Chapter 1. There are no absolutes in the admissions process.
Well here we are again at the end of the school year, and the TOADS’ inboxes are flooded with “oh crap, I got a C” questions once more.
Since we are all tired of answering these questions, I’ve decided to make the ultimate guide for bad grade advice. So here goes.
So you got a bad grade. Bad for you may be a B+ or C-. Frankly, the number doesn’t matter to me. What matters is your first step. You can:
A) Have a panic attack because your mind automatically jumps to seeing you living in a cardboard box with $500K in student loan debt because hey, with that grade there’s no way you can ever be a doctor and if you can’t be a doctor you might as well give up on all your dreams, right? (Proceed to Chapter 1, entitled “Calm Yo Tits”).
B) Tell yourself the grade is ok because dangit, regardless of grades you are getting into med school because it’s your destiny (Proceed to Chapter 2, entitled “Reality Check”).
C) Beat yourself up about the grade for 5 minutes and then enjoy your summer, after which you will start the semester fresh and ready to study harder (Proceed to chapter 3, entitled “Good Thing You’re Not a Gunner”).
D) Ask yourself “what would WayfaringMD/Cranquis/TNQD/md-admissions do in this situation?” (Proceed to chapter 4, entitled “The Not-So Omniscient Blogger”)
E) Immediately sign up to retake every class you’ve ever taken. (Proceed to Chapter 5, entitled “I owe the Government my Left Kidney”)
F) Blame the grade on your semester of depression / your crappy roommate / your home stressors / whatever (Chapter 6, “Blame it On Milli Vanilli”)
Chapter 1: Calm Yo Tits
Seriously, calm thyself. One bad grade is not the end of the world. Everybody struggles at something. Maybe you’re bad at that subject. Maybe you had other reasons for screwing up. Doesn’t matter. Hakuna Matata. You gotta put your behind in your past. Yep, you’ll have to work harder to bring up your GPA next semester, and you may even need to retake a class, but one bad grade or one bad semester doesn’t have to end it. Geez, if everyone gave up after one failure, we wouldn’t have most of the cool stuff we have today, like vaccines and Viagra and iPhones and sriracha flavored chips. Part of being a doctor is using your mistakes and shortcomings to motivate you to do better.
Chapter 2: Reality Check
Sure, one bad grade is usually not a big deal. (See Chapter 1). But a pattern is different. Everyone thinks they are special enough to be the kid who got into med school with a 3.2 GPA and a 22 MCAT because of their outstanding extracurriculars and shining personality. Our mamas tell us we’re special and we can always achieve our dreams. Well let’s just get real for a moment. If you’re continually struggling to get through undergrad and are making “minimally acceptable” grades, then you might not be able to handle the pace of medical school.
Chapter 3: Good Thing You’re Not a Gunner
Way to be, you anti-gunner, you! You know that your life is not over. You understand that you are not defined by the letters on your transcript or by the ones after your name. Hey, why don’t you go on vacation? Get a job. Volunteer. Change the world a little. Don’t sit in the library and agonize over every missed test question. Hey, if your next class builds on the one you bombed, maybe you should do some reading over the summer and brush up on the concepts you’re rusty on. But don’t get crazy. Just try harder the next time around. Change your study habits and methods. Get a tutor. Give up Facebook (or heaven forbid, Tumblr!) for a few weeks. Find a study group. Better grades are possible.
Chapter 4: The Not-So-Omniscient Blogger
See now, that’s where you went wrong. Because as cool as we are, the TOADS do not know you, your school, or your individual situation. But you know who does? Your school’s pre-med advisor. Or your upperclassman mentor. Or your favorite professor. Or your academic advisor. These people already know your issues (or at least know you better than we gray-faces do). They understand the requirements at the schools you are interested in. When you ask us whether you should retake a class or change your major or whatever, we’re going on generalizations when we answer you. We can’t give you a tailored, personalized response like the advisors who know you can. So next time, read this post and then go ask them.
Chapter 5: I Owe The Government My Left Kidney
Retaking classes can be good or bad. What matters is why you are retaking the class. If you did poorly in a class that you will need to really understand before proceeding forward, then by all means, you should probably retake it so you don’t bomb the next one too. But if you’re retaking based solely on the GPA numbers game, I think it’s kind of silly. Also, retaking 1, maybe 2 classes is ok, but if you’re getting into more than that, well… see Chapter 2.
Chapter 6: Blame it On Milli Vanilli
Life can be hard. I know this. And difficult life circumstances can certainly lead to problematic grades. But this should not be the theme of your personal statement. Don’t go through 4 years of college with terrible grades and then ask an admission committee to look past them because you had some hard times in your life. Sure, it makes for a great story, but how do they know if you can handle the huge emotional/financial/intellectual challenge that is medical school? Instead, take some time off if you need to. Put school on hold, get your life together, and start fresh. Show the AdComs that you were strong enough to not only get through the hard times, but to thrive on the other side.
I’m pretty sure it shows grades (honors, pass/fail) for each rotation (3rd and 4th year) and overall grades for each subject, not individual test grades. It’s like a college transcript. Just shows the grade for the overall class. My school was pass/fail but also gave numeric grades for ranking and transcript purposes. But for us all that mattered was 65, stay alive.
any suggestions, advice, commentary for a first year med student who struggled/failed-to-adapt-quickly enough and made several C’s and is scared for the future! (in addition: want to do family med and try to do other things outside of school to spice up resume, was straight A till med school, etc.) - anon
I’ve written a whole bunch about what to do after getting bad grades. The big thing to do is figure out your weak points, or figure out what modes of studying you were using that weren’t working, and try your best to correct them. Get outside help from a tutor, study group, an advisor, or even an upperclassman who can advise you.
As for spicing up an application for family medicine: FM residencies love seeing commitment to community, so all community service looks great, especially projects involving public health or health education. Free clinics are excellent places to do some volunteering and spice up your CV. They often have patient education workshops, local research opportunities, and of course they serve underserved populations. Check the NAFC website to see if there are any near you. Also check the Society of Student Run Free Clinics website to learn how to start one in your community. Other good opportunities for community service include tutoring science or math at local schools or doing a big brother/big sister type program.
ummm…. like a lot.
Believe it or not, you will forget about your undergrad grades, and it won’t take that long. I honestly don’t know exactly how many B’s I made. If I had to guess I’d say probably 6 or 7? And 3 C’s! I do remember my first B though. It was my first semester of freshman year in general chemistry. I was SUPER proud of that B+ because I worked my tail off for that 88. Same goes for one of the C’s.
Don’t worry about the B+, anon. If you did your best, be proud. If not, figure out what changes you need to make to do better next time.
Hey Doc! So I just took my pharm final today and I know I failed it and failed the class as well because I haven’t been doing well. Have you ever failed a class in med school? How did you deal with it? I feel so incompetent. I just need someone to tell me HOW TO STUDY and LEARN/RETAIN the material. I’m not stupid right? It will get better right? Am I going to kill my patients or be jobless.. I also feel like I forgot my anatomy and biochem…what am I doing in med school!? –Anon
The short answer to “has WayfaringMD ever failed a class” is yes. My school was weird and our subjects were taught longitudinally throughout the year rather than in semester blocks, so you were required to pass each subject for the year overall. If you failed, you had to remediate the subject. I ended up failing 2 subjects by a narrow margin and had to remediate them before I could take Step 1.
How to deal with failing? Hakuna matata. The fail is already done. You can’t change it, so don’t get down about it or stress over it. Just focus on doing better on your second time around. Change your study habits and techniques. Try something different, because clearly what you did before wasn’t working. However, don’t fall into the trap of spending ALL your time on your “bad” subjects and neglecting your “good” subjects, because you will find your overall grades dropping. Just because you didn’t fully grasp pharmacology on your first go-round doesn’t mean you won’t get it eventually. Remember, medicine is a lifelong learning process. Keep working at it, and one by one the concepts will come to you.
Definitely don’t retake it! There’s absolutely no need to do that. Move on! There are more things to learn! If you had a C or D, then maybe yes, but not a B. Don’t believe the Student Doctor Network gunners’ lies that you have to have a 4.0 to get into medical school. The occasional B is fine.
My first B ever was in freshman chemistry, and I’m not gonna lie, it hurt. But I got over it. FAST. Because the next year brought forth a new demon called Organic Chemistry, a class in which I prayed regularly to be lucky enough to get a B in.
And consider this: how much more are you going to learn by retaking the course? And how much will you lose by retaking it (hello, college ain’t cheap!)? You probably won’t gain much from redoing it, and overall it will slow down your college experience. And what if you get a B in your next class? Will you retake everything you get less than an A in? That kind of perfectionism actually would probably hinder your acceptance to medical school.
I think it looks about the same as retaking the class after a bad grade. I’m not sure though. Generally when they see a class has been withdrawn and re-taken, they’ll ask you why you had to withdraw (or there will be a spot on your app to explain any blips on your transcript). Withdrawing because of family issues, health problems, etc, is seen differently as withdrawing because of a grade. Of course, no one has to know you weren’t doing well unless you tell them that.
Basically, if you can get through the class and work hard and pull up the grade, it will look better than withdrawing and re-taking. But sometimes withdrawing can’t be avoided.
I’ve gotten quite a few messages in my inbox requesting private answers to questions that boil down to something like the one below. The specific numbers don’t matter that much for the purposes of answering the question.
23. I have excellent extracurriculars, but my grades are so-so and my MCAT isn’t great. Do I have a chance?
In case I haven’t conveyed it effectively in the past, let me take a moment to reiterate…
MED SCHOOL IS HARD.
Extracurriculars are great, but they are extras. Icing on the cake. Yes, you need them (to have a desirable cake), but they are not the basis of your application to medical school (otherwise you’d be all icing and you’d give someone diabetes…). Extracurriculars can help give a boost to mediocre numbers (like rich chocolate icing on a dry boxed yellow cake), but they can’t really stand on their own.
The goal is not to GET IN to medical school. The goal is to GRADUATE from medical school. Amirite? If you hope to get through, you need a solid foundation to build upon.
Now y’all know I hate talking numbers, but the truth is that they DO matter. I’m not here to set minimum standards for medical school applications — most med schools have already done that — I’m just sayin, be realistic. Check out the schools you’re applying to. Your scores need to be at or above their average if you want a good chance of getting in there. Yes, people with lower scores get in, but don’t hope to be the exception. Try to be the rule.
If you are in such a situation, what can you do to improve your numbers?
You do not need to get straight A’s to get into medical school. The world isn’t going to end because you got a B in something. I got a B in Biochem 1 and 2, and a B - in molecular genetics. Further more, I scored less than 30 on MCATs. Life goes on. Relax.
I got C’s in organic 1 &2 and Physics 1, and less than 30 on the MCAT. And I got in too.
Ugh, the numbers game.
First off, 38 out of 603 puts you in the top 10%, which is great, actually. So don’t worry about that ranking.
Second, everyone is bad at something. For me, it was physics and organic chemistry. For you, it’s math. So what? Yes, there’s a little bit of math required to be pre-med, but there’s very little math on the MCAT and very little in actual medical school. So don’t let one shaky class keep you from trying to achieve your goal. If you want to be pre-med, be pre-med. Don’t set set yourself up to lose before you even start playing, though.
Probably. Most of us were in the tops of our classes. I was third in a class of 128.
I don’t know!
A 33 is nothing to be ashamed of, that’s for sure! But I have no idea what Harvard, Columbia, or Hopkins require. By long shot I really was thinking more like someone with a 17 applying all over, or someone with a 2.0 GPA. That score would make it nearly impossible to get in anywhere. But someone with a 33 can surely get in to medical school if they apply at the right places.
See, this is why I hate discussing numbers.