Applicants often ask themselves the following questions: “how to get into medical school with a low MCAT?” and “how to get into medical school with a low GPA?”. There is no denying that your MCAT score and GPA have a huge influence on whether you get into medical school, but having a low MCAT score will not necessarily affect your chances if you apply the right strategy.
In this article, we discuss what you can do to get into medical school with a low MCAT score and how to use other components of your application to boost your chances of getting accepted. We also share tips on what to do if you decide that your MCAT score is totally non-competitive.
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Can You Get into Medical School with a Low MCAT Score?
While your MCAT score is an important application component, it does not predetermine your chances of getting accepted. Getting into medical school with a low MCAT is possible if you apply strategically. In this article, we explore how you can increase your chances of success, even with a low MCAT.
First, we should discuss what is considered a low MCAT score in the current application cycle. Simply put, a low MCAT score is one that does not get you into your desired medical programs. Each school has its own medical school requirements, and having a competitive score means that your MCAT results at least meet the school’s standard. Of course, there are other application components that you can’t ignore, so it’s not just about your MCAT performance. Most schools will look at your application holistically; for instance, some schools will put a lot of emphasis on your diversity med school secondary essay because they value students who can contribute to the school’s mission.
What is considered a competitive score?
However, if we want to be more specific, let’s examine the latest statistics to see what is a good MCAT score in this application cycle. An MCAT score is considered non-competitive when it is below the matriculant average. According to the latest data from the AAMC, the mean MCAT score of US medical school applicants was 506.5, while the mean MCAT score of matriculants to medical schools in the US was 511.9.
In other words, your score is not very competitive if it is around the same as the score of students who applied but did not get in, around the 75th percentile overall, about 507–509, or the mean MCAT score of the latest pool of applicants. Of course, competitiveness is not a fixed number. It can move each application cycle. This also means that your competitiveness as a candidate can be amended, for example, by using an MCAT coach or by reading more MCAT prep books.
If I score below the average, does this mean I have no chance of getting in?
This does not mean that you have no chance of getting into medical school with a score of 507 or 509! In some medical schools, this score is quite competitive! It simply means that, on average, students with this score do not get into medical school. According to the latest statistics, students with a score of less than 506 have even less of a chance of getting into medical school. And students with scores around 501 and lower should really consider retaking the test.
As you can see, statistics do not really clarify what it means to have a low MCAT. Having an MCAT score of 506 does not guarantee your acceptance, but neither does a score of 509. And neither does a score of 511! Simply put, no matter how high your MCAT score is, it does not guarantee you a spot in your chosen medical school.
In the end, it is possible to get into medical school with a low MCAT score, provided you use the strategies we outline below to help you!
Want to know the secret to getting into medical school with a low MCAT? Watch this video!
Rule #1: Be Strategic
Here’s the truth: every single student who applies to medical school does so strategically. Every student will analyze where they might be a good applicant and carefully choose which schools they apply to. Only unsuccessful applicants apply blindly.
However, how do you know whether you have good strategies that actually enhance your chances of acceptance to medical school? This is why the advice we provide here or in our medical school application help services can be your key to success.
No student has the golden combination of perfect stats, perfectly fitting extracurriculars for medical school, stunning essays, and stellar medical school recommendation letters. Everybody has areas of improvement to work on or application components they wish were better – it’s normal. This is why applying strategically is so important when you’re figuring out how to prepare for your medical school application and what experiences and skills to highlight in your application components and interview answers. Remember, if you take the MCAT again, you can mention this in a medical school letter of intent. To apply strategically, here are a few things you need to do:
Try our MD Chance Predictor to see where you would be a perfect candidate and what you can improve. For Canadian med school applicants, try our Canada MD Chance Predictor calculator!
1. Use MSAR to conduct research
Your first step should be to research and analyze the schools that you have a chance of getting into. This is where the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) can be a great help if you are applying to allopathic medical schools in the US and some in Canada.
Not all medical schools post recent admissions information on their websites, which means the MSAR portal offers a great advantage over individual school websites for locating and comparing information, such as the most recent matriculants’ admissions data, including the average accepted GPA, average accepted MCAT score, matriculant profiles (age, race, background, extracurriculars for medical school), required medical school prerequisites, and more.
How can this help you apply strategically? If you have a lower MCAT score, search for medical schools on MSAR that accept matriculants with similar MCAT scores to yours. This is easily done by setting the search criteria on the left side of the portal. In addition, if you plan on taking the MCAT again, you will need to look at schools that will consider only the most recent scores. Otherwise, if your score was too low on your first try, it might be more difficult to get accepted, even with an improved second score at certain schools. Of course, every school is different, but it’s best to know how they handle multiple scores so that you don’t accidentally apply somewhere that is more difficult to get into.
Look through the search results and compare your other statistics and experiences with those of recent matriculants. Does your profile seem like a good fit for this school? Do you have similar experiences to those who were recently accepted? Does your GPA match or exceed the average accepted GPA of this school? Have you completed all the required prerequisites listed by the school? Carefully go through the information available on MSAR and make a list of schools where you would be a good fit in terms of MCAT score and other application elements.
Remember what we said at the beginning of this article – your MCAT score is not everything. So, even if you find schools that typically accept students with your MCAT score, other aspects of your application must also be a good fit to increase your chances of success, so consider them carefully. Even the easiest medical schools to get into want to see well-rounded applicants, rather than applicants with simply good statistics.
Check out this infographic to see our key points highlighted:
2. Consider DO Schools
Many of the best osteopathic medical schools are just as competitive as MD programs, but generally speaking, DO schools tend to have lower GPA and MCAT requirements. This is why considering DO schools might be a good idea if you are looking to apply to schools where your MCAT score is competitive.
While there is a lot of debate about MD vs DO, the truth is, the gap between these two degrees is closing rapidly. DO grads still have lower match rates for some of the most competitive residencies out there, but their number and reputation are growing every year. A typical patient cannot tell the difference between DO and MD physicians, as they have the same responsibilities and duties.
When it comes to the DO school application process, you will not face any surprises. The process is very similar to that of MD programs in the United States, which includes an online application process, DO personal statement, list of activities, medical school secondary essays, and so on. The only real difference is that instead of answering “why do you want to be a doctor?”, your application will answer the question, “why do you want to be a DO doctor?”.
So, if you are looking for schools where you have a higher chance of acceptance based on your stats, make sure to look into DO programs. To demonstrate the different average MCAT scores for MD and DO schools, the following are the most recent mean scores to top schools for each type of program:
Highest MCAT Mean Scores for DO Schools
1. Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine (CCOM-MWU)
Mean MCAT: 510
2. Des Moines University of Osteopathic Medicine (DMU-COM)
Mean MCAT: 509
3. Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (WesternU/COMP)
Mean MCAT: 508
4. Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM)
Mean MCAT: 507
5. California Health Sciences University College of Osteopathic Medicine (CHSU-COM)
Mean MCAT: 507
6. Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine (AZCOM/MWU)
Mean MCAT: 507
7. University of North Texas Health Science Center College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNTHSC/TCOM)
Mean MCAT: 507
8. Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine (TUCOM-CA)
Mean MCAT: 507
9. Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (TouroCOM-NY)
Mean MCAT: 507
10. Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (SHSU-COM)
Mean MCAT: 506
Highest MCAT Mean Scores for MD Schools
1. Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, NH
Mean MCAT: 516
2. University of Massachusetts T.H. Chan School of Medicine
Mean MCAT: 516
3. Ohio State University College of Medicine, OH
Mean MCAT: 516
4. Tufts University School of Medicine, MA
Mean MCAT: 515
5. University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, CA
Mean MCAT: 515
6. University of Central Florida College of Medicine, FL
Mean MCAT: 515
7. New York Medical College, NY
Mean MCAT: 514
8. Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, PA
Mean MCAT: 514
9. University of Miami Leonard M Miller School of Medicine, FL
Mean MCAT: 514
10. University of Colorado School of Medicine, CO
Mean MCAT: 513
Rule #2: Use Other Application Components to Offset a Low MCAT
Once you’ve made your list of schools where you would be considered a competitive candidate, it’s time to strategize the rest of your application components to make up for your low MCAT. This is not just something to do if you have a low MCAT – curating your application is always essential. However, if you do have a lower MCAT, it’s crucial to focus on what you can emphasize in your application to “smooth over” this setback.
The GPA and MCAT are often considered in tandem. They are both viewed as indicators of your academic prowess. Most schools will forgive a lower MCAT score if your GPA is outstanding. If your MCAT is on the lower end of the spectrum, meeting and exceeding medical school GPA requirements is strongly encouraged.
The AAMC provides a correlation chart that shows what GPA you need to achieve based on your MCAT. Carefully determine the GPA you need to have, based on your existing MCAT score, to have a higher chance of acceptance. This correlation can help you decide whether applying with your current stats is advisable.
The bottom line is this – if you have a low MCAT, you must do your best to balance it with a high GPA. While these stats are not the be-all and end-all of medical school admissions, some schools will not continue the review of your application if you do not demonstrate a strong academic history via your GPA and MCAT. If you have a low MCAT, do your best to offset it with your GPA.
To really compensate for your lower MCAT, or if you don't have sufficient time to boost your GPA, your stats should be accompanied by outstanding application components. Many schools will review your application holistically, so to overshadow less than stellar grades and scores, you must impress with other application elements.
Need to increase your MCAT score? Here's how:
Your AMCAS work and activities or the Experience section of the AACOMAS application should be methodically planned. These sections must include only the most impressive activities that demonstrate commitment, skill, passion, leadership, and suitability for the medical profession. Remember that you have a limited number of entries allowed, so you must be extremely selective with your choices.
In the case of a lower MCAT score, your most meaningful activities must be especially impressive. Impressive clinical hours are considered some of the most important extracurriculars for med school, so if you include a significant clinical activity with a great description, this might help offset a lower GPA or MCAT. It might be a good idea to include impressive academic or research experiences that compensate for lower grades or test scores. For example, maybe you presented your research and findings at a conference or worked on a course project that received high praise, or maybe even awards? This way, you can demonstrate that your low grades or MCAT are not indicative of your academic abilities.
And keep in mind that you want to include activities and skills that relate to your chosen schools’ mission and the profile of their recent matriculants. This is why the selection of your activities and their descriptions must be planned meticulously! A great activities section can really bolster your profile in light of a low MCAT.
3. Medical School Personal Statement
Even with a great activities section, the question of why you have a low MCAT may still linger. You can use your personal statement to briefly explain why your MCAT is not as great as the rest of your application components. If you have a reason other than “I just didn’t study enough,” this extenuating circumstance can be incorporated into your medical school personal statement. If you come from a socioeconomic background that prevented you from adequately preparing for the MCAT, you may be able to briefly explain how this hindered your score. If you have a medical condition that prevented you from achieving the desired score, and you did not get proper MCAT accommodations, you may succinctly indicate this in your essay.
Review the following example of a personal statement addressing a low MCAT score. Note that this example can work as an AMCAS personal statement or an AACOMAS personal statement.
Medical School Personal Statement Example - How to Address a Low MCAT in Your Personal Statement
Important: DO NOT focus your statement on your low MCAT. Your explanation should just be a quick footnote that is expertly infused into the rest of your essay presenting your candidacy from the best angle. Remember that your statement should focus on demonstrating what a great applicant you are and why you want to be a doctor, not on explaining away gaps or weaknesses of your application. This is what secondary essays are for.
Why is the MCAT so challenging?
Many medical school secondary essay prompts specifically ask you to discuss any gaps or setbacks present in your application. Even if an essay prompt does not ask for this specifically, you can use a prompt such as “what else would you like us to know about you?” as a chance to discuss your setbacks. Various prompts can offer the perfect opportunity to discuss your lower MCAT. To inspire yourself, think of these prompts as a diversity secondary essay or as an adversity secondary essay. As long as your MCAT score is not explained away by the fact that you were simply too lazy to study, you can use a secondary prompt to discuss your low MCAT and explain why you did not achieve a higher score.
Remember not to play victim. Even if the circumstances were out of your control, take responsibility for your low score. For example, if MCAT costs and other medical school application-related costs drove you to have several part-time jobs that took away from your study time, demonstrate that you worked hard to put yourself through the application process. Discuss the lessons you learned about priorities, dedication, and pursuing your dream of becoming a physician.
Always remember that a low MCAT score is not the end. We all face challenges that prevent us from being our best selves, but we can overcome them, given the right tools and circumstances. Your secondaries are the final application component you can use to demonstrate what a great candidate you are for your chosen schools. Make the most of them!
Examples of secondary essay prompts by school
1. University of Chicago – Pritzker School of Medicine
Prompt: “Share with us a difficult or challenging situation you have encountered and how you dealt with it. In your response, identify both the coping skills you called upon to resolve the dilemma, and the support person(s) from whom you sought advice. We suggest that you limit your essay to about 550 words.”
2. Rush Medical College of Rush University Medical Center
Prompt: “Rush Medical College is located on Chicago’s near west side and serves a diverse patient population. We seek to train physicians who can connect with diverse patient populations with whom they may not share a similar background. Tell us about a life experience that has broadened your own world view or enhanced your ability to understand those unlike yourself and what you learned from this experience.” (1000 characters)
3. Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
Prompt: “Everyone needs help at various times in their lives. Describe a time you asked for help and what you gained from that experience that has influenced your approach to asking for help.” (600 words)
4. Yale University School of Medicine
Prompt: “Research is essential to patient care, and all students at Yale School of Medicine complete a research thesis. Tell us how your research interests, skills and experiences would contribute to scholarship at Yale School of Medicine.” (No stated word limit)”
5. The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
Prompt: “What are your aspirations for your medical practice? Fast-forward to 15 years in the future: where do you imagine yourself?” (3000 characters)
Prompt: “Please describe a personal situation of failure, significant challenge, or a major obstacle that you have overcome. Include a description of your coping skills and lessons you learned about yourself from that situation.”
7. Drexel University College of Medicine
Prompt: “If you are a recent graduate, please tell us what you have been doing since graduation. If you have not yet graduated, please discuss your current activities and engagements. We understand that it may have been difficult to obtain clinical or volunteer service experiences during the pandemic; therefore, be sure to discuss any traditional and /or non-traditional clinical exposures and volunteering experiences that you have done during this time.” (no limit)
8. Creighton University School of Medicine
Prompt: “In Creighton's Jesuit, Catholic tradition, the mission of the School of Medicine is to improve the human condition with a diverse body of students, faculty and staff who provide excellence in educating students, physicians and the public, advancing knowledge and providing comprehensive patient care. Please describe the role(s) you can play in helping the School of Medicine achieve its mission.” (2000 characters)
9. Duke University School of Medicine
Prompt: “Describe a situation in which you had to utilize your values to interact with people from different backgrounds. How did those values impact the relationship?” (400 words)
10. Howard University College of Medicine
Prompt: “Have you lived in communities which are medically underserved, or where the majority of the population is economically and/or educationally disadvantaged? (Please indicate, Yes or No and then explain/describe briefly in 250 words or less).”
5. Medical School Interview
If your low MCAT score is brought up during the medical school admissions interview, it’s important to be prepared to answer the question and not to shy away from it. Your interviewer may ask “why should we choose you” or reference your MCAT score directly. Just like answering a medical school interview question about a low GPA, you need to take accountability for a low MCAT score and provide context for why it was unsatisfactory or below the average. Start by acknowledging the low score, then briefly discuss what you did to improve your score if you decided to retake the test or why you chose not to retake the MCAT. Provide an explanation if there were any extenuating circumstances which contributed to your low score.
Of course, you should be prepared to answer questions about your MCAT score, but you should also be prepared to answer other medical school interview questions. Common question include “tell me about yourself” and “why do you want to be a doctor”. You should also consider the format of the interview. Most schools will use the multiple mini-interview (MMI). You should review MMI practice questions and consider the different types of MMI questions, such as MMI policy questions, MMI acting stations, and the collaboration/teamwork stations.
Common Medical School Interview Questions by School
Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine
- What is one strength of yours?
- Tell me about your volunteering experience.
- Tell me about X extracurricular.
- What made you want to become a physician?
- Talk about your research.
Tulane University School of Medicine
- Tell me more about your laboratory work.
- Tell me more about your most meaningful clinical activity.
- Have you ever been to New Orleans?
- Tell me about a time you interacted with a culture different from your own.
- Why Tulane?
- What are some of the ways you deal with stress?
- If faced with many acceptances, how would you make a decision in choosing a medical school?
- What do you think is the biggest problem in health care at the moment?
- How would you contribute to the diversity of the class?
- If we gave you a week off, what would you do?
Want to avoid making common mistakes on medical school applications that can get you rejected? Here are our tips:
If Your MCAT is Still Too Low…
If you go through all the tips above and still think that your MCAT is too low to let you be a competitive candidate, then you may consider the options we outline below.
Strategy #1: Apply to Schools that Do Not Require the MCAT
This is probably the simplest solution. You can limit your applications to medical schools that do not require the MCAT or make them the majority of medical schools that you apply to. If you are looking to apply to Canadian medical schools, keep in mind that only some medical schools in Ontario and no medical schools in Quebec request your MCAT score for admission. Also note that many Canadian medical schools have relaxed MCAT score requirements for in-province applicants. So, even if your score is not very high, you may still meet the threshold for medical schools in your province.
Strategy #2: Retake the Test
Should You Retake the MCAT? Retaking the MCAT is more common than you think! According to the AAMC, 95% of students have tested once or twice. Unfortunately, there is no official information regarding the exact percentile of how many students take the exam twice. However, about 5% have sat for the MCAT three times. So, if your score is not salvageable by a higher GPA and other application components, you can certainly choose to re-sit the exam. Here are a few things you should consider before taking the MCAT again:
- Consider the pros and cons: deciding to retake the test is a big decision. Not only will you be required to go through the entire MCAT prep process again, but you will have to pay the MCAT fees again. MCAT prep is a tremendous undertaking, so embarking on another round is not to be taken lightly.
- Revise your strategy: be aware that using the same MCAT prep strategies the second time is a very bad idea. If they did not help you get the desired score the first time, they will not help you get it the second time. This is why preparing to retake the exam is a big decision – organizing a new prep methodology and collecting more study materials can be a great strain on your already busy premed schedule.
- Consider getting professional help: if you are serious about drastically increasing your score and learning new methods of how to study for the MCAT, you might want to hire an MCAT tutor or join an MCAT prep course. These professionals can help you pinpoint your areas of weakness and devise strategies that will help you overcome your setbacks.
Most importantly, remember that if you do decide to retake the MCAT, your second attempt must result in a higher score. If your score is the same or lower, this might give the admissions committee a negative impression.
Check out some tips that can help you decide whether you should retake the MCAT:
Strategy #3: Take a Year Off
If you decide to take a gap year before medical school to increase your MCAT score, you might want to consider enrolling in a post-baccalaureate program for med school or a special master’s program (SMP). Most post-baccs are specifically designed to help students increase their GPA or MCAT and gain additional extracurricular experiences. In short, post-baccs are there to help you bolster your applications. This is done via extra coursework and prep courses, as well as workshops on taking the MCAT and applying to medical school. So, if you want some additional help with improving your overall application, a post-bacc might be the perfect choice for you.
SMPs are typically used by premeds to increase their research profiles. They provide ample opportunity to participate in research projects, get to know medical experts in your chosen field, and gain more academic skills and extracurriculars for medical school. Additionally, some medical schools may give you additional points if you have a graduate degree, so having an SMP would give you a slight advantage.
Keep in mind that enrolling in a post-bacc or SMP simply to bolster your application is an expensive choice. Nor should the difficulty of these programs be underestimated. If you decide to pursue a post-bacc or SMP, let it be for more than simply to increase your MCAT score. Make sure to participate in impressive research projects, publish your findings, make close connections with your supervisors and instructors – you must have more than your MCAT score as a reason to spend a year or two in these programs.
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Conclusion: Consider Hiring a Medical School Advisor
Last, but certainly not least, consider reaching out to a medical school consultant to help you get into medical school with a low MCAT. If it’s challenging for you to objectively see what can offset your score and what you can do to impress admissions committees, a med school coach can truly make a difference. Admissions experts can identify the strong suits of your application that can help you put a low MCAT in context – something that may be difficult for you to do on your own.
Remember: a good advisor will not start promising you admission to Harvard medical school and asking you for money before they have an initial free strategy call with you. During this conversation, you can explain your situation, and the advisor can gauge how they can help you, based on this information. Be wary of anyone who promises acceptance to Ivy League medical schools without speaking to you first for free.
1. What constitutes a low MCAT?
A low MCAT is an MCAT that does not match the MCAT requirements of the schools you are applying to. More specifically, a score of 506 is considered to be on the lower end of the scale. With a score of 504–506 or lower, you are not going to be a very competitive candidate. But this score range does not mean you are out of the race!
A score of 501 or lower is typically considered too low to be competitive, so you might want to retake the exam or apply to medical schools that do not require the MCAT.
2. What schools should I apply to with a low MCAT?
Consider applying to schools with low MCAT requirements. You can find these schools using the MSAR database. Simply change your MCAT settings in the database to find schools where you meet or exceed the MCAT requirement.
Additionally, check out DO schools with lower MCAT thresholds and schools that don’t require the MCAT at all.
3. Should I apply to a Caribbean school?
Caribbean medical schools are certainly an option! Most Caribbean schools have very low admissions requirements, so you have a higher chance of being accepted. However, keep in mind that attending a med school in the Caribbean may limit your residency options in the US and Canada.
4. What can outweigh a low MCAT?
The most traditional strategy for offsetting a low MCAT is having a very high GPA. These two application elements are often considered in relation to each other. So, having a high GPA can truly save a lower MCAT score!
5. I had extenuating circumstances that prevented me from having a high MCAT and retaking the MCAT. Is there a way I can explain why I have a low MCAT?
Yes. You can briefly explain this setback in your personal statement. Try to limit your explanation to 1–2 sentences tops. The best place to outline your setbacks is in medical school secondary essays since most schools give you the opportunity to discuss gaps in your application.
6. Should I retake the MCAT if my current score is low?
Retaking the MCAT is a drastic step. Before you decide to retake the test, carefully reflect on whether the rest of your application will overshadow the low score and review schools that do not require the MCAT to evaluate whether you are a competitive candidate there.
If you do decide to re-sit the exam, make sure to develop new and improved study strategies. Additionally, look into getting help from MCAT tutoring experts.
7. Can a post-bacc program help me get into medical school with a low MCAT score?
Yes. Many post-bacc programs offer MCAT prep seminars that can help you prepare for the test. Additionally, you can take courses that will cover much of the MCAT content in case you have not taken the required prerequisites in your undergrad.
8. What else can I do to get into medical school with a low MCAT?
Your best bet is hiring a medical school admissions consulting company. These experts can truly help you present your best self in your application. Having a low MCAT is not ideal and can hurt your chances of acceptance, but an expert can help you find the right points to offset this application setback.
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