The Unforgiving Grade Point Average

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The dreaded GPA. A mere few tenths of this number can make or break your chance at becoming a doctor. Although weaknesses in other areas may also prevent acceptance, a low GPA is less remediable. For example, you can retake a low MCAT score or volunteer a few hours a week to supplement low clinical exposure. Although a low GPA can be fixed, it often requires additional year(s) of classes (SMP/post-bac) and tens of thousands of dollars. If you still have coursework remaining and your GPA needs a boost, consider the following:

Major

Any major is fine, but some are harder than others. For instance, engineering and the “pre-med” majors (human biology, biochemistry, etc.) have more science courses than needed for medical school, and you will compete against other pre-meds. Ultimately, choose a major that you’re passionate about, even if it is harder. But when in doubt, pick something that’s both interesting and lighter.

Workload

Most college graduation requirements allow students to average 15 units per term and graduate in 4 years, with summers off. During some semesters, you will have less than 15, while some will require more. Those heavier quarters and semesters are brutal. To combat this, utilize the summer term to take courses. This allows you to average 13-14 units. Admissions committees may question the lower workload, but having a high GPA and finishing within 4 years will carry much more weight.

Course selection

A 13 unit term is still heavy if it consists of three intense science courses. Regardless of major, you can schedule so that most terms have no more than two hard courses. Although you should try your best for any course you take, science courses take priority as they count for both your overall and science GPA. When choosing courses, ask around. Look for professors who tend to give more A’s, or courses that have old study material available.

Extracurricular activities

College is about more than just hitting the books, and well-rounded applicants have more than just high grades. But it is too easy to join every club and volunteer at every opportunity. Balance is the key, and admissions committees look into the depth and quality of each experience more than the quantity. If you’re still trying to establish strong and consistent grades, it is okay to ease up on the extracurricular activities, you can always participate more as you become comfortable with schoolwork. Also, if you must work to support yourself, seek out jobs that have ample downtime (computer lab attendant, library assistant, etc.) for you to study.

Organization and study skills

These come naturally for some, but are developed gradually for others. If you need help in this area, most schools offer assistance in developing strong study skills. Another option is to find studious friends to study with and mimic their study habits.

Personal stressors

Life gets in the way during college, medical school, and out in practice. Doctors and medical students face obstacles from outside of work regularly, and the successful ones acknowledge these obstacles and know when to seek help. Before you learn to take care of others, make sure you take care of yourself. Seeking counseling or taking time off for personal reasons is common, and can help you refocus on your studies.

Unfortunately, many students come to the conclusion that they are not qualified for medical school without examining their situation and trying different approaches to improve their grades. There are many pressures, both internal and external, to maintain flawless grades while participating in time-consuming extracurricular activities in order to matriculate right after graduation. However, this ‘traditional’ path to medical school is not for everyone, and if you are passionate about becoming a doctor, it is better to get there through the path that is right for you than to not get there at all.

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