Applying to Medical SchoolPre-Med Academics

Fact or Myth About the W

There comes a time in almost every student’s life, where the student must decide between a bad grade, and a withdrawal, also known as a “W.” The student must weigh the pros against the cons to make an informed and wise decision. However, that can often be difficult because there are so many opinions floating around about the mischievous “W.” In this article, we will explain the truths about the W in regards to medical school.

Myth 1: Having a “W” will disqualify you from medical school.

FALSE: Having a “W” does not automatically disqualify you from medical school. Although it is best to not get a “W,” it can be forgiven as long as you do not make a habit of it. As a general rule of thumb, having one “W” should not be too big of a deal. However, if you continue to get them, medical schools will see this as a red flag in your potential to do well at medical school.

Myth 2: You should always take a bad grade over a “W.”

FALSE: Again, this is false, though it can depend on what you define as a bad grade. A “W” is always better than a failing grade. Whether a “W” is better than a B or a C depends on each individual applicant. Let us look at two examples.

Let’s say that Jack is in his third year of his pre-med studies. He has gotten straight A’s throughout his first two years without ever getting a “W” but is in danger of receiving a B- in one of his classes. He is sure that if he retook the class, he could get an A. In Jack’s case, it might be better to receive the “W.” He can retake the class later for an A, and since this would be his first “W,” it will not have much negative effect.

Now let’s look at Jill who is also in her third year of college. She has been an A-/B+ student throughout her first two years and has two “W’s” on her record. She is also in danger of receiving a B- in one of her classes. In Jill’s class, it might be better to receive a B- for two reasons. First, a B- probably would not hurt her GPA that much. Second, getting a third “W” might raise red flags at medical schools. Medical schools might perceive her as a student who is likely to give up when things are not going well.

Obviously, there is never a clear right and wrong answer because the issue of “W” is more complicated than people think. The best way to make an informed decision is to talk to your academic counselor.

Myth 3: A “W” will NOT hurt your GPA for medical school.

TRUE: This is technically true. A “W” is not included in your AMCAS GPA and therefore does not hurt your GPA. However, be careful about getting too many “W’s” because medical schools will see it. Medical school is not all about the GPA you have.

Myth 4: You can erase a “W.”

FALSE: Some people believe that a “W” is erasable, that somehow if you retook it for a good grade, it will disappear. Unfortunately, that is not true. You definitely can retake a class that you received a “W” in, but the “W” will not disappear.

Myth 5: Medical schools are more interested in the pattern of “W’s” then the number of “W’s.”

TRUE: While “W’s” are not good, you have to remember that medical schools look at applicants as a whole. Medical schools are not interested in accepting students who just had high GPAs; they are interested in students who they believe will succeed in medical school. GPA is just one of the indicators of that. For example, if you had three “W’s” in your freshman year, but none for the rest of your college years, medical schools probably are not going to make a big deal of it. They can assume that you just struggled while you were getting used to college. However, if all your “W’s” came near the end of your college days, medical schools could possibly interpret that as someone who is “running out of gas.”

I hope this helps dispel some myths about the “W.” Remember that it is not black and white. If you have questions, leave a comment at the bottom or talk to your counselor.

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