Getting into medical school is extremely competitive, with many more applicants than available spots each year. Naturally, premed students want to present the strongest possible application to increase their chances of getting accepted.

One question that often comes up is whether retaking prerequisite courses looks bad, or if med schools will penalize applicants who have repeated classes on their transcripts.

The quick answer is that in most cases, retaking one or two prerequisite courses will not hurt your chances of getting into medical school, as long as you show improvement in your performance the second time around. However, excessive repeated courses may raise red flags with admissions committees.

Why Do Premeds Sometimes Need to Retake Classes?

Difficulty of Premed Curriculum

The premed curriculum is known for being rigorous and challenging. Students pursuing a career in medicine need to excel in subjects like biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry, among others.

These courses often require a deep understanding of complex concepts and extensive problem-solving skills. Consequently, some students may find themselves struggling to keep up with the demanding coursework, leading them to consider retaking classes to improve their understanding and performance.

Illness or Personal Issues

Life can be unpredictable, and sometimes unexpected circumstances arise that can significantly impact a student’s ability to succeed academically. Illnesses, whether physical or mental, can disrupt a student’s concentration and ability to perform well in their classes.

Personal issues, such as family problems or financial hardships, can also distract students from their studies. In these situations, retaking classes may provide an opportunity for students to fully focus on their academic pursuits once they have resolved their personal challenges.

Lack of Preparation Early On

Entering college as a premed student can be overwhelming, especially for those who may not have received adequate preparation during their high school years. Students who lack a strong foundation in the required subjects may find themselves struggling to grasp the more advanced concepts presented in their premed courses.

In such cases, retaking classes can serve as a chance to fill in knowledge gaps and build a stronger academic foundation, setting them up for success in future coursework.

It’s important to remember that retaking classes is not necessarily a reflection of incompetence or failure. Many successful medical professionals have faced challenges during their premed journey and have had to retake classes to improve their understanding and academic performance.

Admissions committees understand that each student’s journey is unique and consider various factors when evaluating transcripts for medical school applications.

Retaking classes can demonstrate a student’s commitment to personal growth and improvement. It allows them to showcase their determination, resilience, and ability to overcome obstacles. Medical schools often value applicants who show a willingness to put in the extra effort to succeed and who demonstrate a solid foundation of knowledge in the required subjects.

For more information and guidance on retaking classes for medical school, you can visit the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website at

How Med Schools View Repeated Courses

When it comes to evaluating transcripts for medical school admissions, retaking courses is a common concern for many applicants. However, it is important to understand how medical schools view repeated courses and what factors they consider during the admissions process.

Look For Patterns and Explanations

Medical schools understand that sometimes students may need to retake a course to improve their understanding or to achieve a higher grade. Admissions committees will often look for patterns in repeated courses and try to understand the reasons behind them.

It is crucial for applicants to provide a clear explanation for retaking a course and demonstrate that they have learned from the experience.

For example, if a student had difficulties during their first attempt at a challenging science course but then showed significant improvement in subsequent attempts or in related courses, medical schools may view this as a positive sign of determination and resilience.

It is important to communicate any extenuating circumstances or personal challenges that may have affected academic performance.

Expect to See Improvement

Medical schools generally expect to see improvement in grades when a course is repeated. This is especially true for prerequisite science courses that are crucial for success in medical school. Admissions committees want to ensure that applicants have a solid foundation in science and are capable of handling the rigorous coursework.

It is important for students to demonstrate that they have taken the necessary steps to address their weaknesses and improve their understanding of the subject matter. This can be done through obtaining higher grades in the repeated course, seeking additional help from professors or tutors, or pursuing relevant extracurricular activities that showcase their commitment to the field.

Multiple Repeats May Be Problematic

While retaking a course once or twice may not significantly impact an applicant’s chances of getting into medical school, multiple repeats can raise concerns for admissions committees. Medical schools are looking for applicants who can handle the demanding curriculum and excel academically.

If an applicant has a pattern of multiple repeats or a significant number of retaken courses, it may indicate a lack of preparation or difficulty in grasping the material. This could raise doubts about the applicant’s ability to succeed in medical school.

It is important for applicants with multiple repeats to address these concerns in their application. They should explain any extenuating circumstances, demonstrate a clear improvement in subsequent attempts, and present evidence of their commitment to academic growth and success.

Tips for Retaking Classes

Reflect on Why You Struggled

Before retaking a class, it is important to take some time to reflect on why you struggled the first time. Was it a lack of understanding of the material, poor time management, or external factors that affected your performance?

Understanding the root cause of your difficulties can help you develop a plan to overcome them.

Meet with Your Academic Advisor

Your academic advisor can be a valuable resource when deciding to retake a class. They can provide guidance on the potential impact of retaking a class on your transcript and explain how it may be viewed by medical school admissions committees.

They can also assist you in creating a plan to improve your performance in the course.

Be Strategic About When You Repeat a Course

When deciding when to retake a class, consider factors such as workload, other academic commitments, and personal circumstances. It may be beneficial to retake a class during a semester or term when you have fewer demanding courses or extracurricular commitments.

This will allow you to dedicate more time and energy to the course you are retaking.

Set Yourself Up for Success

When retaking a class, it is important to set yourself up for success. This can include developing a study schedule, seeking additional resources such as tutoring or study groups, and actively engaging with the material.

Taking proactive steps to improve your understanding and performance in the course can help ensure a positive outcome.

Consider Alternatives Like Post-Bac Programs

If you are concerned about how retaking a class may impact your chances of getting into medical school, consider exploring alternative options such as post-baccalaureate programs. These programs offer additional coursework and support to help strengthen your academic record and demonstrate your commitment to pursuing a career in medicine.

Remember, retaking a class is not uncommon and can demonstrate your determination to succeed in challenging subjects. Admissions committees understand that students may face obstacles and value resilience and perseverance.

By reflecting on your struggles, seeking guidance, being strategic, setting yourself up for success, and exploring alternative options, you can overcome any concerns about retaking a class on your medical school application.

Answering Questions About Repeated Courses

Be Honest But Concise

When it comes to retaking courses, honesty is always the best policy. Admissions committees understand that students may face challenges and setbacks throughout their academic journey. If you have repeated a course, it is important to address it in your application.

However, you don’t need to dwell on it or make it the focus of your entire transcript. Instead, be concise and transparent about the reasons behind retaking the course.

For instance, you can briefly explain that you encountered difficulties during your first attempt, but you took the initiative to retake the course to strengthen your understanding of the subject matter.

By highlighting your determination and willingness to improve, you can turn a potentially negative aspect of your transcript into a positive one.

Explain Mitigating Circumstances

If there were mitigating circumstances that affected your performance in a particular course, it is crucial to provide an explanation. Whether it was a personal challenge, health issue, or family emergency, it is important to demonstrate how these circumstances impacted your ability to succeed in the course.

However, it is equally important to avoid making excuses or blaming others for your academic struggles. Take responsibility for your actions and show that you have learned from the experience. Admissions committees value resilience and the ability to overcome obstacles, so make sure to emphasize how you have grown and developed as a result of your challenges.

Emphasize What You Learned

One way to mitigate concerns about retaking a course is to emphasize what you gained from the experience. Explain how the repetition allowed you to deepen your knowledge and develop a stronger foundation in the subject matter.

Highlight any additional coursework or extracurricular activities that demonstrate your continued interest and commitment to the field.

Furthermore, showcase any improvement in your grades or performance in subsequent courses. This will provide evidence to the admissions committee that you have learned from your mistakes and are capable of excelling in challenging academic environments.

Remember, retaking a course is not necessarily a negative reflection on your abilities or potential as a medical school candidate. Admissions committees understand that academic journeys are not always smooth, and they are more interested in seeing your overall growth and potential.

As long as you are honest, explain mitigating circumstances, and emphasize what you have learned, retaking a course should not significantly impact your chances of getting into medical school.

When to Consider Not Retaking a Class

Retaking a class is a common option for students who want to improve their grades or strengthen their academic profile. However, there are certain situations where retaking a class may not be necessary or advantageous, especially when it comes to med school applications.

If Your Original Grade Was Passing

If you received a passing grade in a class, retaking it may not be the best use of your time and resources. Admissions committees understand that not every student will excel in every subject, and they take into account the overall performance of an applicant.

Instead of retaking a class you passed, focus on excelling in other courses or pursuing extracurricular activities that demonstrate your commitment to the medical field.

If It Won’t Improve Your GPA Significantly

Before deciding to retake a class, consider whether the potential grade improvement will significantly impact your GPA. If the class you’re considering retaking is not a core prerequisite or a major requirement, the impact on your overall GPA may be minimal.

In such cases, it may be more beneficial to focus on other areas of your application where you can make a greater impact, such as research experience, volunteer work, or leadership roles.

If There’s a Clear Upward Trend

One factor that med school admissions committees consider is the trend of your academic performance. If you have shown a clear upward trend in your grades over time, retaking a class may not be necessary.

Admissions committees appreciate seeing improvement and growth in an applicant’s academic record. Instead of retaking a class, focus on maintaining your upward trajectory and showcasing your dedication to academic excellence.

It’s important to note that every applicant’s situation is unique, and there may be other factors to consider when deciding whether to retake a class. It’s always a good idea to consult with an academic advisor or a pre-medical advisor who can provide personalized guidance based on your individual circumstances.


While no premed wants to have repeated courses on their transcript, the reality is that retaking a class or two is usually not a dealbreaker for medical school admission, as long as you show growth. Be thoughtful and strategic if you do need to repeat prerequisite courses, and don’t be afraid to reach out to your school’s premed advisors for input.

With maturity and diligence, you can overcome early academic setbacks on the path to med school.

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