINGS*** There are plenty of people who don’t get in on their first try. If you were not accepted during one cycle, then figure out what you need to improve. Did you have a really low GPA? It may take you 1-2 years to pick that back up so maybe a postbacc is a good option for you. Did you need more research or clinical experience? You may need to find opportunities to improve this area of your application. Did you have to retake the MCAT? Don’t try to cram your retake in 1 month. If you struggled the first time, then give yourself ample time to truly do well the second time, even if it means waiting an additional year to get your score where you want it to be. Somethings can be a quick fix on our app but other components may require 1-2 years or even more of persistence and hard work. Don’t get caught up in a timeline. Don’t get impatient and rush your application and submit something that’s not fully reflective of your true potential. Excellence takes time, and if it means you’re applying to medical school a few years later than expected then that’s okay too. Be patient and trust the process!
Okay, that’s enough for now. I hope this answered your question and gave you some insight on how to become a stronger applicant for medical school while having a low MCAT or GPA. Keep in mind that all of my tips may not be for you. We all have unique experiences, situations and journeys but I hope this post provides you with at least one useful takeaway. As always feel free to contact me with additional questions!
Disclaimer: I’m not an admissions consultant nor do I represent the admissions committee of my school. Keep in mind that my advice may not work for you and you should seek professional counsel before making any decisions in regards to your candidacy for medical school.