You Are More Than A Single Grade, Single Semester, or Year

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Session 455

Our student today is in her 30s and wants to go to med school but after calculating her GPA at, she’s concerned her grades will hold her back.

As you listen to this, hopefully, you get to internalize the fact that you are more than a single grade. You are more than a single semester. You are more than a single year. And her story definitely resonates with a lot more people than just nontraditional students.

For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[01:57]  The MCAT Minute

The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT.

Part of that self-doubt that we talk about all the time that is associated with the MCAT. Unfortunately, unlike grades where you can just take more and more classes for the most part, AAMC limits you to only seven tests in your lifetime.

'Unfortunately, unlike grades where you can just take more and more classes for the most part, AAMC limits you to only seven tests in your lifetime.' Click To Tweet

Now, only a few of you out there will ever take the MCAT seven times, thankfully. Hopefully, you only have to take the MCAT one time.

But there are many students who plan to take the MCAT more than once, with the first time being a test run. And I highly discourage that sort of mentality when it comes to the MCAT.

You only want to take it once. But if you need to take it multiple times, you can only take it three times a year, four times in two years, and seven times in a lifetime.

For more amazing free information and content, check out Blueprint MCAT. Get access to their free half-length diagnostic and a free full-length exam, as well as an amazing online study planner tool that you can customize to your heart’s desire. And now, they’ve got 1,500 plus flashcards.

[06:11] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

“I’m in my early thirties and have been taking courses, volunteering, and getting shadowing hours for the past few years while working FT in my current career. I felt like I was on the winning side of this journey. My postbac GPA is a 4.0 and the experiences I have had so far have only confirmed my belief that I want to go into medicine. I will be taking my MCAT next spring and applying to med school next spring. 

Now, backtrack to my undergrad from over 10 years ago. I have a bachelor’s and master’s in business. I was a decent student that got some A’s and B’s. But the summer after my freshman year, I experienced some tragic events and didn’t really have the resources to cope. I withdrew from some classes in the summer semester. In the following fall and spring semester, I experienced depression and simply didn’t attend my classes. I have two semesters of F’s sprinkled with a few withdrawals.

I was put on academic probation/suspension for a semester, got the help I needed, and came back stronger than before, back to getting A’s and B’s, but this time more A’s. Now, I knew that this would affect my GPA when I applied to med school. But I didn’t anticipate it affecting my GPA greatly, or affecting my science GPA at all. 

Today, I put my entire length of coursework into Mappd and I am feeling extremely discouraged. My overall GPA is 3.17, and my overall science GPA is 3.35. My science GPA was affected because one of the courses I took in my undergrad was Survey of Calculus. And this is one of the courses I withdrew from and had an F in twice during my very bad year in college. I can’t explain how discouraging this feels. 

When I think of being compared to other traditional students with a 3.17 – 3.35 GPA, it feels unfair. Because I am currently a 4.0 GPA student. I am more mature and have developed beyond my struggles, and the level of success I attained back then.

I’m unsure how to proceed. Should I delay my application by a year and take more classes to improve my GPA? I really don’t want to do this, because I am a nontrad in my thirties and want to maximize my career length as a doctor. 

I also did some “scenarios” in Mappd, seeing how much I could bring my GPA up with additional coursework, and the change was very minimal. It seems like I would have to take several semesters of classes to make a significant difference. 

Am I going to get screened out of some school automatically based on my GPA? Is there any way to avoid this through contacting ADCOMs before applying. Or how do I include an explanation of my prior performance into my application? It seems like the only place for this would be my personal statement. And I don’t want to veer off of what is important to discuss.

For some background info, I am a married female in my early thirties. My husband and I hope to have kids sometime in the near future. At this point, the plan until I get into and begin med school is for me to continue working in my current career FT in anticipation of the cost that med school will be and the fact that only one of us will be working to support us.”

[09:26] Number of Credits is Important

This is probably the most common scenario that I see among nontraditional students who struggle early on in their coursework. Now for this student, it was about a year out of all of their coursework that’s setting them back. 

Another one of the things students love about using Mappd is just seeing all the GPAs in the graph, and seeing the trends and potentially what medical schools will see.

This student is concerned that her one year or so of bad grades is going to prevent her from going to medical school. She’s afraid she’s going to be compared to all of the “traditional” students who didn’t have a bad year or a bad semester.

'Medical schools have the ability to see everything. And so students who fear a lower GPA, even though they have a great upward trend with a 4.0 postbac.'Click To Tweet

The one thing I would have loved to see here is the number of credits for the postbac because that will tell me an increased trend. It sounds like junior and senior year were good as well. And there’s even more coursework there in her postbac.

The denominator of this math equation is so big that the more credits you add to try to improve your GPA, you’re not going to improve it much. 

[12:00] Different Schools Manipulate Data Differently

At some point, you have to ignore your GPA. You just have to just put your blinders on and ignore that number when you are a student in this specific situation. When you have a semester or two semesters with F’s sprinkled throughout, your GPA is not going to be good. That’s just the way math works unfortunately.”

And so, as you go through this process, you’re allowed to make mistakes. You don’t want to make mistakes, but you’re allowed to make mistakes. 

“One year does not define you, one semester does not define you, one course does not define you.”Click To Tweet

If you look at admissions policies throughout the country, every medical school will do something different with a student.

Back in Episode 288 of The Premed Years Podcast, the Director of Admissions at University of Illinois, Chicago, Dr. Leila Amiri. And she says that as an admissions committee, they have the ability to subtract out a whole year of your GPA. They understand that life happens. And they don’t want one bad year to define your whole application. 

And so, at the University of Illinois, Chicago, they have the ability to recalculate your GPA with your worst GPA removed that whole year, just gone. And with your GPA recalculated, it will completely change the outlook of your ability to go to University of Illinois, Chicago.

There are other schools out there that do this but just note that every school has something different. Other schools have a last 20-science credits rule. That’s how they calculate your GPA. There are other schools that are the last 60 credit hours overall, graduate and undergrad. That’s how they calculate your GPA.

'Every school can do something different to manipulate the data.'Click To Tweet

[15:50] There’s Hope!

At the end of the day, time heals all wounds. So 4.0 postbac GPA is phenomenal. But if it’s only five credits, that doesn’t mean anything. If it’s 10 credits, probably not enough. If you have 20 credits, you’re getting closer. If you have 30 or 40 credits of a postbac GPA at a 4.0 GPA, then great.

On top of what it sounds like having a junior and senior year where you were also relatively successful, that will overshadow your bad year.

There will be plenty of schools that will reject you. But there are plenty more out there that will give you an opportunity to explain what happened. And they’ll do that usually in secondary essays.

[16:50] Where to Explain Academic Struggles

Typically, if a medical school wants to know about struggles academically, they’ll ask it in their secondary essays. As you are filling out your application, you probably don’t need to put it in your personal statement.

And the far majority of students that I talked to who have gone through similar situations who end up interviewing at medical schools don’t get questions about it. At the end of the day, you’ve proven academic capability by doing well finishing out your undergrad. Hopefully, you’re also doing well in your master’s program, and then crushing your postback with your 4.0 GPA.

Finally, as you’re looking at those numbers in Mappd, ignore the numbers. You have done a lot already to continue to move forward to overcome that bad year that you’ve had. And as you continue forward, keep doing that.

Understand that the story that you put forward, showing that dip in grades and then overcoming is a huge win already for medical schools. That will give them the confidence that if and when you struggle in medical school, you’ve already had to overcome to get to where you are now. Hopefully, that gives them some reassurance that you’re going to overcome again.


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