GPA: It Won’t Get You in But it Can Keep You Out

GPA worries are often the number one insecurity pre-meds have. They have done all the shadowing, volunteering, and research they need, but they’re worried about how their GPA matches up.


The first thing to keep in mind is you’ll spend four years (give or take) developing this number and an admissions representative will take a 5-second glance at it and make a judgment call. Some schools pre-screen your GPA and nothing on your application is viewed unless a threshold is met. The threshold is usually pretty low, like 3.3 or 3.2.


The determination that your GPA is good enough will probably be based on the following question: “How sure are we that this student will succeed at our medical school?” If the answer is “confident,” then your GPA is going to help you get considered. A GPA will rarely be the determining factor for whether one student gets accepted over another after the interview. It can be the factor that gets an application denied, even if everything else is great.


Usually, if the GPA is good enough, they’ll consider the rest of your application. If your writing (personal statement, secondaries, and 15 activities) is engaging and interesting, they’ll want to get to know you more and you’ll get the interview. After the interview, your GPA will likely play a much more limited role. If you get the interview, your GPA is good enough. Don’t ask any more questions and don’t worry about it again.


How do you know if your GPA is good enough?


Look at MSAR for your schools of choice and view the average accepted applicant GPA. If you are above average, your GPA is good enough. Consider applying to more schools for which your GPA is at or above average and fewer schools for which your GPA is slightly lower than average. GPA is the main reason why some students will choose to apply primarily to osteopathic (DO) medical schools. That is a fine option and sometimes the only realistic one.


Can a GPA be too high?


That’s unlikely. Some people say that if you apply to a school that you are way above average for, you’ll be denied. That’s definitely possible, but if you’re set on a school for which your GPA is way above average, don’t shy away from applying. Just really convince them in your secondary and your interview that you want to attend that school and they’ll have no reason to deny you.


What if I had a Withdrawal on my transcript? What if I had a bad freshman year? What if I got a C in Organic Chemistry? Do schools look at GPA trends?


If you’re dying to get my personal opinion: the reports I’ve seen have tended to favor students with >3.7 and the odds were against students with <3.5 GPA. If you’re in between these two GPAs or hovering around 3.7 flat, consider applying to more schools than your colleagues. Again, applying early will be essential. More competitive schools will clearly have an emphasis on higher GPAs.


Science GPAs


Why do medical schools care about science GPAs? Because some students majored in Art History from Duke and some students majored in Electrical Engineering from MIT. How in the world do you compare those two sets of grades? They try to equalize the measurement to some degree by assessing only those grades that apply to the “hard” sciences. This also allows them to identify students who may do very well in almost all of their classes but really struggle with science. Why might that be a concern? Because medical school is virtually all science classes.


There are plenty of GPA calculators available on the web that should tell you both science and overall GPA after inputting your information.


KEY POINTS

  • GPA isn’t everything, it’s a number, a shortcut to assess your abilities

  • If the school is confident you’ll succeed, that’s all you need

  • After the interview, it decreases in importance

  • Science GPAs help even the playing field and assess the ability to succeed in future science courses in medical school

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