MyMentor FAQs: GPA

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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.

  1. Understand why your GPA is low in the first place. There are many factors that can ultimately affect your academic performance – that is just life! Was there one specific semester where your grades were not what imagined they would be? Did it take time to adjust to college and learn your most effective study habits or time management skills? Did you experience a personal challenge that took time away from your academics? Understanding why your GPA is not where you need it to be is a key step in finding the solution and improving your academic performance overall.

  2. Address the problem. If you have not graduated yet, there is still time to recover and improve! A positive or upward trend will stand out on your application as well as not necessarily come across as a weakness. If you have already graduated, consider re-taking the same courses that you did not perform well in and address the reasons why you may have performed lower than anticipated. Earning a higher grade as a result can show the admissions committee that you have the determination to succeed regardless of set-backs. Finally, you can consider a post-baccalaureate or master’s program that is specifically designed to help prepare students for medical school, such as a Master’s of Public Health (MPH). Although there is a financial investment associated with it, if you perform well, you can prove that you can handle a rigorous coursework regardless of what your undergraduate GPA was.

  3. Be upfront about your GPA struggles, and be ready to explain the circumstances. Regardless of whether you show an upward trend with your grades, or improve your overall GPA with a post-baccalaureate program, you will be asked about your academic performance. Be prepared to explain what happened and why as well as reflect on what you have learned as a result. The best way to prove to the admissions committee that you have overcome your challenges with your GPA is by providing specific examples of how you did it. Address your GPA. It is important to first compare your GPA with respect to your target schools’ average GPA. A low GPA is technically defined as one that is 0.3 or more lower than the average at a target school. It is also important to understand that focusing on GPA as a number does not show your full range of diversity and non-academic experiences that could have effects the particular trends that it has. Many schools will take a look at these trends to put together your whole academic story.
Your goal is to show that your GPA isn’t a true indication of your ability and to prove that you’re able to excel in other aspects of your application. Since the selection process is holistic, you have many opportunities to demonstrate academic excellence.
  • Do very well on the MCAT. You will need a very high MCAT score to counterbalance the low GPA. This score will indicate that you have the potential and skills to excel in the school’s curriculum.

  • Take more classes in sciences/medicine and earn high grades. This can be in the form of a few more classes to a full postbac program. You can retake classes to demonstrate mastery of the material, but a better route may be to take new, more challenging courses and DO WELL. However, don’t try to find yourself in a tough situation if a class does not interest you or is too hard OR you are not sure if you will perform at the highest level.

  • Be realistic with your target schools. It is important to compare your science GPA, non-science GPA, and cumulative GPA with the average GPAs of accepted students for each school that is on your list. A low GPA is technically defined as one that is 0.3 or more lower than the average at a target school. It is also important to understand that focusing on GPA as a number does not show your full range of diversity and non-academic experiences that could have affected the particular trends of your GPA. Many schools will consider these trends in order to take a more holistic approach to considering you as an applicant.  Here is a resource that will break down average GPAs for each school, as well as a collection of other factors that go into your overall application for medical school. 

  • Make sure that you excel in all of the other areas of your application. If your GPA is not up to par with the average GPA of your target school, do not count yourself out yet! There are several factors other than your GPA that are accounted for in determining your candidacy for medical school. Your GPA does not necessarily reflect the influence of diversity in non-academic experiences that you have gained outside of your academic courses such as volunteering, clinical experience, research, etc. Excelling in the other domains of your application will show that you are a well-rounded applicant, despite a lower than average GPA. 

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. 

Info Source: AMCAS

Additional Information

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.