GPA (Medical School Admissions)
Your Grade Point Average or GPA will be of significant interest to the medical school admissions committee. Mastering voluminous amounts of information in medical school requires stamina, determination, persistence, and conscientiousness. Your GPA will provide schools with insight into your work ethic and study habits. Below we discuss the importance of the GPA and the evidence to support its use in the medical school admissions process. We end with some sage advice for applicants concerned about their GPA.
Did You Know?
The GPA has been well studied as a predictor of academic success during medical school. The results of numerous studies demonstrate that undergraduate grades are predictive of medical school academic performance.
But is the GPA predictive of clinical performance? After all, isn't that what being a doctor is all about? Although the GPA as a predictor of clinical performance has been less well studied, there is evidence to suggest that undergraduate grades may predict clinical performance.
In order to be licensed to practice medicine, medical students must complete a series of licensing examinations. Several studies have shown that undergraduate grades are also predictive of performance on medical licensing exams.
Taken together, the results of these studies provide a strong argument for the emphasis placed on the GPA in medical school admissions.
Did You Know?
In a recent study performed at a single medical school, researchers looked for factors that could predict underperformance during the first year of medical school. Underperformance was defined as any academic situation that resulted in the student's appearance before the school's Student Progress and Promotions Committee. Underperforming students were found to have significantly lower mean undergraduate science and total GPAs.
What is the minimum GPA you must achieve to be considered by medical schools? Although some schools don't have a minimum score, other schools do, with threshold GPA scores typically in the range of 3.0 - 3.2.
What if you're an applicant with a GPA less than 3.0? Will you be a serious candidate at schools which have no minimum GPA requirement? Every year, there are a small number of applicants with GPAs below 3.0 who gain admission. However, the odds are heavily against you. Per the words of the George Washington University School of Medicine: "A cumulative GPA of below a 3.0 is considered non-competitive."
Did You Know?
Medical schools will also look at your science or BCPM (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics) GPA. Studies have shown that the undergraduate science GPA is a good predictor of medical school performance.
Your GPA will also be evaluated in the context of the college or university you attend or have attended. Why? Medical schools realize that there is significant variability in grading between different institutions. In a study of over 32,000 applicants accepted to medical school, researchers found that students with undergraduate science GPAs over 3.80 who had attended highly selective colleges achieved a mean MCAT biology score of 10.82. Students with similar GPAs who had attended the least selective colleges achieved a mean score of 8.87. The authors concluded that similar grades from different colleges do not necessarily imply the same level of achievement.
For an idea of how your GPA compares to the average GPA of students accepted by the schools you covet, visit medical school websites. Another excellent source of information is the Medical School Admissions Requirement, a resource published by the AAMC.
A particularly useful tool is the MCAT and GPA grid available at the AAMC website. This grid provides applicants with acceptance rates for varying combinations of MCAT and GPA scores. There are separate grids for Hispanic or Latino, Black of African American, Asian, and White medical school applicants.
Did You Know?
In an AAMC survey, 8% of applicants with a GPA of at least 3.8 and MCAT scores of 39 were not accepted by any of the medical schools to which they applied. Although you may expect that sky-high scores would guarantee admissions, these statistics clearly indicate otherwise. This should serve as a reminder that every component of your application is important to medical schools.
Tips to Help Medical School Applicants Overcome a Low GPA
1. If you're applying to medical school at the end of your junior year, do everything you can to achieve great grades during your senior year. In the event that you have to reapply, academic excellence during the senior year will raise your GPA and strengthen your overall application.
2. Some applicants have struggled academically because of personal or family illness. Medical schools understand that adverse life situations can affect applicants at any point in their lives. Consider explaining the cirumstances that led to lower grades in your application.
3. Although it can be difficult to discuss your academic struggles with your advisors or professors, this can be a very useful approach, especially if you know them well. By informing them of the reasons for your struggles, you give them an opportunity to include the information in their letters of recommendation. When others advocate for you in this manner, it can have a powerful effect on the medical school admissions committee. These letters can reassure schools that your previous struggles should not be a concern moving forward.
4. Perhaps the most common advice applicants with low GPAs receive is to take and achieve a high score on the MCAT. This is sound advice that can certainly help you secure interviews. Don't be surprised, however, if you're asked about the discrepancy between your GPA and MCAT during the interview.
5. You are more likely to persuade medical schools to invite you for an interview if you have a strong record of community service and extracurricular involvement. Get involved in different endeavors and make the most of these opportunities.
6. Leadership is important to medical schools, and will be seen as a plus in the application. Run for positions, and put in the time to advance the organization's mission or initiatives once elected.
7. Medical schools prefer to interview applicants that have had significant clinical experience. In fact, motivation for a career in medicine is an important factor used to make admissions decisions. It's difficult to stand out in this area unless you have substantial experiences in medicine. These include, but are not limited to, volunteering in hospitals, shadowing physicians, serving as a nurse's aide, and working in a free health clinic.
8. Some medical schools seek applicants dedicated to their own mission. A medical school which was established to meet the primary care needs of a rural population would understandably be interested in an applicant with substantial experiences serving the rural underserved population. If the applicant's track record in this area was robust, then the school may be willing to extend an interview offer even for applicants with lower GPAs. As you read over the descriptions of different schools, look for schools where you may be an excellent fit.
9. Although every applicant must submit a compelling medical school application, applicants with lower GPAs cannot afford to make mistakes in content, grammar, or flow in their AMCAS or secondary applications. Superbly written applications are a must.
10. Some applicants will be best served by completing courses after graduation as a post-baccalaureate or graduate student. Many students who were unsuccessful in securing spots in medical schools were accepted after completing and excelling in coursework following graduation.