The GPA is one of the most important parts of your medical school application and in combination with your MCAT, it will get your foot in the door of a medical school interview. You don’t need a 4.0 to be considered but aim as high as possible as it will only help you. My own GPA was 3.93 as my lack of work ethic and good study methods first year left me with a shaky foundation. I got it together however over the next 3 years of college and ended up with a 3.93. The methods and ideas below are based on those last three successful years and if you apply them throughout your four years in undergrad, you should be able to get a 4.0 or at least close to it.
1) GPA over Passion
There’s a very prevalent idea of “follow your passion” going around these days. The reality of the situation is that in your journey to become a doctor, you will have to do a lot of things you don’t like, and some you downright hate. Whether it’s right or wrong, it is a part of the process to check some boxes and keep it moving. Not every class you take in order to build up your GPA is going to be something you enjoy or are interested in. You need to choose classes you can get a higher grade in over classes that are more interesting but more difficult. The ideal scenario is that you are taking classes you enjoy and doing well in them. But when it comes down to choosing a class that you know you can get a 4.0 in vs a class you enjoy but will be tough to break a 3.5, choose your GPA. When medical schools look at thousands of applications, they won’t care how much passion and interest went into that GPA number. They want to see if you meet the cutoff or not. So choose you GPA over interest.
2) Seek upper year mentorship
Pre-med is a very hyper competitive, cutthroat environment but you can still find some good people to help you out. There are clubs and groups you can join or meet people through research labs that can help to guide you. Ask these upper years what classes they took, what they liked, what they didn’t. Don’t ask anyone about their grade but try and gauge the ease of the class based on what they are saying. Use resources like RateMyProf to make sure you can handle the class and the professor’s style. These same friends could one day be your mentors in medical school so make these connections early!
3) Pre-read and make notes
Most people in your premed program will not make it to medical school. That is the statistical truth. In order to make sure you’re on the right side of things, you have to do things other people are not willing to do and set yourself apart. Studying efficiently and diligently is very important to save time and learn effectively. The day before class, go over the slide decks for each lecture and make Anki flashcards on it. Then do these flashcards to end the study session. When you go to class, it will be the second time you are learning the material and reinforcing it. Now, you can pay attention to what the professor emphasizes or clues they give as to what will be on the exam rather than zoning out on the whole lecture. You can make additional flash cards on the emphasized topics and then do these cards the day of.
4) Make use of office hours
Most students don’t go to the professor’s office hours so make sure you do. This doesn’t mean go everyday and become annoying, but rather build a relationship. Go once in a while and confirm a concept with the professor that they taught. Be casual and have a conversation with them to get to know them and build that relationship. Through these visits, the professor can clue you in as far as the makeup of exams or the expectations on assignments to help you succeed. Building this relationship early will also set up a situation where you can join that professor’s research lab and ask for a reference letter down the road when it’s time to apply to med school. This was exactly what happened to me. I went to office hours to ask about an exam, and ended up having a 30 minute conversation with my professor about hockey after noticing a jersey on his wall. I ended up in his research lab and he ended up being one of my letter writers as well.
5) Make a schedule and stick to it
A lot of the premed process is just being disciplined and doing the things you don’t feel like doing. Every Sunday night, organize your week’s calendar and put in classes, volunteer activities, tasks, study time and stick to it. When you know what you’re up against and it’s written down, you are much more likely to succeed at it. There are so many things you have to balance in premed, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by not having a schedule. Make this weekly schedule on Sunday and then review it the night before each day. Then review it again at the end of each day to make sure you did everything you had planned for that day. If you’re going too many days without checking all your boxes, you may be spread too thin. Conversely if it’s too easy for you to do this stuff, may be look at adding more volunteering/ extra curriculars or just relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
6) Enjoy the process, take breaks
As long as you are doing the above diligently and sticking to it, you should be able to earn a great GPA. Because you are working more efficiently than others, you will have some extra time on your hands. Sometimes, it’s okay to enjoy yourself and not be productive. You are only young once so remember to enjoy it as well. Keep your goals and work first, but when you do have this elusive free time, remember to enjoy the process. Go to that party, explore a new hobby, get a couple drinks with your friends and take your mind off of med school for a bit. This will keep you going for the long run and prevent burnout.