According to AAMC, the average GPA and MCAT of a U.S. medical school matriculant is 3.67 and 31.1 respectively. These statistics are pretty high given the fact that 3.67 is pretty much an A- average and 31.1 is at least a 10 in every MCAT sub score. This is the reason why so many premeds consider dropping premed after one semester of bad grades. Of course, to a premed, “bad” is relative. Many students would be happy with a B-, B or B+. But when premeds see that daunting combination of letters and symbols, they panic and start thinking about the rest of their lives. It is somewhat understandable since even a B+ average is very low for someone who wants to get into medical school. Therefore, ProspectiveDoctor asks the questions: Is one bad semester going to ruin your chances at medical school? What about two? Here are some reasons why you should remain hopeful.
1. Using an AMCAS GPA calculator, I calculated my grades after making modifications to my transcript. I changed the grades of my first two quarters (UCLA has a quarter system) to straight B’s. That ended up being 33 units (8 classes) of 3.0 instead of the 3.65 I had previously. After those modifications, both my overall GPA and BCPM GPA for my four years went from 3.85 and 3.87 to 3.75 and 3.72 respectively (still above the national average for medical school matriculants). Then I changed three of those classes (12 units) to C’s instead of B’s. I still ended up with 3.68 and 3.60, overall and BCPM. All that goes to say that even after two whole quarters of sub 3.0 GPAs, I would have still been able to reach the national average. However, keep in mind that I averaged a 3.9 from 2nd to 4th year. This example goes to show that if you’ve had a couple bad quarters or even semesters but still want to pursue an MD, there is still hope.
2. Most medical schools look at your application as a whole. They don’t just dismiss your application because of some bad grades. Medicine, and therefore medical school, is not just about numbers. Admissions committees understand that we are human and make mistakes (as long as we don’t make the same mistakes every semester)
3. During your application, you can explain any discrepancies in your grades. That means if you had a couple bad semesters, you can clarify either during your application or interview why you got those grades. Perhaps you were having family problems. Maybe you were just adjusting to the rigor of school. Or you might have simply been lazy and not had the proper motivation to study. The important thing is that you shape up and do well every other semester.
4. Sometimes, your transcript tells a story. Some do not adjust or learn as quickly as everyone else. If you had a bad first year, learning from your mistakes and doing well every other year, shows admissions committees that you know how to adapt and succeed in adversity. This upward trend could be a discussion topic during interviews, an opportunity to display how you persevered and overcame challenges.
5. Poor grades can help you build character and appreciate what you have. I had a subpar first quarter at UCLA. Then in my first biology midterm during my second quarter, I got a D-. These bad grades and scores really humbled and challenged me. I realized my old habits and study techniques weren’t as effective as I needed them to be. I had to change the way I studied. This process really strengthened and confirmed my desire to go into medicine. As my future was threatened, my hunger grew even stronger and therefore enabled me to make the necessary adjustments I needed to so that I can become a strong applicant for medical school. Lastly, if I didn’t have a rough start, I don’t think I would have appreciated the journey as much.
If you do get bad grades, you have to keep in mind why. Is it your laziness? Are you simply not good at science or math? Are you a bad test taker? Maybe you’re really not cut out for medicine? Bad grades are an indication that you should evaluate these things and even re-evaluate your desires to go to medical school. You cannot maintain the status quo after a bad semester.
||Read: What are some common premed myths?||
To sum it up, one or two bad semesters do not ruin your chances. If you have more bad semesters than that, the road only gets tougher but it is still possible. I firmly believe that if you want to be a doctor and are diligent about getting there, it is possible (whether it is US MD, DO, or Caribbean). Nevertheless, a 3.0 or even a 3.5 semester cannot be the norm. They must simply be deviations. You need to learn from your mistakes and develop a study system in which you can succeed consistently. Once I figured out how to study, I studied more efficiently, spending less time studying but still getting good grades. So don’t lose hope if you really want to be a doctor. But please, be smart about it and make the necessary changes.