Applying to Medical SchoolGap Year

Dropping Pre-Med Because of One Bad Semester

According to AAMC, the average GPA and MCAT of a U.S. medical school matriculant in the 2022-23 application cycle is 3.75 and 512 respectively. These statistics are pretty high given the fact that 3.75 is pretty much an A average.

This is the reason why so many premeds consider abandoning pre-med after one semester of bad grades. Of course, to a pre-med, “bad” is relative. Many students would be happy with a B-, B or B+, but when pre-meds see these combinations of letters and symbols, they panic. They start thinking about how these low grades can impact the rest of their lives and future career options.

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?

Reasons To Remain Hopeful After a Bad Pre-Med Semester

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.

||Read: Do you really need physics for medical school?||

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.

||Read: Tips from a medical school’s admission officer||

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?||

Keep Going, Even If You Had a Bad Semester

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.

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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