“Should I explain bad grades in my med school personal statement?”

A common question I hear often from college students applying to medical school:

“Way back in Freshman/Sophomore year of college, there were a few semesters where my GPA really stunk. I’m talking 2.5 or lower. Should I explain why I got those bad grades in my personal statement? Do medical schools want to hear why I got poor grades?”

The short answer: Almost always, no!

Your personal statement for medical school should be a triumphant declaration touting the reasons why you will be an extraordinary doctor, and why you’re the best candidate for the position. Most of the time, discussions of past bad grades come off as a whining rationalization for poor study habits.

If your overall GPA is adequate, let your grades stand for themselves and use the personal statement to show medical schools how you discovered your motivation to become a doctor, and how you confirmed that motivation with extracurricular experiences.

Explain bad grades in “Additional Information,” not your personal statement

As always, there are exceptions. If your poor grades were due to severe illness or other extraordinary circumstances, you can get away with devoting a small portion of your personal statement to a brief explanation. Don’t portray yourself as a victim, and emphasize that you were able to overcome the adversity and quickly move on to other activities that inspired you to become a doctor.

The best option, if you absolutely insist on explaining bad grades, is to take advantage of the “Additional Information” section of the medical school application. In the additional information section, you can include a very brief (a bullet-point list is fine) explanation for your poor grades.

Don’t be a victim, and don’t whine. In the “Additional Information” section of the medical school application, simply state the reasons for your poor grades in plain terms. For example, “I was hospitalized for three weeks after a serious car accident, and was unable to attend class.” Or, “I had to travel to South America for a family tragedy and could not complete my midterms.” Plain, simple, no whining. Just the facts.

Check out our free medical school personal statement samples to see what kind of content successful premeds in the past included in their personal statements.

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