As you start getting ready to apply to med school, it’s a good idea to request a copy of your transcript from your undergraduate school or schools. You probably already know your GPA, but looking at your entire undergraduate education on a single piece of paper will definitely give you a different perspective.

Naturally, a solid GPA is essential when applying to med school, but admissions committees look at more than just that one number. They look at all your grades, especially in those classes that matter most to med schools. If you have even one poor grade, it can stick out like a sore thumb on your transcript.

While you can’t change your transcript, you have some options to try to remedy this kind of problem. For example, if you got a bad grade in a freshman chemistry class, but you’ve since gotten good grades in chemistry and a good score on the Physical Sciences section of your MCAT, you can simply try to explain the bad grade to the admissions committee in an optional essay.

However, if the problem is worse than one bad grade, you may need to take more extensive measures. For example, if you never mastered any of your chemistry classes and got only an average score on the Physical Sciences portion of your MCAT, you might want to take additional steps to show med school admissions committees that you can handle the subject.

One option is to create an alternate transcript – in other words, take an additional course or courses at a local college or university or even online. You can take the courses on a credit or non-credit basis.

This can help lessen the damage on your original transcript in a couple of ways. First, you can show the admissions committee that you can get a good grade and master the subject in question. Second, you can demonstrate your determination and dedication by going the extra mile to prove you’re a good candidate for medical school.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. If you have poor grades and a low GPA, an alternate transcript won’t provide a miracle cure. However, if your grades are otherwise good and you have just a couple that you wish you could improve, an alternate transcript can help you be more competitive when applying to med school and improve your candidacy with an admissions committee.

But before taking on additional courses, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is the class at an advanced enough level to compensate for my poor grade(s)? Getting an A in an introductory chemistry class won’t show an admissions committee that you can handle the subject at a graduate level.
  • Is the class credible? Make sure you take a course that an admissions committee will see as credible. Be prepared to give specific information about the subject matter covered in the class, as well as the teacher’s qualifications and standards.
  • Will the class provide any benefits other than an alternate transcript? Before dedicating the time and money to additional coursework, think about whether what you learn will actually help you in your future studies.

While an alternate transcript won’t save you from a slew of bad grades, it can give you that little boost you need to compensate for an isolated poor performance here or there. If you do decide to pursue an alternate transcript, make sure you do well in the class or classes. The whole point is to show you can clear the initial academic qualifications hurdle, i.e. handle the subject in question and prove you have the motivation and dedication to succeed.

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