How to damage-control undergrad GPA?

Cheers all;

It’s wonderful to find this community! I’m in a rather unique situation, so I apologize for the length. The story sounds dramatic, and I’m a little uncomfortable for that reason, but it is relevant so please bear with me. Perhaps some of you may relate, so advice would be much appreciated.

I had a little too much fun in my first two years of college, and then took time off and had my daughter shortly before enrolling as a junior at UCLA. I did well there considering I was raising her alone (save part of one quarter), but unfortunately my overall undergrad GPA closed at about 2.8.

I was interested in eventually going to med school, but at that time responsibilities (and grades) prevented it, so I came back to TX and took a high-stress job. My only exposure to academia for the next several years was one intro chemistry at the local community college. I put the med school dream on the back burner in the interest of being “practical” and went about being a mom and manager.

Unfortunately, a severe accident threw a monkey wrench into things, and after extensive reconstruction (I’m still the “Tin Man” :wink: I had to relearn how to eat, write, walk, etc. Fortunately, I have recovered to the point that those who aren’t paying close attention might not even notice, and my functionality is such that aside from perhaps neurosurgery, I would not be at all impaired as an M.D. Naturally, that experience got me thinking of medicine from an entirely different position, but I again thought of my obligations and shoved the med school goal to the back corner of my mental “closet”.

As a still-single mom (the gentleman I’d planned to marry was killed in the same wreck), I went to graduate school for an MBA (there I go, trying to be practical again). I finished that last year with a 3.94 GPA, and have been volunteering in a variety of capacities, most importantly at the hospital. In addition, I help care for my parent who has a degenerative (and terminal) disorder, which will become more involving as time goes by.

Experiencing various health-related situations from a variety of perspectives has only reinforced my desire to become a doctor, and now that my daughter is a teenager, I may finally have an opportunity to pursue it. I’m scared to death, as I’ve spent several years ignoring that goal and listening to the negatives: “You’re too old” (I’m 34 now), “You have to think of others first”, “You can’t afford it”, and the worst, “You’ll never get in”. Those things may be true, but I don’t care. If I complete the classes, do the volunteer work, do well on the MCAT, and still don’t get in - fine. At least I’ll have done what I could to make it happen. It’s the not having tried that would haunt me.

Conditions being what they are, I will not be in a position to enroll for about 4 years when my daughter’s getting ready for college. That’s fine with me - I need to redo and/or complete most of the prerequisites (approx. 44 semester hours max), and have confirmed with the medical admissions office that they will accept courses completed at UT (Texas) Extension program. My plan is to take one course at a time while working and doing everything else, so that I can focus on keeping my grades up.

By the time I apply, I’ll have 500+ hours as an ER volunteer and Spanish fluency (useful in TX). If I can maintain a prerequisite GPA on par with my graduate work (3.9+) and score well on the MCAT, is it realistic to think I might have a shot at getting in? If absolutely necessary, I have time to take additional sciences (beyond the entrance requirements) to further boost my GPA. Unfortunately, we do not have a post-bacc program as I’ve seen mentioned in other threads, so my options there are limited.

Alternatively, Texas has a unique program called AFS (Academic Fresh Start) where, after 10 years out, you can do a second bachelor’s and have your GPA tallied totally excluding the first. The upside: shiny new GPA. The downside: redoing a whole new undergrad degree (it’s all or nothing - you can’t erase only certain courses and keep others). While that would obviously bring my GPA to a nicer place, it would require a good 2+ more years of school than just doing the standard med school prerequisites, and I’m not sure it would really be worthwhile, all other factors considered.

I’m not at all certain about which path to take here, and I would be so grateful for your thoughts.


Hello, and welcome

As I understand, one of the things that medical schools are coming to appreciate is the degree to which potential matriculants have overcome adversity. It sounds, to me, like you’ve met your fair share of challenges; I believe there is great strength in being able to say “I’ve been through worse.”

That said - as best I can tell, you’ve as great a shot of accomplishing your dream as any of us! Medical school is challenging; even getting into medical school, as we well know, is challenging. You’re not too old. Your grades are not too poor. If you truly want to do this, I believe that you can do this. That, I think, is all we can really ask of anyone.

Dr. Natalie Belle posts here often; she is a surgery resident and an excellent teacher, and she has a few years on you (I apologize if I shouldn’t be using your example in this way, Natalie). I’m a bit on the other side age-wise, and my GPA is less than yours - and I yearn to be a surgeon like Dr. Belle.

I don’t believe that medical schools would care about a program that claims to ignore your previous grades; they’ll consider everything. I don’t know whether they care about formal post-bacc versus informal “do what I need to do.” Are you truly dedicated to this path (and perhaps that’s not something tht need be answered immediately)? If so, I do believe that, come application time, you will have demonstrated the dedication that medical schools seek.

Hello, and thanks so much for your very encouraging reply!

The interesting thing about this community is that people come from so many different backgrounds, with a wide range of experiences. We’ve all met really great and not so great physicians, and one key element, in my experience, is empathy: the physician’s capacity to treat the person and not just the ailment. I believe I would be a much better doctor now than I might have if I’d gone straight from undergrad to med school.

The Academic Fresh Start program is part of state law, but only applies to students enrolling in TX public universities. I learned about it on the UT system med/dental site, which allayed any fears about legitimacy, but since it’s a TX state program I don’t know that it would count at all for applications to out of state schools.

All things considered, I’m inclined to just do the prerequisites through the UT extension program, and hope for the best. I’m a very different kind of student as an adult than I was as a teenager, and I hope that will be clear to admissions officers! I guess I just needed someone familiar with this situation to tell me I was not being ridiculously unrealistic to think I could do this, so again, thank you!

Hi -

First, welcome!

I’m pretty sure that the fresh start program does NOT carry over outside of Texas. So, when applying through AMCAS (the application service used by most of the rest of the allopathic schools in the country), your old grades would still be figured in your GPA. Even with a 2nd degree, you’re not going to raise your GPA significantly.

Now, that said, do whatever works best for you. MOST schools (MD and DO) will take into consideration your ENTIRE academic performance, and especially take note of recent upward trends and excellent performance. They don’t care if you take your classes through a formal post-bacc program or not, as long as you do well in the minimum required pre-reqs. There will, of course, be some schools that have minimum GPA cut-offs that will automatically reject you without looking at how you’ve done since you went back to school. Do your research ahead of time and avoid wasting money applying to those schools.

It can be done! Do a search for Old Man Dave’s story of how he overcame a GPA of 1.something and is now an anesthesiology resident. I had an undergrad GPA of 2.78 and was accepted to all five schools I applied to. My case was helped somewhat by the fact that I only took the bare minimum of math and science classes the first time around. So, when I returned to take the prereqs (ALL math and sciences) and did very well, I ended up with a Math/Science GPA of 3.96 postbacc and 3.8 cum. This, along with a decent MCAT score and background story of why I wanted to pursue medicine helped overcome my pitiful undergrad GPA which only improved to a 3.1 overall despite my recent excellent grades.

If you took limited amounts of math/science classes, you really only need to take the pre-reqs when applying to med school. If you took a bunch of the pre-reqs and did poorly the first time around, you may want to consider taking some upper level courses in addition to retaking the pre-reqs.

Another option, if you are hispanic (I’m assuming you are, please don’t be offended if you aren’t), is looking into programs designed to encourage minorities to enter medicine. Most of them are post-bac programs of different kinds, some of them with a place in medical school if you successfully complete the requirements of the program. Ohio State has a program called MedPath. My understanding is applicants have to have completed the pre-reqs and taken the MCAT with a minimum score of 24 or 25 (not sure on the MCAT minimum). If you are accepted to the program, you spend the next year taking courses designed to help you succeed in medical school (immunology, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, etc.) If you successfully complete the program requirements, you have a guaranteed seat in the next year’s M1 class.

Good luck!

Hi Emergency! -

Thank you for your very thoughtful and thorough response. I agree that the AFS program would probably not be the best course of action, for just the reasons you stated. I will just do the prereqs at a university, and since my undergrad math/science coursework was very limited, hopefully a strong performance will have a positive effect on my GPA.

I can’t tell you how much this site has helped and I’m so grateful for the advice! Coming from someone who’s actually lived it, it carries a lot more weight than whatever research or statistics I might have dug up on the web. Again, I appreciate it so much!