The medical school admissions process is extraordinarily competitive. Premed undergraduates must work hard and strive to achieve a GPA of 3.5 or higher to get accepted into a top-tier program, admissions officials say. Premed students…
The medical school admissions process is extraordinarily competitive. Premed undergraduates must work hard and strive to achieve a GPA of 3.5 or higher to get accepted into a top-tier program, admissions officials say. Premed students should aim to earn A’s and B’s in science courses, since grades in those classes will be closely scrutinized to gauge whether students are academically prepared for medical school, according to admissions officials.
“We tend to look at the science grade point average,” says Christina Grabowski, the associate dean for admissions and enrollment with the School of Medicine at University of Alabama–Birmingham. “So, whether you’re a psychology major or a business major or a biology major, we are going to look at how you did in science coursework specifically.”
When medical school admissions officers look at an applicant’s transcript, what they are looking for is evidence the student is capable of handling the onerous academic workload in medical school, Grabowski says. “If we determine someone can’t do the work academically, it doesn’t matter what else they bring to the table, because they have to be able to make it through medical school to be a physician,” she says. “However … they don’t need to have a 4.0.”
While perfect grades are not required for medical school admission, premeds “would want to be in the mid-3.0 range and higher to feel relatively competitive,” Grabowski says. Still, it is possible to get into medical school with a mediocre or low GPA. When medical school hopefuls look up the average or median GPA of admitted students at a particular medical school, they should keep in mind that there are people admitted to that school with a GPA below that number, she says.
McGreggor Crowley, an admissions counselor at the IvyWise admissions consulting firm, says it is rare for premed students to have perfect grades. “A perfect GPA is challenging to get, regardless of the school the student attends,” Crowley wrote via email. “This means that the student has had to get all A’s in her own major, along with A’s in all premedical prerequisites, which is a pretty big deal.” Crowley says that any GPA above a 3.8 qualifies as excellent.
Admissions statistics from U.S. medical schools show that these schools tend to have high academic standards. All of the ranked schools in the U.S. News 2019 Best Medical Schools rankings reported the median GPA among their entering students in fall 2017 as 3.4 or higher on a 4.0 grading scale. The average median GPA among these schools was 3.72.
Among the top 10 primary care medicine programs, the average median GPA for entering students was a 3.78, and among the top 10 research-focused medical schools, the average median GPA was 3.87. There are also several medical schools where the median GPA was higher, an impressive 3.93, including Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and NYU School of Medicine.
David Lenihan, CEO of Ponce Health Sciences University, which has campuses in both Puerto Rico and Missouri, says med school admissions officers like to see a GPA that is 3.5 or above.
“Generally, you want to be north of a 3.5 in a competitive major,” Lenihan, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience, wrote in an email. “However, [a college] GPA is not a great metric for whether or not a student will succeed in medical school. You might have taken exceptionally difficult classes, or had a hard time adjusting in your freshman year. So while above a 3.5 is still the unofficial national standard, many medical schools are getting wise to the idea that you can find great candidates who don’t meet that threshold.”
Lenihan says that medical school admissions officers tend to be impressed by high GPAs among students who majored in notoriously difficult disciplines, such as physics. He adds that premeds who have lackluster college grades should attempt to demonstrate their academic potential in other ways. “Find an alternative way to prove that you can handle the rigors of medical school,” he says. “You could highlight the especially difficult course load you took, talk about the jobs that you had to work during your undergrad years to support yourself, or enter a competitive post-bac program where they leverage the first year of medical school curriculum.”
Grabowski says her admissions team does not prefer science majors, but that they do seek students who performed well in their medical school prerequisite courses.
“We don’t discount someone who doesn’t have a science degree…We enjoy having people with.. all different educational backgrounds in our class,” she says. “The more diverse we can have of a class in terms of training and experiences, the more they can teach one another,” she adds. However, Grabowski emphasizes that “all students need to complete a prerequisite study in sciences so they have the right foundation.”
Once admissions officers decide that an applicant is academically qualified, other factors besides academics, such as research or clinical experience, are considered, Grabowski says.
Crowley says that medical school admissions officers pay attention to whether applicants took academically rigorous courses. Admissions officers also take into account the strict grading systems at certain undergraduate programs. “In general, the admissions officers have a gestalt of which schools are a bit tougher and which schools are a bit easier,” he says. “They also know that there are many routes through the same major at the same college, some easier than others. If they see a risk-averse student coasting by, but another student in the same institution is taking a more challenging course load and a slightly lower GPA, they’ll usually gravitate towards the applicant who challenges herself.”
Dr. Luz Claudio, a tenured professor with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the author of “How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide,” warns that signing up for easy A college classes isn’t the best strategy for improving your odds of admission. “I see that students sometimes take relatively easy courses to raise their overall GPA, but if their science grades are still low, this may not help them enter med school,” she wrote in an email.
“Another thing that students wanting to go to medical school may consider is doing medical research internships, especially if those lead to publication in good peer-reviewed research journals,” Claudio says. “Published papers coupled with spectacular letters of recommendations and excellent MCAT scores can sometimes propel a student who is on the borderline to get into medical school.”