C is for Cookie…but is it Good Enough for Me?

Sesame Street meets Aida in this epic meditation on the “C.”  Cameo by the blue monster himself at 2:37.

A new year and semester are upon us!  Judging from the crowded waiting areas at Career Services, many of you are taking stock and planning for the future.  Part of this process may be making peace with the past.  If you’re a premedical student then you probably know what I’m getting at.  That “C” from freshman year.  Maybe those grades in physics.  Perhaps you’ve been moving along the premedical path for a while, feeling that your grades aren’t quite strong enough.  Rather than fretting about the less-than-stellar aspects of your GPA, or denying that they exist, we at Career Services invite you to take a square look at them.  Many premedical students find it very helpful to come in for an appointment and talk about their concerns.

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about grades that you may find helpful.

A single “C” on your transcript is not likely to keep you out of medical school. Grades are very important in the admissions process, but they do not need to be perfect.  Although you may be extremely disappointed in a single grade, admissions committees are looking at the big picture.  If you made a C- or lower in a class required by medical schools then you should speak with a pre-health advisor.  To fulfill the requirements, you should earn a grade of “C” or higher.

You can visit our office and review statistical information to gain a sense of how your grades compare with those of other Penn students and students nationwide who have been admitted to medical school.  Doing so may not tell you your “chances” of being admitted (as it’s so often put), but it will make you more informed.

Instead of feeling bad about your grades, think about what’s behind them. Are you setting unrealistic standards for yourself?  Are you taking on too much coursework or too many extracurricular activities?  Do you have anxiety when you sit for an exam?  Are you ambivalent about your pre-medical path?  Did you just not “click” with your professor and TA?  If you can sort out what is behind the grades, then you are more likely to take positive and productive action.  Some students find it helpful to meet with a pre-health or academic advisor, visit Counseling and Psychological Services, make an appointment at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center, or utilize the services of The Tutoring Center on campus.

If you suspect your grades are going to hurt your chances of gaining admission to medical school, take time to evaluate. Proceeding along the premedical path thinking, “I’ll see how next semester goes,” without reflecting upon your academic work and whether it’s an issue may lead to more difficulty.  While it can seem that “everyone else” is moving lockstep along a single track to medical school — they are not.  A realistic discussion with a pre-health advisor about grades may be more helpful sooner than later, allowing you to plan your career more mindfully and productively.

At some point, move on. More than once I’ve asked an applicant about his or her grades in a mock medical school interview only to witness the applicant engage in extended self-flagellation or angrily vent about a difficult professor or tough grading scale.  Your professional career is bound to include disappointments and undesired results.  Working through your feelings about your grades can help you develop confidence and perspective about your work.  You must be able to handle, learn from, and rebound from hard times.  There is no reason to do this alone — in addition to family and friends, consider using the campus resources mentioned above for support.