How To Get Into Medical School With a Low GPA

Updated: June 16, 2020

Buckle up. You are about to get some very honest advice about how to get into medical school with a low GPA. Let’s set the scene: You’ve just spent four year studying biology at a great school. You worked your butt off to lead clubs and societies, earn research publications, play on the soccer team and do well on your MCAT. You put your blood sweat and tears into your experience over the past four years. But your GPA is just…meh. Maybe a 3.0, 3.2, or even 3.6. You could get mostly As but a few semesters worth of Bs will tank your GPA.

That is, a few Bs is not going to work if you want a straight path to medical school.  People with GPAs in the 3.0-3.6 region do get into medical school but they’re less likely to on their first try and it may take a complete overhaul to make up the time.  All of the extra-curricular activities in the world won’t grant you access to medical school if your grades are not up to snuff. Take a look at our medical school acceptance rates blog to see how your stats compare to what medical schools are looking for. If you're wondering about the difficulty of medical school, you can visit our previous blog where we answer the common question "how hard is medical school?"

So how do you course correct on your GPA to avoid the scene above? In this blog, we'll go over what to do:

How to get into medical school with a low GPA: After first year

How to get into medical school with a low GPA: After second year

How to get into medical school with a low GPA: After third year/applying to med school during this cycle

How to get into medical school with a low GPA: After a completed undergraduate degree/applying to med school during this cycle

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How to get into medical school with a low GPA: After first year

You’re going to be ok if you make the right changes. If you rolled out of first year with a 3.5 or below, you’ve got to really settle in and alter your priorities. Here is what you need to do:

1. Time Diary: Spend a week recording how many hours in a typical week you spend working on formal academic work. Then figure out how many hours you spend on other things: sports, job, research, volunteering, socializing, sleeping, etc. Now you need to make more time for studying and less for socializing. You need to get better at sorting out how to better prioritize academic work.

2. Tutor: For your poorest courses, you need to consider hiring someone to help improve your skills. But you can spend a lot of time on a tutor and not improve if you don’t know how to use one. Ideally, find a graduate student in the field. Then meet regularly with the tutor and ensure each session has clear objectives. For every assignment and lab report, try the entire thing yourself in advance of meeting with the tutor. For the questions you cannot figure out, go to the text book to see if there is something you’re missing, then go to the regular office hours for your class and then take what you still don’t understand to your tutor. Spend time only going over the questions you do not understand so you can keep learning at the edge of your knowledge gap.

3. Better use of your time: Using your tutor(s) in the ways described above is a great way to make more efficient use of the same number of study hours. The other best way is to constantly test yourself. So if you have eight hours to prepare for two midterms, do you think you’re better off reviewing chapters of text books or doing practice tests and questions? Definitely the practice tests and questions, without a doubt. Tear through the questions in the back of your textbook and samples ones offered in the syllabus. Redo the questions you got wrong on your assignment. This is the highest yield work you can do with limited hours. Highlighting passages from the textbook is far too passive to work.

4. Consider a major change and following your passion: If you are a science major and are pulling Bs in all of your science courses even though you paid attention and studied, then you may need to reflect seriously on whether or not a science degree is the right one for you and if you are following your passion academically. Science degrees classically test in the form of multiple choice and even if you understand the concepts, it may not capture your knowledge. This does not bode well for your MCAT performance – because it is also multiple choice – nor for medical school, to be honest. But if you need more space in your schedule to devote more time to your science courses – because you can’t actually drop them even if you switch majors – then switching majors might work out for you, but you have to do this in first year. Don’t switch majors if you aren’t a strong writer. Getting As in essay-based humanities or social sciences courses is extremely hard if you aren’t a good writer. Don’t switch majors if you got mediocre grades in first year but you didn’t actually try that hard. Just keep going and work harder.

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How to get into medical school with a low GPA: After second year

If you’re still hanging out in the 3.5 to 3.6 region, there is even more pressure for you to do well on your MCAT. So that’s our first piece of advice. And I would like to reiterate the importance of the time diary, the tutor and improving your efficiency. Changing majors is less appealing at this juncture. Review our medical school GPA requirements blog so you know what you should be aiming for. 

At this point, you need to start taking a very serious look at how you’re spending your time. You can’t pare down too much on your extra-curricular activities because they are important and schools need to see that you can manage a high volume of disparate activities. But you need to cut away the fat and make sure every hour you spend has a purpose.

The other thing you need to do is start looking at which schools fit the bill for your GPA. For those applying to the US, go to the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements) Service run by the AAMC. The schools that have lower GPA requirements should start to become your target. Figure out which ones work for you. In Canada, your options will start to get limited to schools with very low GPA requirements (such as McMaster University and the University of Calgary). But, in reality, those schools take very few people with GPAs under 3.7 but you won’t be excluded from the pool right away.

Canadian students with lower GPAs need to start considering taking medical training in the US or overseas. This comes with its own basket of complications, but if you’re committed and more driven than you’ve ever been, it is possible to get back to Canada to practice medicine. It is getting more and more difficult, unfortunately.

Check out this video about getting into medical school with a low GPA and MCAT score:

How to get into medical school with a low GPA: After third year/applying to med school during this cycle

You’re applying to medical school this summer/fall, depending on whether you are in the US or Canada, and your GPA is 3.5. You must prepare yourself to put in a lot of applications to a lot of schools. And make sure that you have fantastic applications so you are not giving the heartless admissions committees any more reason to reject you. Click here to schedule your free initial consultation today to find out how we can help you make your application stand out. 

You should also consider your back up plans including a graduate degree, a second undergraduate degree and additional courses. The additional courses option needs to be considered specifically at this juncture because you can’t actually graduate and still have the extra courses matter for this particular degree. If you choose extra courses, consider turning this into a Minor specialization or – even better – a second Major. You must get all As. Otherwise, it’s barely worth it. Ensure the school knows your plan to defer graduation until the next year and discuss with an academic counsellor so you don’t make any fatal errors with your course selection.

How to get into medical school with a low GPA: After a completed undergraduate degree/applying to med school during this cycle

These back up plans don’t take away from the fact that you need to also ace your final year. If you have a 3.6 GPA and your fourth year is awesome, you have a much better chance of sneaking in with an offer after 4th year than if you just keep humming along getting the same grades as before. Take our study advice above. Again, you'll have to make sure that your application is outstanding. Click here to find out how we can help before it's too late.

All of the same advice about back up plans applies when considering what to do after your undergraduate degree. And you can also consider post-bac programs if they don’t include courses you’ve already taken and you’re interested in taking the program on its own merits, not just to get into medical school. We speak about these programs in a recent post on how to decide when to reapply to medical school. The only difference is that your window to make an academic impression is going to close.

This is the year of reckoning. If your GPA and MCAT aren’t great, but not terrible, overseas options might be your best bet if you don’t want to wait to rebuild your GPA in country or if you are willing to risk the uncertainty of residency and employment after. Keep in mind there are some medical schools that don't require the MCAT, so this could also be an option. If you do have to write the MCAT, review our blog for the MCAT test and release dates.

If one of these profiles resonates with you, you should get in touch with us. Contact us today for a free initial consultation. We can provide really tailored guidance through a brainstorming session based on your unique set of circumstances. We look forward to meeting you!

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