How to get into med school (if your GPA is a flaming pile of poo) and other thoughs

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The Knife & Gun Club

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Been meaning to write this for a while (like 2 years)...

So you've successfully managed to make it through pre-med, but with a GPA that looks like rocky balboas face at the end of rocky iii. Maybe you partied too much, went to _____ undergrad with terrible grade deflation, or had a serious medical or family issue. Here is, in no particular order, how you should work on every other aspect of your app.

MCAT: this is the most important test of your life now. You should dedicate every ounce of effort in your being to doing well on the only other numerical chance your app has. Do practice tests until you're blue in the face, and meticulously review every question you get wrong. Seriously this is the only way I've ever seen to do well on the MCAT. Specific resources matter much less than the raw number of practice questions IMO. The MCAT is +50% testing skills and endurance. The only thing that will teach you to THINK the way the MCAT wants you to is to do practice questions.

LORs: for 90% of students luke warm Recs will have no bearing on your app. However, For students with a bad GPA, recs are of critical importance - they're another way to show your work ethic outside of GPA. Good recs don't need to come from high powered faculty (no one knows who's who on a rec letter anyway). The best recs come from people who know you well and can speak clearly about your work ethic and interest in medicine. Best way to get these are to take multiple classes with the same professor, work in a professors lab, or take small classes where the teacher will get to know you well. One of my LORs was from an art professor...these type of people have very few letter requests and tend to put a lot of time/effort in writing a good LOR. For MD letters, try to find a young MD who will remember what the admissions process is like. Or (more difficult) find an MD who has experience as an adcom and knows what being a letter READER is like. Getting a job with an MD for a summer or gap year it a good way to get them to know you well also.

ECs: have good ones. Shy of that, have ECs that tell a consistent narrative about why you want to be a physician. Again, you're trying to prove you are passionate enough about medicine to not repeat the same mistakes from undergrad. The number of hours matters less than the quality of the work you did in the EC.

Research: try to have some, and be able to speak confidently and intelligently about it. No secrets here. Except getting academic research credit - that 4.0 into your sGPA will be a welcome boost.

School list: apply to as many as possible. I front loaded 50 schools on my amcas primary, and tried to finish as many secondaries as possible (finished ~35 personally). Also this isn't a time to be cocky. Any mainland DO or MD school is fair game...at this point you'll be lucky just to get in somewhere. If you're from California...move to West Virginia (half joking).

Primary: don't lie, but don't be shy. The activities and PS are the place to really discuss all the things you've done to this point, tie them together, and relate them back to medicine. Talk about the leadership skills you learned as president of that club, or determination and perseverance you learned when you lost the election for president of said club.

Secondaries: research the crap out of every school you apply to. The secondary is the time to show you actually know about the school beyond their MSAR profile. Talk to current students, discuss any family ties you have to the school or area (even vague ones), etc. I searched YouTube and the schools current research pages to find some hidden gems. I even added one school on snapchat (seriously). Bonus points if you can genuinely relate something about the school back to an EC or app theme.

Explaining the grades: accept responsibility with respect and humility. Explain why you got them, but don't make excuses. My go to lines were "I struggled with our schools notoriously difficult _____ class, but after reflecting on my performance did X, Y, and Z to be sure I understood the material and did not repeat the same mistakes again." And "while there is no excuse for poor performance, i was struggling with ______ during my freshman year. I have since recovered and used the experience to develop better coping skills" Personally I had the unholy trinity: partied too much, went to a grade deflated school, and had a major medical issue.

Hope this helps y'all pre meds out there. This process can be emotionally draining and there's no easy way around that. Med school and medicine in general can be grueling at times - it's better to experience the stress now so you can better handle it later. And whatever you don't give up...you're stronger than you think :)


PS. Failed app cycles don't mean you won't make a good med student or doctor. There's a girl in my class who had to apply 3 times, and she's the smartest chick I know. Leads multiple interest groups, great grades, tutors the M1s, and has simultaneous ortho and neurosurg research projects. That could be you one day!

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Maybe just me, but I don't get it. It's difficult because, it's competitive and intentionally challenging to root out folks who won't do well. Maybe you intended this to be a feel good post to soothe the insults of adversity? I agree with one thing you said, failing to get a seat DOESN'T mean you would make a poor doctor, but it means you WON'T ever be one.
 
Maybe just me, but I don't get it. It's difficult because, it's competitive and intentionally challenging to root out folks who won't do well. Maybe you intended this to be a feel good post to soothe the insults of adversity? I agree with one thing you said, failing to get a seat DOESN'T mean you would make a poor doctor, but it means you WON'T ever be one.

I think you missed a few things. First, not everyone with a low GPA is incapable of doing well in science courses. There are numerous reasons why a student might have a less than stellar gpa, which is why we have the MCAT.

Second, the point of not getting a seat is to say that just because you don’t get in doesn’t mean you won’t ever get in. Many med students and doctors had to reapply.
 
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I think you missed a few things. First, not everyone with a low GPA is incapable of doing well in science courses. There are numerous reasons why a student might have a less than stellar gpa, which is why we have the MCAT.

Second, the point of not getting a seat is to say that just because you don’t get in doesn’t mean you won’t ever get in. Many med students and doctors had to reapply.

That's what I said in 2000 less words. Embrace brevity.
 
As far as I’m concerned, the only advice one should give to a low-GPA med school applicant is “raise your GPA.”
 
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So you've successfully managed to make it through pre-med, but with a GPA that looks like rocky balboas face at the end of rocky iii. Maybe you partied too much, went to _____ undergrad with terrible grade deflation, or had a serious medical or family issue. Here is, in no particular order, how you should work on every other aspect of your app.

It would be helpful if you defined what you consider to be a low GPA. I can tell you we have a number applicants who stand no realistic chance in this process because they will do everything except repair their GPAs.
 
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Very good post.

However, I would say this post is leaning towards the discouraged students who might have GPAs below the acceptance average. Anything that is significantly lower than the average, I would prioritize their GPA and put everything besides the MCAT as a secondary. Even with a low GPA and high MCAT chances are still pretty slim that auto-reject will get to them first before any real person sees their app. That being said, if you're reading this and you're a student with a significantly below average GPA but want to get into med school, scavenge through SDN forms for advice fitting your situation.
 
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Very good post.

However, I would say this post is leaning towards the discouraged students who might have GPAs below the acceptance average. Anything that is significantly lower than the average, I would prioritize their GPA and put everything besides the MCAT as a secondary. Even with a low GPA and high GPA, chances are still pretty slim that auto-reject will get to them first before any real person sees their app. That being said, if you're reading this and you're a student with a significantly below average GPA but want to get into med school, scavenge through SDN forms for advice fitting your situation.

I agree. I feel like even if your GPA is like super low, in terms of below 3.4, I'd say they need to invest in GPA repair. I always thought that a high MCAT never remediates or makes up for a low GPA. They should try to raise the GPA to at least 3.5 and aim for a good MCAT score...
 
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I agree. I feel like even if your GPA is like super low, in terms of below 3.4, I'd say they need to invest in GPA repair. I always thought that a high MCAT never remediates or makes up for a low GPA. They should try to raise the GPA to at least 3.5 and aim for a good MCAT score...

There are many possible reasons for a low GPA, some of which being much more forgivable than others:
  • Worked full time to pay own way or support other family members
  • Illness - personal
  • Serious illness or death of a family member
  • Family drama / trauma
  • Crime victim or perpetrater
  • Mental health issues
  • Nasty breakup
  • Relationship or family abuse
  • Undiagnosed (until later) learning disabilities (including ADHD)
  • Immaturity
  • Partying too much
  • Indecision / lack of direction
  • Laziness / lack of effort
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Grade deflating school
  • Disorganized / poor time management skills
  • Just not that bright...
While a strong MCAT can't make up for all of these, it can allay fears that the applicant is "just not that bright"... I'd also maintain that a lower GPA from a prestigious and/or notoriously grade-deflating school is more forgivable that a lower GPA from a "who's that?" school.
 
There are many possible reasons for a low GPA, some of which being much more forgivable than others:
  • Worked full time to pay own way or support other family members
  • Illness - personal
  • Serious illness or death of a family member
  • Family drama / trauma
  • Crime victim or perpetrater
  • Mental health issues
  • Nasty breakup
  • Relationship or family abuse
  • Undiagnosed (until later) learning disabilities (including ADHD)
  • Immaturity
  • Partying too much
  • Indecision / lack of direction
  • Laziness / lack of effort
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Grade deflating school
  • Disorganized / poor time management skills
  • Just not that bright...
While a strong MCAT can't make up for all of these, it can allay fears that the applicant is "just not that bright"... I'd also maintain that a lower GPA from a prestigious and/or notoriously grade-deflating school is more forgivable that a lower GPA from a "who's that?" school.

True. I guess it CAN allay the fears. But I still feel like they should try to invest in GPA repair though. You make a good point, Professor McGonnagal
 
80% of those with 517 or better get an acceptance

With a Harvard level MCAT score like 517, I would agree with that percentage. It does certainly raise a few red flags.
 
80% of those with 517 or better get an acceptance

There also weren't any applicants with a 517+ and a sub-3.0 GPA, so we can't really say if they'd have been as successful. But the GPA for the 514-517 range dips down to 2.6. The acceptance rate for those sub-3.0 applicants in the 514-517 range is 22 percent. Not great. Doing some real quick number crunching, the trend is decently linear (big surprise there, huh). If it follows that trend, you could expect those with a range between 2.6 and 3.0 to have around a 31% acceptance rate.

So if "flaming pile of poo" means south of 3.0, even a 517+ will not give you great odds.

https://www.aamc.org/download/321508/data/factstablea23.pdf
 
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Thanks for all the replies. This is certainly not meant to be exhaustive or one size fits all.

When I talk I about bad GPA in this context I'm referring to people in the low 3's. Maybe 3.0 - 3.4 give or take. Agree with all those above that below 3.0 you really don't have much to work with.

Also agree that grade repair is a great aspect that should be considered. Just never did it personally so I can't comment on it.
 
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Thanks for all the replies. This is certainly not meant to be exhaustive or one size fits all.

When I talk I about bad GPA in this context I'm referring to people in the low 3's. Maybe 3.0 - 3.4 give or take. Agree with all those above that below 3.0 you really don't have much to work with.

Also agree that grade repair is a great aspect that should be considered. Just never did it personally so I can't comment on it.

Then your post seems to be right on, particularly wrt the MCAT being the most important test of your life.
 
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