97% written in chalk on concrete illustrating medical school GPA requirements

Medical School GPA Requirements: What Do You Really Need?

July 8, 2021
Part 1. IntroductionPart 2. How Important Is Your GPA?Part 3. How to Calculate Your GPAPart 4. Science vs Non-Science GPAPart 5. GPA Averages and CutoffsPart 6. What to do if Your GPA is LowPart 7. How Your GPA is Used in the Admissions ProcessPart 8. Tips for Getting a Good GPAPart 9. Conclusion

Introduction

Entry into medical school is not easy to come by. There are lengthy and specific academic requirements that serve as the foundation for a successful application – plus whatever intangibles an applicant brings to the table.

Yes, many medical schools promote their unconventional selection methods, but at the end of the day, having a strong academic background, consisting of a high GPA and a strong MCAT score, boosts the potential of success for applicants.

It is near-impossible to have a perfect GPA and MCAT score to match it, so here are the medical school GPA requirements that you must meet to ace the application process and begin your journey into medical school.

How Important Is Your GPA?

There is no denying the fact that without a great performance at the undergraduate level, the chances of being admitted into a top medical school decrease. A lot of the sought-after schools use national averages as a baseline for contention - an initial cutoff that deems students academically fit. Then they continue the selection process from there.

This is not to say that if your GPA is below the cutoff, your chances of being admitted are minuscule, but the probability of admission becomes significantly smaller with a lower GPA. Your GPA is a measure of your academic performance and having a high one sets you apart from the competition.

It’s not impossible to get into medical school with a 3.0 GPA, but the higher it is, the better. If you’re entering the admissions process for medical school with a less than stellar GPA, don’t be alarmed, as not all hope is lost. As long as your score is near your preferred school’s average GPA or the national average, you will still be considered for admission.

Medical schools look at all the characteristics of a candidate's application; this includes extracurriculars, experience, your personal statement, MCAT score, and letters of recommendation. Having a GPA in good standing certainly helps, but if you are a candidate that has a below-average GPA and is above average in everything else, then you still have a chance at success.

There are several medical schools out there, find one where you can still be a competitive candidate and apply; the medical school GPA requirements vary significantly between institutions, and doing your research can put you in the best position possible for success. The top schools want top scholars and if your GPA isn’t reflective of that you need to apply where you can be a better fit.

Having a low GPA can be alarming to admissions officers as it shows that you struggled with your academic performance. There can be a good reason for having a low GPA; you could be coming from a difficult undergraduate program, your course load might have been heavy and challenging, or you may have faced unforeseen circumstances.

Whatever the reason, it is usually best to explain this in your application materials so admissions committees don’t draw their own conclusions regarding your low GPA. A low GPA can take you out of the running at the top schools from the start. The top schools tend to initially screen students based on their GPA and without meeting their cutoff mark you cannot continue.

How to Calculate Your GPA

If you don’t know how to calculate your GPA manually or tend to rely on an online tool but you’d like to learn, here is how you do it. You’ll need a pen, paper, calculator, and a little bit of patience.

Using the table here, give yourself the number of points that corresponds to the letter grade you received in a specific course. Next, multiply the number of points by the credit hours given by that course; and do that for each course. Take the sum of all those numbers and divide by the total credit hours you’ve taken as an undergraduate, and that’s your GPA.

If you want a more accurate assessment of how exactly medical schools analyze and calculate your GPA, AMCAS has a grade conversion guide that can help determine your academic status.

Grade conversion guide

Science vs Non-Science GPA

When a school looks at an application and analyzes the GPA section, it is not a single number that determines the outcome. Your GPA is viewed from several perspectives; your science GPA, non-science GPA, and cumulative GPA.

Your science GPA consists of the grades obtained in your math, physics, chemistry, and biology courses; this is by far the most important one. Medical schools want to see that you’ve done well in the science courses leading up to your application for medical school.

Even if your undergraduate major isn’t in the sciences, it’s still crucial to perform well in your science courses. Christina Grabowski, the associate dean for admissions and enrollment with the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama—Birmingham, says that they specifically lean towards the science GPA.

“Whether you're a psychology major or a business major or a biology major, we are going to look at how you did in science coursework specifically". Your science coursework is THE most important part of your undergraduate career.

Your non-science GPA consists of the grades you achieved in all other courses that don’t fall within the main science category; it might be less important, but it is still a part of your application. Don’t disregard it, but focus all of your attention on your science GPA and do whatever you can to do well in those courses.

If you’re not sure which classes fall under which category, the Association of American Medical Colleges has an AMCAS course classification guide that you can use to categorize your courses and see where your science and non-science GPA stand.

Your cumulative GPA is the overall average GPA from all your completed coursework. However, a single number can't tell the whole story. This is why medical schools have different GPAs that they look at during initial selection.

Your most important one is your science GPA that culminates your performance in all of the necessary undergrad requirements for medical school. Doing well in your science courses in particular will demonstrate a profound academic ability that will be necessary to succeed through the arduous medical school coursework.

GPA Averages and Cutoffs

Top medical schools may use national averages as a baseline and basic cutoff marks for their selections, but they vary from school to school and can be lower than the average matriculant GPA.

It’s difficult, but not impossible to get into a top medical school with a cumulative GPA below 3.0; data from the Association of American Medical Colleges shows that acing the MCAT and having a GPA between 2.8 and 2.99 results in a 45% chance of admission.

To give you an idea of where you need to be, the AAMC has recorded average applicant and matriculant GPAs in recent years:

Average GPAs for medical schools


This type of information can help determine where you stand when thinking about applying for medical school. These averages are composed of the GPAs of over 50,000 applicants and about 22,000 enrolled students. Compared to the top schools, both Harvard and Johns Hopkins had an average matriculant GPA of 3.9.

Those numbers are high on the 4.0 GPA scale, but keep in mind that students are actively being admitted without reaching that average applicant GPA. Having a strong GPA is important, but it’s not the end of the world if your GPA falls short, don’t be discouraged.

The most competitive schools use GPA cutoffs as an initial screen in the application process. For example, the College of Medicine at Florida State University has a minimum GPA requirement of 3.3 and an MCAT score of 498; FSU states that they only consider students who do not meet the requirements under special circumstances.

The University of Arizona School of Medicine poses something similar, they don’t send secondary applications to applicants with a GPA less than 3.0 and an MCAT score below 498. There is no algorithm or equation that admissions officers use to specifically decide who gets into medical school and who doesn’t.

However, competitive schools, despite their holistic selection process, may use a minimum GPA as an initial approval or negation.

Schools like the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington State University’s College of Medicine pride themselves on their holistic selection process, where many factors are considered, apart from just GPA. Admissions officers want to get to know the real you, and why you want to put yourself through medical school.

With a good GPA, you can show that you can handle the rigors of medical school. With this said, many admission committee members are aware that not everyone’s journey is the same, and maintaining a high GPA can be demanding for most students.

Medical School GPA requirements

What to do if Your GPA is Low

If you have a GPA that’s below average or just average, not all hope is lost. Maybe you had to work multiple jobs to keep yourself in school, or maybe your coursework was strenuous and difficult. All GPAs are not created equally, and admissions officers will look at the circumstances surrounding any poor grades during their assessments.

Maybe you performed poorly at the start of your academic career but later improved as you matured. An upward trend is much more favorable in admissions committees' eyes than stagnant grades.

If you still have time to retake courses that you did poorly in, especially if they are science courses, retake them. Boosting your grades in your science courses will bode well for you and both your cumulative and science GPA.

Sometimes your chosen major has multiple paths that lead to its completion; did you get there by taking the challenging, more difficult courses, or did you coast by to get there? Schools will prefer applicants with a lower GPA but a more difficult course load, especially if they were working towards a difficult major such as Physics.

Medical school is not easy and admissions officers want to see that applicants are capable of meeting the challenges that await them. Another way of demonstrating your expertise is through internships and time spent working in the medical field.

If you have partaken in jobs or programs that allowed you to spend time with physicians and healthcare workers, highlight that in your application.

Schools want to see why you have decided to become a physician and whether or not you know the repercussions that having a career within the medical field contains. Maybe you’ve taken on a leadership role within your program and extracurriculars, that’s a quality that admissions officers are actively searching for; they want to know who you are and why you think you have what it takes to make it through medical school.

Doing well on your MCAT is also vital to your chances of being admitted to medical school with a low GPA. The probability of being admitted with a low GPA drastically drops with a poor MCAT performance. If you can’t pursue methods of increasing your GPA, then focus your sights on the MCAT and do everything possible to ace it.

Spend lots of time preparing and attempt to score high on the first try. You can retake the MCAT up to seven times, but scoring high the first time shows that you can handle the grueling academic work of medical school. If you do retake it, an upward trend is good, and admissions officers will be pleased to see that.

Some other options include partaking in post-baccalaureate and special masters programs. Post-bacc programs allow you to continue your pursuit and take medical school prerequisite courses before applying to medical school. This experience can help you become a more formidable candidate and prepare you for a transition into a medical career.

Special masters programs are usually affiliated with a medical school and are offered as a direct path to being admitted. Additionally, the level of course work can be used as an accurate identifier of your academic ability; many of the courses taken within a special masters program are the same ones that enrolled medical students take.

How Your GPA is Used in the Admissions Process

GPA in the admissions process is primarily used to determine your academic ability. Admissions officers don’t want to set you and themselves up for failure by admitting students who they know don’t have what it takes to make it through medical school.

They use your GPA as a benchmark of your ability to overcome the challenges that come with attending medical school.

No one can become a doctor without putting in hard work and medical schools want applicants who demonstrate superb academic abilities that will be necessary for making it through school. Without that, the probability of making it past the first selection phase is minuscule, despite several schools' holistic selection process.

Mickey Foxwell, M.D., former associate dean for admissions at the University of Maryland School of Medicine states, “Each applicant needs to be as sure as possible that this is what they want to do with their life. That motivation can be demonstrated through academic achievement and also through exposure to clinical medicine and community service".

Schools and admissions officers want to be certain that they are right in admitting you and your academic performance, your GPA, is a measure of that.

Every school has its methods of screening applicants, the most competitive schools have their own GPA and MCAT requirements, while others may use national averages as a method of initial selection. If your GPA is above average then you’ve laid a good foundation for admission. After that initial check comes your experiences.

For example, whether or not you’ve done any internships or spent time with medical professionals. This is just as important as your GPA because if your GPA is poor or less than average then you can make up for it by demonstrating your experience and desire to work within the medical field.

Missing that cutoff set by national GPA averages can be alarming and can even take you out of the running at the top schools, but admissions officers know that a student is more than just a number. Schools like the Wake Forest School of Medicine have their own process that divides candidates based on their primary application.

One of those categories includes one for applicants who they consider a risk based on academics. Although there is no magic number that applicants have to meet, having a strong GPA instantly sets you apart from other applicants.

From there, the selection process continues and your academic history, experience, and the story of you becomes more prevalent and important in the selection process. Most importantly, schools want to know why’d you be a good fit, and your GPA plays a big role in that; it shows that you can do your homework.

Tips for Getting a Good GPA

There is no secret formula for getting a good GPA. It all depends on your work ethic and how good of a student you are; but if you’re in search of some tips, here are a few.

To start, if you took any science courses and scored less than a B, you may want to consider retaking them for a higher grade; anything that can boost your science GPA will be for the better. Retaking non-science courses can help your overall GPA, which is also good, but your main priority should be your science GPA.

If your coursework is difficult and you’re falling behind, it might be a sign that you need to seek extra help to achieve that A or B that is so desirable. Many schools offer in-house tutoring and advisors that can help struggling students by providing them with individualized assistance.

This can come in the form of pairing you with a senior student who’s passed the course for tutoring, they can accommodate you in specific courses, and allow certain privileges; like recording lectures. Schools want you to succeed and have all of these resources and more available to you, seek them out.

Form study groups and find colleagues that share your courses, you’ll be able to find success and the good marks you desperately need. Your GPA does not define you, but it certainly boosts your chances of being admitted into medical school if you have a high one.

Conclusion

Medical schools favor students with strong GPAs, but there is not an explicit number that guarantees admission. Yes, having an above-average GPA certainly helps, but it does not tell your full story. Your GPA is used as a measure of your academic ability; admissions officers want to know that you will be able to overcome the challenges of medical school.

National GPA averages are what the top schools use to determine their GPA cutoff but don’t let that alarm you, a single number does not define you. Your experiences, story, and letters of recommendation are also a major part of the admissions process.

A low GPA may be forgiven with an excellent MCAT score, as well as experience and time spent working within the medical field. Admissions officers are not GPA gatekeepers, they are there to meet you, assess your academic ability, and discover why it is you want to be a doctor.

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