There are so many factors to consider when reviewing medical school applicants. You may have heard that volunteering overseas will get you big points, that you must do research, or that a good MCAT score will go a long way. All of these things do play a significant role in the admissions process, but if you had to pick one area to focus on, good grades come first.
Just today, while reviewing applications, I noticed a lot of applicants would try to explain their poor grades. Not only does this go against my advice of not making excuses, there is absolutely nothing I can do to fix your grades.
All successful medical school applicants have good grades.Despite how impersonal viewing a person as a GPA can be, it is one of the few objective criteria admissions can use to evaluate applicants (another being the MCAT). It shows you are intelligent. You are hardworking. You have been dedicated and disciplined enough to achieve a respectable GPA. There are the qualities we want in our future doctors. It’s the bare minimum.
A GPA is NOT the only thing that matters. When we mark your applications, your essays, reference letters, personal statement, extracurricular activities also receive scores. Theoretically, good diverse life experiences can make up for poor grades, but here’s why it’s unlikely to happen in real life.
Your grades are the entry point of your application. They are the first item we see. They get your feet in the door. Without them, the rest of your application might not be seen and just thrown out. Almost all schools do a first round screening, with computers, to eliminate applicants with low grades and shorten the applicant pool.
Your GPA is permanent. So by the time adcoms mark your application, we have no power to change your grades. Your explanation about how you were sick on your exam date or how personal circumstances lead to a poor semester become irrelevant. Your grades are set in stone. We can’t omit courses you have taken and readjust your GPA. Adcoms can’t give you more points for it if they like you and less if they don’t. It’s objective.
So if you had to pick one thing to focus on first, let it be grades. Grades alone won’t get you into medical school, but without them, there is no chance.
That is why I am saying grades must come first. You first must have good marks before you begin the MCAT, volunteering, reference letters and research. If other committments cause your grades to suffer, drop those activities and refocus on your grades. After you have your GPA covered, then you can begin to build the rest of your application.