Traditionally, your academic performance in undergrad is one of the most important aspects of your application. However, it is not as black and white as many people think. Applicants can still overcome a potentially below national average GPA if their skills and numbers are higher or exceed expectations in other parts of the application. Schools can focus on specific trends in your application such as GPA fluctuations, class difficulty and rigor, special academic paths, significant life challenges, and school/major reputation to weigh your competitiveness as a candidate. Another way to compensate for a less than perfect GPA is to balance your application with non-academic experiences and extra-curricular activities including clinical experience, research, volunteering, and leadership opportunities. This will emphasize that you are a well-rounded applicant. However, keep in mind that some competitive schools may have GPA cutoffs to be considered in their application pool in the first place.
There are three types of GPA that medical schools look into: science GPA (sGPA), non-science GPA, and cumulative GPA (cGPA). The classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and math compose your sGPA and the grades in your other classes count towards your non-science GPA. GPAs can be calculated from undergraduate classes, non-degree seeking post secondary work, and degree seeking. Schools can decide which GPAs are most important for their candidate selection.
Take a step back and analyze what caused the poor performance in the class. There are many reasons why students may fail a class. Understand that this is not the END of your journey to apply to a professional school! Once you have figured out the reason, do everything in your ability to not let it happen again. Assess your weaknesses and turn then into strengths. There are many opportunities in the application process to discuss your failures, so take an active role in bettering yourself and explain that process on your application. In some cases, having a setback like this and an upward trend from there shows schools that you are resilient and motivated.
Withdrawing from a course and receiving a “W” on your transcript may not necessarily hurt you as it actually looks better than receiving an “F.” The “W” will also not count toward your overall GPA on your application. However, it is important not to have a pattern of W’s across multiple courses because medical schools will view that as a red flag or cause for concern. Also, many schools have a designated section of their application to explain circumstances behind any major challenges or drawbacks on your academic record, so if there was a specific reason behind the “W,” you can elaborate regarding the situation.
The average GPA varies with each school but is usually between 3.6-3.8. The GPA you need depends on what school you wish to attend.
The scores needed to successfully matriculate at Harvard will be very different than those needed to attend a state school or even a DO school.
While no applicant wants any deficiencies, they are inevitable; we are not perfect people. A low MCAT score can be balanced with a higher GPA and visa versa. However, some schools do have certain GPA or MCAT “cut off” limits.
Be aware of what scores the school you want to attend requires, but more importantly, be aware of what kind of school you want to attend.