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Attending medical school had been a dream of mine since I was five years old. I always envisioned that my acceptance would come down to one simple equation: good grades + community service = acceptance to medical school. Quickly I realized that the first part of that equation was much more difficult than I had anticipated. With my low GPA (aka NOT the average medical school requirements accepted 3.7-3.9 GPA), I had to find more creative ways to make my medical school dreams come true. Through trial and error, I found the secrets to securing acceptance into medical school with a less-than-stellar GPA, and sharing said secrets is the least I can do for my fellow ambitious, future doctors.

Ace Your Scientific Courses
First and foremost, medical schools have a “core” course requirement, which are all scientifically-based. Most universities consider these courses “pre-med,” and your performance in such classes is the foundation on what admission (based on an applicant’s GPA) is built. Beginning your freshman year of college, you should put the majority of your effort into these courses above any other general education classes required by your university. You will find that the workload of a pre-medical student can be extremely overwhelming. Therefore, if you focus your energy on the courses that are most significant to a medical school admissions board, you will later be able to justify the ‘C-’ you received in “The History of Paper” versus the ‘A’ you obtained in “Organic Chemistry.” Priorities are extremely important in this tactic and focusing your effort on these scientific courses will prevent you from wasting your time/money on retaking them later.

It is extremely necessary to retake the core scientific courses that you received a ‘C-’ or less in: Medical schools value these courses above all others. Not only will improving your score in these classes boost your GPA, but they will prove to medical schools that you are extremely serious about gaining admittance to medical school in the future.

Community Service
It is a well-known fact that, as a medical school applicant, you must have hours & hours of community service in order to prove that you care about humanity (or something). The more experience you can obtain in community service organizations/events, the more you can add to your resume under this category.

During my freshman year of college, I found a program that required ten hours a week for 30 weeks each semester, but this specific program provided university credits. In this sense, I was able to justify my valuable time spent to not only gaining resume-building community service hours, but I was also one step closer to fulfilling the credits required to graduate. My pre-medical program was extremely grueling, so mentally it helped that my community service hours were gaining me credits at the same time.

In retrospect, my advice is this: Participate in as much community service as possible! If this service does not reward you with collegiate credit, then it should involve direct patient care. For example, many community service programs require volunteering with special needs individuals. Medical schools love to see their applicants work with those in need, and even more-so when it comes to working in a medical setting. I volunteered in a nursing home that housed traumatic brain injury patients, and the admission boards were extremely intrigued and impressed that I had four years in this setting.

Be Involved
I cannot express enough how important it is to involve yourself in as many activities as possible in order to make yourself appear “well-rounded” on your medical school applications. Not only with community service involvement (as mentioned), but activities like fundraisers for good causes, any athletics, becoming a residential assistant in a dormitory, etc. make an applicant desirable to an admissions board. Any such involvement will prove to a medical school that you are more than just a resume: You are a human being with a plethora of interests. Medical schools truly want students who have life experience- not just robots with great grades. As an undergraduate microbiology student, I involved myself in the “Prevent AIDS” student group, a lot of community service (again, as mentioned), a co-recreational softball league, and I was a student teacher for four different scientific courses. Basically, I was extremely involved in as many diverse activities as possible because I knew that these activities would help me to appear well-rounded on my medical school applications.

Make Time For The MCAT
The utmost effective method to obtain admittance to medical school for an applicant with a low GPA is to acquire an incredible MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) score. The MCAT is an extremely grueling exam that, with a low score, can deny medical school admittance to a student with even the highest-scoring GPA.

You must set aside the time to study as much as possible for the MCAT. I had a very low GPA, so not only did I focus my energy on becoming ‘well rounded,’ but I also invested most of my time to studying for this exam. Any second that I was not working, I was reviewing the flashcards I made for the MCAT, or I was rereading the major bullet points in the exam booklets. I strongly recommend investing in a professional MCAT tutoring program if you have the finances to do so. If not, try to remember that this studying process is not something to be rushed- the MCAT can make or break your admittance to medical school, and your MCAT score therefore has the potential to positively affect the rest of your life.

Increase your Shadowing Hours
Medical school admissions boards absolutely love when applicants have shadowed (observed) doctors, and the more hours the applicant has the better. Freshman year of college, I had pre-medical friends who had already shadowed doctors for over 200 hours. Many medical schools will require at least 1000 hours of shadowing upon admission, but I have also learned that this requirement is often left “unsaid.” I obtained multiple medical school interviews and when I was interviewed, I was specifically questioned about my ‘shadowing experience.’ Although shadowing hours were not required on my applications, they were always asked during my interviews. Hence, I learned that the more specific medical doctor shadowing experience an applicant has, the more serious he/she is taken in the admissions process.

Convey Growth
Whether it is a job at a restaurant or your involvement in a community service organization, medical school admissions boards love to see a candidate’s growth and progression over time. In the community service program I previously mentioned, I was able to exhibit a progression of leadership over the four years of my undergraduate career. I began this program as a volunteer freshman year of college, and during my sophomore year I became an assistant supervisor. During my third year, I advanced to a supervisor position where I was in charge of a group of twenty students, and finally I moved up to the assistant coordinator of the entire 150-student program. Not only did this progression convey my commitment to the program, but the medical admissions board was very impressed with my growth as a leader (and person) over the course of four years. The ability to demonstrate your commitment and growth to one responsibility over time is invaluable when it comes to a medical school application.

Write a Remarkable Personal Statement
Every medical school requires a ‘Personal Statement’ as part of its application. Students with an exceptional GPA do not put much effort into this essay, but those of us with a low GPA look at this statement as our opportunity to prove our worth. It is an absolute must to capture the admissions committee’s interest; it is also necessary to convey to the medical school what you have to offer, as a driven person, besides its number-scale requirement.

I recommend asking for help from the professionals in your life- whether it be your collegiate advisor, your most influential/inspiring professors, doctors who you have shadowed, or even a family-friend doctor. You cannot go wrong with asking for help from those who have positively influenced you to apply to medical school, and the more professional help you can get, the better.

A notebook page with the words "Don't give up" and an upwards arrow written on it

Never Give Up
Worst case scenario, you are not accepted to medical school the first time. I recommend taking this opportunity to not only improve your previous achievements (i.e: science course grades, increasing community service, studying more for the MCAT, etc.), but also finding employment in the scientific community. Many medical school candidates have pursued a scientific Master’s degree where he/she can take advanced science courses, participate in accelerated laboratory research, and also gain more experience as teachers’ assistants. Long story short, there are verified methods to improve yourself when it comes to a medical school application, and you should never give up on your dreams.

When it comes down to it, an applicant can utilize all the tricks in the book to obtain a medical school admission. But at the end of the day, his/her genuine passion and desire to become a doctor will make this dream a reality. Building an extremely strong resume with a low GPA is important, but an admissions committee will see right through a candidate’s intentions if he/she is not there for the right reasons. The combination of an incredible resume and an undeniable yearning to become a doctor will guarantee one’s medical school admission, regardless of his/her grades.