Academic Probation

Learner Series:

Academic Probation or Warning

Table of Contents

How Do You Wind Up on Academic Probation?

Hopefully if you’re reading this you aren’t already on academic probation / academic warning. But, if you are on academic probation – BreakThru is exactly where you want to be. This article will give you frank advice on what you need to do next. 

We also encourage you to talk to mentors on the site and get their feedback because if your dream is to become a doctor, then you need a heed this very serious warning sign that your college is sending you and take steps to mitigate the problem.

This requires a fully thought-out strategy to not only get off of academic probation, but also signal to future medical schools that you are still a competitive applicant. 

However, before we talk about strategies and moving forward, let’s discuss how one gets to be on the academic probation list… 

  • Failure to Meet Sufficient Academic Progress
    • One way that Rutgers defines academic probation is failure to maintain a 2.0 GPA for two semesters
    •  Penn State identifies it as failure to maintain adequate progress for a degree as defined by meeting a 2.00 cumulative GPA (CGPA). 
    • Other schools define it in very similar ways. 

Basically the way you wind up on Academic Probation is by Failing (or just barely passing) your classes. There are so many reasons why you might fail to meet sufficient academic progress. We won’t get into them all, but you should know why you’re this jeopardy. Before we get there, let’s give you a little bit of hope. Read a comment from BreakThru’s founder, Dr. Nathan Carroll and his experience with academic probation. 

"I was on academic probation a few times in college. I think I just wasn't focused enough, I also didn't know what I wanted to do with my life (This was before I decided to go to medical school). Transcripts with a history of academic probation definitely made getting into medical school harder. I had to remediate classes to show I could do the work. I made sure to complete a post-bacc at the same school that I was academic probation at to show how much I grew as student and an individual. All this hard work resulted in me getting into my top choice medical school. So, it's not impossible, but if you're hoping to go right from undergrad to medical school, Academic Probation is going to make it harder."

How Do I Get Off of Academic Probation?

Simply put you need to start doing well in your classes! What happens is the school will place you on probation, then monitor your progress for the next semester. They’ll often require you raise your GPA + Earn some minimum grades (Think C or better) for a semester. You really need to meet with your academic advisor and understand EXACTLY what you need to do. It’s important to get the exact parameters!

That being said, you might be panicking a bit right now. After all, you have plans to be a doctor, you know how competitive it is to get into medical school, and now you have both a red flag AND a weakened GPA. 

  • IF this is your FIRST semester. You have time to recover – but you really need to take your work seriously and make corrections NOW.
  • IF you’re on academic probation as a Junior / Senior, then you’re going to be in a very difficult place because of your low cumulative GPA (cGPA). A low cGPA will make it so you’re not competitive for medical school right after graduation. Remember medical schools need to make sure their students can withstand the rigors of medical education, which is far more demanding then undergraduate coursework.
    • You may need to seriously consider other career paths OR find ways to rehabilitate your GPA.
      • There’s nothing wrong with working for awhile, building career experience, and then revising medical school later. A tremendous number of successful doctors did exactly this!
    • Special Masters programs, and Post-Baccs may be an option at this point. (This is what our CEO did!)
    • Taking additional classes at the community college level may help average out your cGPA, but you’ll still need to explain those bad grades on applications.
      • Also be aware that it may take MANY classes to significant raise a cGPA. It may just not be feasible.
    • Delaying your medical school application, re-taking classes and showing you can do the work may be an option – but it could hurt you if you do poorly again.
  • IF you’re on academic probation because your grades dropped for a SINGLE semester as a Junior / Senior then that’s a different story.
    • Figure out why they dropped, if it’s a personal or familial, or mental health reason create a corrective plan now with your advisor AND a BreakThru Mentor here on the site.  
    • Just about everyone stumbles on the path to medical school. It’s how you recover that speaks to your character.

How Do I Identify What Went Wrong?

The most important thing for you to do right now is to figure out what went wrong. Figure this out before speaking to your academic advisor. If you go to them and say “I dunno how this happened.” How can they possibly help you? If you are serious about getting into medical school, what you need the most right now is to be brutally honest with yourself. Can you be brutally honest with yourself?


For more practical advice on how to identify academic problems you’re having – read our article “Help I Failed My…” This will take you through a process of problem-solving to identify your problem, find a solution, hold yourself accountable, and succeed!

Will Academic Probation Keep Me Out of Medical School?

Good News. There are only a few red flags so big that you’ll never get into a medical school. Academic probation isn’t a felony, or even a misdemeanor, it’s a transient state of poor academic performance. One semester of academic warning or probation alone shouldn’t keep you from ever becoming a doctor.

That being said, it will almost certainly hurt your competitiveness – unless you have an extremely legitimate and compelling reason. Also, as we said earlier, if you are on academic probation after several semesters of poor grades… that’s going to be hard (but not impossible) to come back from. You may also have to consider other medical school options. Such as international medical schools. 

If something did happen that was out of your control, let med school admissions know about it in your personal statement or secondary. However, excuses like “I had a really hard semester” or “I was distracted by academics and work” are insufficient. If you are in doubt, ask one (or more) of our mentors for their advice. 

How Do I Explain Probation to Admissions?

The very best things you can do is learn something from the experience, and be honest with yourself, and the admissions committee.

Try to turn the academic probation into a learning experience and demonstrate that you’ve grown because of it. The demonstration part is the most important. Excuses won’t get you far, but actions showing changes in behaviors and changes in thinking will help. If you can do that you can potentially turn a weakness into a unique strength. 

The Path to Medical School Can Feel Long And Unclear

But never forget that we’re here to help. Do you have a question about something you just read in our BreakThru Learner Series?

Use the BreakThru Feed to Ask and Inspire others with your questions. Our Medical Student Mentors are always here to help you, for free, anytime.

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