How Much Do Medical Schools Care About W’s?

Back in the day, withdrawals from courses were really meant to only be used in extreme circumstances. Nowadays, premed students are encouraged to drop out of classes if they feel like they will get poor grades. It’s all about the GPA and how to minimize negative impacts. 

Because of this change in mindset, the withdrawal system has been abused by some premed students. Premed students have become so paranoid about lowering their GPAs that they are taking on W’s left and right. I just read about one particular student with multiple W’s and talking about withdrawing again due to the risk of getting a B. 

Every medical school views W’s differently but the general consensus is that 1 or 2 W’s is not going to be too suspicious. They see them all the time afterall. The problem starts when you have multiple W’s such as 3 or more. 

That’s when med schools really start to care. If you are in this boat, the context to why you have 3 or more W’s matters. The idea is that there is a behavioral pattern around dropping classes.  

How Many W’s Are Too Many For Med School?

The answer to this question is not black and white. Strictly speaking, there is no limit to how many W’s you can have on your transcript in order to get into med schools. Whether or not you have too many W’s depends on your unique situation.

One student with 6 W’s could be in better shape than another student with 3. It all depends on the context. 

W’s factor into your academic performance and there are 2 reasons med schools look into academics:

  1. They want to make sure that you can handle the very demanding workload of a med student.
  2. It’s simply another differentiator between similar students when factoring in the entire application. 

So the question you should be asking yourself is, “How do these W’s on my transcript reflect my academic performance?” 

If you received 4 W’s your first year of college but then had stellar grades after that, those W’s aren’t going to hurt much. This is because the pattern shows that you clearly had a rough start to college but figured out how to study properly. 

And that brings up my next point. The pattern of when and how you received those W’s matters. 

Med schools aren’t going to be able to read your mind and figure out why you dropped out of all those courses. They will make assumptions based on the pattern in your transcript.

So, a bunch of W’s concentrated in 1 or 2 semesters looks a lot different than W’s scattered throughout your undergrad years with no rhyme or reason. 

Every admissions committee member is going to make their own assumption. A lot is going to depend on how you explain your situation. A lot is also going to depend on the rest of your application and how competitive of an applicant you are.

Why You Withdrew From The Class Matters

It’s possible you are going to be asked about your withdrawals in a med school interview. That’s why it’s important you have a good explanation for why you withdrew. 

There are plenty of good reasons to withdraw from a class. For example, maybe you signed up for a non-science course that ended up being way more work than you anticipated. Maybe you had a death in the family or some sort of traumatic event that kept you from school. 

Even if you withdrew from a science class because you didn’t have great study habits, you should own up to your mistakes and explain what you did to improve. 

Your explanation needs to convince med schools that this is not something ongoing. Whatever the circumstances were, it was resolved. 

Do W’s Affect Your AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS GPAs?

No, W’s do not affect your GPA at all. This is why so many students are tempted to withdraw from classes. The idea is that if you are not sure you are doing well in a class, it’s better not to risk a GPA drop. 

You want to get yourself out of this mindset. 

Even though W’s won’t affect your GPA, they are still seen by med schools. Every W you receive factors into the admissions committee’s perception of your overall academic performance. 

Is Withdrawal Better Than a Fail?

Withdrawing (W) from a class is always better than failing a class. And by failing, I mean an F. Not a C- or worse which are usually not accepted as completed prerequisites with med schools

That being said, are you sure you are going to fail the class? If there’s no hope of redeeming yourself, withdraw from the class. But sometimes, students get paranoid that they are going to fail when they should have more confidence in picking their grades back up. 

This is only a judgment you can make. 

If you are at risk of getting a D, I still think it’s worth withdrawing. When you get in the C range, that’s when the decision to withdraw or not depends on the specific situation. 

Further Reading: Everything To Consider When Retaking A Class For Med School

For example, if you are in a situation where you can only get a C if you ace the final, then it’s worth withdrawing. If it’s earlier in the semester and there are multiple chances to redeem your grade and possibly get a B, then staying in the class is a good call. 

Final thoughts: Are W’s Bad For Med School Applications?

If I was to summarize whether or not W’s are bad for med school applications, here’s what I would say:

You should not worry about your first 2 W’s. After that, if you are receiving multiple W’s, you need to be ready to have a good explanation for the pattern of withdrawals. Finally, taking a W is a no-brainer for impending F’s and D’s. However, if there is a chance of getting at least a B, I would stay in the course and push through. 

And that about sums it up. Remember, don’t ever despair when it comes to some academic mistakes. People recover from terrible GPAs all the time and get into med school.

As long as you are focused, motivated, and persistent, you will eventually get in. 

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