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What are my options for studying medicine if I have a low GPA?

What are My Options for Studying Medicine If I Have a Low GPA?

by , 18 October, 2023
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So, you’re applying for medicine but feel dragged down by a low Grade Point Average (GPA)? You’re not alone. Getting into graduate medicine is amazingly difficult, with far more applicants than there are places!

This isn’t helped by the huge variety of admissions criteria that the medical schools in Australia have. Therefore, a proper understanding of these criteria and how to use them to your advantage is essential for any applicant. If you have done some reading and have a feeling that your GPA may be a bit less than perfect, then it is even more important.

Below are some steps we suggest you take to study medicine if you have a low GPA:

Studying Medicine with a Low GPA Tip #1: Read the GEMSAS Guide

First off, the best place to get the most up to date information is the GEMSAS information booklet (GEMSAS is the body administering graduate medical admissions). Anyone applying to graduate medicine in Australia should make sure they read and understand this. We’ve also put together a useful medical school admissions guide here, with a great table that summarises admissions criteria and is updated year to year.

Studying Medicine with a Low GPA Tip #1: Understand How the Universities Look at GPAs

So how do the universities look at GPAs?Anchor

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If you are concerned about a low GPA, you should look at how each university views the GPA. While most universities do factor in the GPA in calculating who gets an offer, some universities, such as the University of Wollongong and University of Sydney, only use it as a hurdle. This means that, while you still need to achieve a GPA of 5.5 in the case of UoW and 5.0 in the case of USyd to be considered for a place, this will not go into the calculation of your ranking. Other factors fill the gap in this case, such as your GAMSAT and, in the case of UoW, a portfolio. That being said, do be aware that GPA is still used as a tie-breaker in these universities.

Another important thing to note, especially if you have a low GPA, is that some universities use ‘weighted’ and others ‘unweighted’ GPAs. Weighting of GPAs refers to the calculation in a way that puts more importance on more recently completed subjects, as follows: 

  • Final year uni results will be weighted by a multiple of 3

  • Second-to-last year uni results will be weighted by a multiple of 2

  • Third-to-last year uni results will be weighted by a multiple of 1

Here is an indicative list of how universities use weighted vs. unweighted GPAs (again, check the GEMSAS booklet for the most up-to-date information): 

  • Weighted: ANU, UNDS, UNDF, UOW (hurdle), Deakin, MQ, UQ (unique weighted calculation), UniMelb (unique weighted calculation)

  • Unweighted: USyd, Griffith, UWA

Note that the University of Melbourne is a case where the final and second year are weighted equally for a ratio of 2:2:1. The University of Queensland also has a unique system - The GPA for the UQ preference is calculated over the entire duration of the degree. This means that grades are not divided into years for a ‘count back’ assessment of the GPA. As a result, UQ’s GPA assessments are weighted by credit value of the subjects rather than the year in which the subjects were completed, making it more similar to an ordinary GPA. Weighted vs. unweighted GPAs are definitely something to keep in mind if you, say, had a bad year during your degree, as the choice of medical school can change the calculation of your GPA and hence your place in the rankings.

For anyone who has completed additional studies to a Bachelor’s, such as Honours, I would highly recommend also reading the specific criteria for each university in the GEMSAS guide, as this can alter your GPA calculation. Some universities, such as UWA, give an automatic GPA of 7.0 for anyone who has completed a PhD, and/or a small boost to your GPA if you have completed a Master’s Degree.

In addition to GPA and GAMSAT Exam results, some universities use portfolios to rank applications for interview. As mentioned before, this includes the University of Wollongong and also Notre Dame (Sydney and Fremantle). For Notre Dame, GPA is therefore only 33% of the criteria for interview offers, and for Uni of Wollongong, only a hurdle. This makes them a great option for applicants who have a lot of experience to demonstrate with a portfolio, but a low GPA.

For more information on this topic, check out our other article, What GPA do I need to get into Med School?

Studying Medicine with a Low GPA Tip #1: Understand Your Options

Okay, so what are the other options?

Many students have to travel interstate to study medicine, and you may find this unavoidable to pursue this career as well. This is obviously a challenging aspect of studying medicine, but you’ll find that you can discover so many opportunities and learn so much about yourself in a different location through such a move. Also, do remember that it’s to get that end goal of being a doctor, so it’ll be worth it!

But let’s talk about some other options available to you if you have legitimate concerns about your GPA in your current program – it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, and may reflect non-academic problems with your current studies, such as your life situation or a desire for a change in career, which is why you’re here in the first place!

You may need to look at additional studies in order to raise your GPA. To make a generalisation,  medical schools typically use your most recently completed Undergraduate/Bachelor's Degree (provided that it was completed in the last 10 years, though not all medical schools have this restriction) to calculate your GPA. However, certain medical schools also take into account postgraduate study. You can find a summary table on our website here. As mentioned earlier, depending on the university, completing an Honours year, Graduate Diploma, Master’s Degree, or PhD may all influence and raise your GPA. As such, you could consider completing a Master’s Degree over 2 years to improve your GPA. As always, I would recommend reading the most recent GEMSAS information booklet for specific details on how different postgraduate study is treated by different universities.

Your other option to think about completing another Undergraduate/Bachelor's degree. Remember, only the last three years of study are taken into consideration for the GPA calculations, so if you perform better over the next few years, your prior  performance might as well have never existed in the eyes of the admissions department. For example, if you are currently completing a Bachelor of Laws and you are achieving a 4.0 GPA – you could either see this degree out, or drop it altogether and join another degree that may be more suitable for you. Although it may be tough to see yourself studying another undergraduate degree for another 3 years, nowadays there are many older medical students, and many have multiple degrees and even careers under their belt before studying medicine. However, it may be prudent to study something that could at least get you a casual job whilst studying medicine, for example an allied health profession such as a pharmacist, physiotherapist, nurse, etc. The HECS pricing of different programs of study, and particularly the low cost of a nursing degree, are probably useful considerations as well.

Although these two options may seem quite limited, a low GPA is an issue that has come to many current medical students when they were trying to enter medicine. If you put in the hard work of improving your GPA using one of the methods discuss above now, it will pay off greatly later. In addition, having more experience maturity from doing additional studies is actually a huge advantage when entering medical school, as mature students are often highly respected in the clinical context, and bring diversity and a wealth of experience to their cohort.

I hope this helps and gives you some more information about what to do when you have a lower GPA. Remember – keep the dream alive and don’t get disheartened by something that can still be rectified!

As I’ve mentioned above, the majority of universities use a ‘combination score’ of GAMSAT® Exam results and GPA to consider your medical school application. Therefore, if your GPA is low, getting a good GAMSAT score is even more important. We have put together a comprehensive set of Free GAMSAT Preparation Materials to help you consolidate your GAMSAT® exam prep so that you can get that high score that you want!