Applying to medical school - low GPA related to depression
I am nervous about applying to medical schools because I know my GPA is low. I have a 3.15 with one semester left. I haven't taken the MCAT yet but I'm hoping to get something around a 33. I am also hoping to pull my grades up to a 3.3 by the time I graduate. I have great extracurriculars, leadership positions, lots of research experience and am a second author on a publication that is currently under review. I had a rough time in college, between adjusting to the rigors of an ivy league school, the passing of a friend after a long battle with leukemia, and battling severe depression (unrelated to passing of friend, although it was a contributor) that required two hospitalizations. I am stable and fine now and am receiving treatment that has been helpful. I have one semester where I did well in all science classes, proving I do have the ability to succeed, but my other semesters were difficult for one reason or another. I can technically explain my poor performance, but I don't want to sound like I'm making excuses and I don't want to divulge too much information because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. What is a good way to explain these issues and still remain competitive? I can definitely write strong essays that display my passion for medicine, but I know that my numbers are holding me back. I am applying to masters programs in order to boost my GPA since I am taking time off after graduation. If those don't pan out, I'll most likely get a lab tech job. Besides working hard to score well on the MCAT and raise my grades, what are your suggestions as to what I should do? And would doing a masters or getting a lab tech job be more productive for med school applications? Thanks for your input.
You seem to have a very good grasp of the challenges you are facing. As to the easiest question, I think possibly getting a masters would be better in your situation as opposed to a lab tech job purely from the standpoint of showing you are capable of doing well in science classes. Normally a masters degree doesn't add much to an application, but if your limiting factor is GPA due to situational issues in college, then proving you can get good grades would seem to strengthen your application. The only advantage of being a lab tech would be if you work with someone who has connections in the medical school and would make a personal recommendation to the admission's committee. So many medical school applicants have research experience, and it seems as if you already have a decent amount yourself. More research experience isn't likely to make or break your application.
If you do well on your MCAT (which really is a bit of an unknown until you take the test), that will obviously also be a big positive in your circumstances, as it will support your explanation of why you did not do as well in college as you could have.
Being a good writer will definitely help you out on your application as you do have some delicate issues to explain. I think if you are able to discuss issues about losing a friend to leukemia, that alone can go a long way to both explaining why you may have had trouble maintaining your grades as well as showing that you have some experience with severe medical illnesses.
Explaining why your grades were not good combined with showing you are capable of doing well should definitely help. I have never been on an admissions committee, but based on what I've heard and read, there are situations like yours where bad grades during part of your college experience is not a complete deal breaker.
As for the severe depression issue - that is probably the most challenging. First and most importantly, you should discuss with your psychiatrist his/her opinion about how the stress and sleep schedules of medical school/residency will affect your depression. This also could be an opportunity to get your psychiatrist's opinion about how to strengthen your application, if you are comfortable asking. Ensuring your psychiatric stability is crucial to success in any field, but particularly in the medical field.
I really don't have a good answer as to whether you should disclose in your application that you were hospitalized for severe depression. It is unfortunate that I can't say with certainty that schools will be understanding. The truth is that there are still some people, even in the medical field, who don't understand mental illness. I would hope that most members of admission's committees and people involved in academic medicine would be aware and understanding but I really don't know if that is the case. If you ultimately decide you are interested in pursuing psychiatry, I would definitely expect most psychiatry residency programs to be sensitive to the issue and supportive of making necessary accommodations to keep you healthy.
I think if your application is good enough without disclosing the depression issue, you may be best off to not mention it in the application. It may be possible to write about it in such a way that works. It seems like you are aware the pros/cons of discussing the issue. If it winds up being the best way to explain why you didn't do well in college and also explains why you can now succeed in medical school, then discussing the challenges of suffering through a severe depression could work to your advantage.
Thank you very much for posting your question here. It definitely has been one of the most thought provoking questions I've come across in a while. My suggestions are purely my opinion as I don't think there is a clear best way to approach this. I think you should discuss this with other trusted individuals who know your situation.
Thank you so much for your response. It really means a lot to me that you took careful time to address each issue. I guess it is clear that I have a lot of things I need to discuss and think about. My psychiatrist and I have talked about what the rigors of medical school could do to my depression, but he seems confident that I'll be able to handle it, especially since everything is under control and I am finding coping mechanisms that work really well for me. It is unfortunate that it is not entirely clear whether medical school admissions committees will be receptive to an applicant that struggled with severe depression, but I think it is the only way to explain my grades in school without sounds extremely vague and wishy washy.
Thank you again for the advice. Hopefully things will work out in the end.
Hi Im going through a similar situation and would love to hear whether you chose to discuss your depression on your assay or left it out and whether you were able to get in.