I performed poorly in one or more of my prerequisite classes. Am I doomed?

As a general rule, B’s are NOT bad grades at Princeton. This isn’t Harvard. B’s suggest you are doing well and meet Princeton standards, but have a few areas that you can work to improve in. C’s are acceptable and D’s/F’s suggest you need to seriously reflect and drastically change the way you approach courses at Princeton. 

Before considering your options, make sure you first spend some time reflecting on why you performed poorly in the course. Did you neglect your mental health and sleep? Did you spend too much time on the Street? Were you experiencing unpredictable health problems? Were you experiencing family problems? Did you face housing issues during online semesters? Were you unable to seek help from Professors, TAs, fellow students, and McGraw out of the fear of looking “stupid”? Do you believe the grade you received does not reflect your effort? If the grade you received was indeed unfair (this can happen at Princeton), keep in mind it is still not a good idea to blame instructors for your grades on your application and it’s best to take the time to improve your application in other ways. 

Additionally, reflect on whether you feel confident in handling future prerequisite coursework. Being a pre-health student juggling academics, social life, self care, and extracurriculars at Princeton is exhausting – are you still willing to commit to completing and doing well in the coursework? If you are, make sure you have a semester-by-semester plan for how to tackle the rest of your prerequisites at Princeton. 

In general, there are four options if you perform poorly in a prerequisite: 

First, you could take the L and keep the grade if it meets the minimum requirements, which is usually either a C- or a C, for the schools you intend on applying to. Most if not all schools won’t accept a D or F. 

Second, if your GPA and prerequisites are generally not a strength, you could put more effort into other areas of your vet school application to compensate for the low grades. Some schools are transparent about their formula so you may want to research the most highly weighted components and invest more time in those areas. These may include veterinary/animal/research experiences, recommendation letters, essays, GRE scores, and getting honors in your department.

Third, schools may offer unique ways to compensate for the poor grade. Some offer the opportunity to take upper-level classes in the same department to “replace” that grade (e.g. Cornell). Some schools will accept any three biology courses, so you could potentially take another biology course to replace it on your own accord (e.g. UPenn).  Some schools even offer the option of “erasing” your entire freshman year or your first semester if you had had a tough time transitioning to college (e.g. UIllinois). The key here is you should be well-versed in the specific prerequisite policies of the schools you are interested in. They also change from time to time. So make you do your online homework often! 

Fourth, if your grade is legitimately a bad grade, you may want to retake the course to not only show improvement, but to also increase your prerequisite/science/cumulative GPA. It is important to reflect on your performance in the class by asking yourself the previously mentioned questions, and then address any of those problems before you try to retake a course. Retaking a course is risky because it will NOT replace your original grade. If you previously received a passing grade (D or higher), a repeated course will not count for course credit towards the 31/36 total needed for graduation and could make you course deficient. However, demonstrating significant improvement will look amazing on your transcript and application. If you are not sure if you should retake the course or consider one of the other options, you should never hesitate to reach out to admissions officers from the schools of your interest. Try to take their advice because at the end of the day, they will be making your admissions decision. Once you are sure retaking is the next best step, discuss your plans with the course professor, an HPA advisor, AND your residential college dean. If approved, you will have to manually submit a course enrollment form to the registrar’s office in West College/Morrison Hall. You could also potentially retake the course at a different school or as an online summer course. However, different vet schools have different policies on what they will accept so do your research.

As a final note, if you have legitimate reasons for doing poorly in course, you may also want to consider explaining your performance and how you grew from your experiences in your application. The VMCAS offers a section called the “Explanation Statement” to explain anything that you feel is important for the admissions committee to know. Meet with HPA to discuss how best to use this option if you would like to elaborate on your academic performance in your application.