Authored by: Michael R.
It’s easy to feel like your life is ruined when you get bad grades. Or feel like there’s no coming back from a bad academic past. I’m here to tell you you’re overreacting and you can do this if you really want it.
When I was in college I’d google “getting accepted to medical school with a bad gpa” and read all the results; there were success stories from every GPA from 3.5 (LOL that’s not bad, nerds, get some perspective) to 2.0 (alright, this guy’s GOT to have a hell of a story..). The lowest success story I saw was from a 1.8. I took them all as inspiration, but I read them with a jaded point of view, like they were all different from me in some special spectacular way. If nothing else, those guys all had something I didn’t — luck.
I graduated with a 2.89 in 2014. I gave up after graduation. I worked for a couple years accepting I wasn’t going to make it with that GPA. Being a doctor was high hopes, but unrealistic, I thought. However, after floundering in a job I hated, I realized I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.
So I made a plan: fix my GPA, crush the MCAT, get extracurricular hours in things I’m passionate about that contribute to the greater good. I quit my job, went back to school, and used the knowledge and maturity I gained in the last two years to kill it in school. I used my first semester as I trial; could I handle it? Would I succeed in a more rigorous setting aka medical school? I managed a 4.0 taking 3 courses I’d previously done very poorly in. I found students who reminded me of me and taught them what I now knew — it’s better to put in the effort to succeed the first time rather than retrace your steps to fix your mistakes. I applied to and matriculated to a formal post bacc program, got to work as a scribe building relationships with doctors who would write me super good letters of rec, and volunteered in several hospital units, exposing myself to many facets of being a doctor in many different areas of practice. One year of post-bacc later and I had established 3 semesters and a summer of 4.0 GPA. Enough to bring my cGPA up to 3.2.. enough to get in somewhere. It wasn’t luck. It wasn’t because I’m special. It’s just because I really tried.
So by the end of the program I referenced back to my plan. GPA? Fixed (enough). Work experience? Established and passionate enough to talk about it. Volunteering? Same. Letters? Networked my ass off and made it happen. Next up? MCAT.
I studied so hard guys. For months. I looked up strats used by high scorers, resources they used too, whatever I could get my hands on to give me the best shot at this thing. I studied so hard and still felt unprepared, so I postponed my test. Know your limits. Know what you can handle. If you’re not ready, don’t jump.. get ready.. Six months after I had set out to take this monster of a test, I was ready. It was rough. It was the longest 8 hours of my life, but holy crap coming out of the test center afterward was like walking into heaven as a born-again Christian. The world was brighter, the colors more vibrant, the smell sweeter, and the wind cooler. And then the month long wait for scores. You’re going to go mad. You’re going to wish you’d nullified your test. But have faith that your study skills and effort will pay off. I got a 509. Not the best, but certainly good enough to get in. MCAT? Check. Next? Application.
The application is a bitch. A big ol’ bitch. BUT it’s your opportunity to show every school you apply to who you are and what you’re about. It’s so easy to get into this mindset of “I need to be who they want me to be”, but in all of my research (and trust me I’ve done enough for all of us) I’ve heard one idea repeatedly from admission committees: Just. Be. Yourself. Show them who you are, what you’re about, and why they should take a gamble on choosing you.. because with your academic history you are a gamble to them. So fill out your application, give yourself credit where credit is due but be humble about it, and show them who you are. In one of my secondaries I talked about how I’d miss the breakfast tacos my hometown is known for if I matriculated to their school. In my interview at this school I built rapport with my interviewers for over 10 minutes by just talking with them about breakfast tacos, and how different states have a different idea of what a breakfast taco is and how they’re all wrong because a breakfast taco is eggs/meat/and a flour tortilla rolled in foil. We didn’t talk about medicine.. we didn’t talk about why I chose to go on a medical mission to zimbabwe (which I didn’t do by the way.. they see right through that crap).. we talked about breakfast tacos and the differences between red chile and green chile and which is better. THEY WANT TO KNOW WHAT MAKES YOU UNIQUE, NOT WHAT MAKES YOU THE MOST WORTHY CANDIDATE. Just be you and let the chips fall where they may.
At another school I interviewed at we talked about fashion and tie choices and the statements they make for 15 of the 30 minutes set aside for individual interviews. Just be you, and let them fall in love with who you are instead of you trying to make them fall in love with who you think they want you to be.
So that’s my story. 2.9 to 3.2 to DO. Don’t give up hope. It isn’t luck that makes people like us successful. It’s realizing that we fucked up and realizing that perseverance, tenacity, and introspection/growth is a fundamental trait when it comes to being a doctor. If you want to be a doctor, you’re going through the training all ready. Don’t let it beat you. Pick yourself up out of the dirt, brush yourself off, make a plan with actionable goals that you can complete, and execute it flawlessly because you know you’re better than your GPA and because you know you can. Also, use people like myself as a guide for how to make it happen. There are things you can do to influence your outcome here, and by studying what others have done, you can come up with the right plan for you.
If you’re wondering what extracurriculars I had, I’m not going to tell you what they were.. they weren’t anything special, they didn’t make me stand out from the crowd. There was nothing about me that screamed this guy’s gonna make it because of his incredible journey. I was just your average white dude with a bad GPA, a plan, and the tenacity to see it through. And that can be you too. So don’t sweat the mistakes you’ve made.. just make sure you stop making them. Get it together and get to work.
I understand this won’t be applicable to most of you, but this is for that one guy who’s just googled “getting into med school with a 2.9 gpa” and is looking for a way out. The only way out is through hard work. There are no shortcuts, but you don’t need shortcuts. Dig in and make it happen. I believe in you.
TLDR: Graduated 2014 as ORM with 2.9 cGPA. Followed by 3 semesters and a summer of 4.0 post-bacc, both informal and formal, after 2 years of working in medical field. 509 MCAT. Standard ECs, research, work, and volunteering. Stellar letters from stellar people: 2 science professors, 2 ER doctors, and my research PI. Was true to myself on my application. Was true to myself in my interviews. Accepted to the class of 2023 at two schools. How? Made a plan. Executed the plan. If you want it, you can do it.