If I get a C in a pre-med class, will it keep me out of medical school?

Most likely not. That said, you and I both know that you need to have a ridiculously high GPA to be accepted to most U.S. medical schools. If you have more than a couple of C’s in your core med school prerequisites, it will drag down your possibilities. Your science GPA is a crucial element admissions committees will examining when deciding whether you’re up to the rigors of medical school….or not! And a C in a pre-med class says “lazy” and “slacker.”

What about a D or an F?

One D or F on your university transcript—in non-essential classes—won’t necessarily sink you, but if it’s in one of your prerequisites classes, you’d better consider re-taking it. The initial grade won’t disappear from your transcripts, but re-taking it (and doing significantly better) will do two things: (1) bring your GPA up slightly, and (2) show adcoms that you’re up to the challenge of doing hard things.

If you had a terrible year and are hoping to overcome it, read my post on overcoming a disastrous freshman year. It can be done, but it will require 100% focus for the rest of your undergrad years.

Where to put your best effort

Many med school adcoms use your grade in Organic Chemistry as a harbinger of things to come in medical school, so that’s a good place to put your best effort. Other pre-med classes are considered more or less important, depending on the med school you want to attend. But cruising through any of your science classes is a bad idea, and will be something you regret later.

The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is getting (and staying) serious about your grades. It’s possible to get an A in Organic Chemistry, as we’ve covered in a recent post, and in every other class as long as you’re willing to pay the price: late nights, long study sessions and likely a few headaches along the way.

Especially for non-science majors, remember that the grades you receive in your science classes will have a much more dramatic impact on your science GPA, since you’ll take fewer classes to anchor it. So go ahead and burn the midnight oil on those Ochem and biology midterms and finals, because it will, indeed make a difference.

What are other red flags?

There are a few other potential problems you’ll want to avoid (or clean up) before you apply to med school. A W (Withdraw), FW (Failure to withdraw), D (Drop) or I (Incomplete) all have differing effects on how you’ll be viewed by adcoms. Check out my post on the subject. The bottom line is, you can avoid FWs by withdrawing before the drop deadline, and you can avoid Incompletes by completing the work you missed. Neither of those need appear on any pre-med transcript.

If your worst sin is one C in a pre-med class (or 2), it’s probably best to spend your time and effort beefing up your extracurriculars instead of retaking a class, since the effect on your GPA will be negligible. Take those dozens of hours you’d be sitting in class and spend them volunteering in clinical settings, shadowing doctors and doing research with your professors. Check out our post on the effect of EC’s on your application, and then get busy!

Here are some other helpful posts:

—Building your medical school resume during the summer

—Shadowing doctors: how to make the most of it

—Pre-med research: beginner’s guide