GPA Trends – The Ups and Downs of Grades

Updated: Nov 28, 2019

You had a rough freshman year. But things improved later on. What are medical schools going to think?

They are provided with an overall view of your year-by-year GPAs, your overall GPA, and your science GPA. The combination of these will be used to determine if you are or are not likely to succeed in the high-stakes medical courses (this is often a “yes” or “no” question).

If you have a clear upward trend in your grades as you continued through school and classes got harder and the demands on your time increased, then that’s going to look good. Even if your freshman year was below average, the fact that your final year before applying was close to perfect will shine through. There’s little room to doubt that you’ll succeed in medical school if your only setback was 3 or more years ago as a freshman. Many of the more competitive medical schools will still want to see a high overall GPA, so going from a 2.9 to a 3.3 isn’t going to save your grades.

You got a C in Organic Chemistry (or some other infamously difficult science class). I have seen many students get accepted to allopathic medical schools with a C in organic chemistry. Take a deep breath, and move on.

The likelihood that a school will take a look at every single grade you received is very low.

A few schools outright ask in their secondary application if you’ve ever received a C and why. If that isn’t the case, just blow past the worry and focus on more important things. You don’t need to talk about it in your personal statement (please do not do that) or any other special section of your application.

Downward trends are not good. If the downward trend is small (3.9 to 3.8) but your GPA is still good, don’t worry too much.

If the downward trend is relatively significant (3.9 to 3.4), be honest with yourself. If your GPA is low enough (<3.5 or so) and you’re set on attending an MD school, consider a post-baccalaureate or masters program. Don’t retake old courses unless you got a C- or lower. Retaking old classes to buffer your GPA will look bad.


  • Upward trends are great

  • Getting a C in a class isn’t the end of the world

  • Downward trends are bad

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