Tips For Applicants With A Low MCAT Score (Part 2)

Click here to download our "Navigate the Med School Maze" guide now!The MCAT score is crucial to making it to the interview stage of the medical school application process. For those with low MCAT scores who want to attend a US allopathic medical school, the only real option is retaking the exam.

When you determine that your MCAT is not competitive, you can either choose to work harder and retake the MCATs, or consider alternative career paths. DMD, patent law, and PhD programs are just a few of the common alternative career options that allow you to remain in science.

If you are committed to obtaining a MD, then you should plan to retake the exam and make it your last retake. Although schools do not penalize applicants who take the MCAT two or three times, before taking the exam for a 3rd time it is key that you make the third sitting your final attempt; more attempts reflect poorly on your application.

Keep in mind that many students do not prepare enough for the MCATs, thinking that their coursework is sufficient preparation. This is a faulty assumption, especially for applicants who struggle on standardized tests. Applicants need to study hundreds of hours over several months to review and prepare for the test. Applicants should utilize preparatory courses, private tutors and varying prep approaches to succeed. Applicants need to have real discipline to do the necessary work — 40 hours a week for several months. It is also extremely important to take practice tests regularly (ideally weekly) in order to master not just the content but also the necessary test-taking skills to succeed under the additional test-day stress.

There are many different resources out there to help –no one resource is the best – you need to find the approach that works best for you. Kaplan, Princeton Review and Exam Crackers are the most commonly used with Exam Crackers providing a more problem-based approach.

A last piece of advice: do not take the test unless you are scoring (on practice tests) above the range that you feel you need for admission. The confidence you possess on test day knowing you were scoring a 33 on practice tests is a large part of the mind–game you must master to succeed. Hard work, discipline and true motivation are the necessary ingredients to MCAT success.

See Part 1 for advice about Options Without Retaking the Exam.

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Related Resources:

The Results Are In: Analyzing Your MCAT Diagnostic Exam [Webinar]
• Improve Your MCAT Score for Medical School Acceptance
• Boost your GPA for Medical School Acceptance

Tips For Applicants With A Low MCAT Score (Part 1)

How can you get into medical school with low stats? Register for our webinar and find out!

Many schools will screen you based solely on your MCAT score.

Options Without Retaking the Exam

All medical school applicants (or any other professional school applicant) must assess their credentials realistically in order to present themselves best during the application process. Since applicants are evaluated based on specific academic (undergraduate and graduate GPA and MCAT scores) and non-academic (research and clinical exposures, leadership skills, mentoring experiences) criteria as well as on personal attributes such as compassion, discipline, motivation, and work ethic, you must acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.

Unfortunately, most medical schools do weigh the academic credentials heavily, in particular the MCAT score because strong MCAT scores have been correlated with success on the USMLE. There are very few, if any, medical schools that do not require the MCATs.

If your MCAT score is a borderline, and you choose not to retake the exam, you can try to present yourself in the best light by stressing your other attributes and credentials and taking extra coursework that illustrates your strong academic background. Some schools will accept students with MCATs in this range if the student is extremely strong academically, realizing that sometimes standardized tests are not always the best representation of a students’ aptitude. Some schools will be able to look beyond the MCAT score to see your other attributes.The truth, however, is many medical schools will just screen you based solely on your MCAT number.

Alternative options include applying to Caribbean and foreign medical schools or pursuing osteopathic medicine; their applicant MCAT scores are sometimes lower than allopathic schools. If you are committed to attending an allopathic medical school here in the United States, then you must retake the MCATs and somehow manage to earn a competitive score.

Applying to Medical School with Low Stats CTAAccepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
Related Resources:

• Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success
• Numbers Aren’t Everything When You Choose Your Med Schools
Applying to Medical School With Low Stats: What You Need to Know

MBA Admissions A-Z: U is for Undergrad Grades

U_is_for_undergrad_grades3 Steps for Handling a Low Undergraduate GPA

Grades show whether you previously performed well in an academic setting. If your college GPA is low, then you need to provide evidence that even though you may have faltered back then, now you’ve got you’re A-game and are capable of academic excellence.

But how?

The following 3 steps will help you overcome a low GPA and present a solid case to the admissions board that you mean academic business:

1.  Identify.

First, identify the cause of your low GPA.

Is it low because you partied a little too hard your first two semesters, but then buckled down after that and worked to pull up your low freshman GPA? Or did you start out high and then get really lazy and bored with school your senior year and let things spiral out of control? Or is it possible that your low GPA is truly an indication that your workload was too challenging and that you’re not school material? Or perhaps you were dealing with a serious illness or family problems? Or maybe back then you just weren’t motivated to succeed?

Once you understand why you have a less-than-impressive GPA, you’ll have an easier time figuring out what to do next (Step 2) and how to explain the situation (Step 3).

2.  Ameliorate.

Once you determine that you are motivated this time around and are capable and competent academically, then it’s time to take action to improve your profile. (And if after deep introspection you decide that school is just not for you, then consider yourself lucky that you figured that out now and not after you’ve paid $100,000+ on even more schooling.)

Obviously, you can’t go back and raise your undergraduate GPA, but there are steps you can take NOW to show the adcom that your undergrad GPA doesn’t define your current academic abilities:

• Take a few business-related, college-level courses and earn A’s in them.

• Ace the GMAT.

3.  Explain.

There are three places in your MBA application where you may want to address a low GPA: the optional essay, the required portions of the application, and your letters of recommendation.

In a non-whiny, non-defensive tone, you can clearly and straightforwardly explain why your GPA is lower than it should be in the optional essay. Perhaps there was a death in the family one semester or maybe you had emergency surgery that left you on bed rest for three weeks mid-semester. Or maybe you just didn’t realize the importance of grades until halfway through your sophomore year and by then your GPA had taken a serious hit. Or maybe you worked thirty hours a week to support yourself. Let the reader know the context of your grades. Write honestly and write well.

In other parts of the application, show the skills that your transcript hides without drawing attention to the grades. For example, if you did not do well in Econ 101 or college math classes, but now are do some really heavy lifting in terms of financial modeling, then either in your resume or in a required essay, write about a quantitative challenge that you handled with elan.

Regarding letters of recommendation – getting a supervisor to vouch for your maturity and abilities is probably one of the best things you can do to bolster your case. Again, if you had poor grades in classes requiring a lot of writing, ask your boss if she can comment positively on your communications skills. If you had poor quant grades, ask if she can praise your quantitative analysis of a complex project. In either case, your boss doesn’t have to reference the negative you are trying to overcome – just the positives you want to bring out.

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Related Resources:

• MBA Admissions Tip: Dealing with a Low GPA
• How to Handle a Low GMAT Quant Score
• How to Handle a Low GMAT Verbal Score

Boost Your GPA For Medical School Acceptance

Watch the webinar Get Accepted to Medical School with Low Stats

A low GPA is probably the hardest area to improve. But it can be done.

In our last Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success segment, we talked about how to best present yourself in your secondaries and interviews. Today we’ll move forward and discuss ways to boost your GPA, another important feature of your med school application profile.

Feeling a bit fragile after these first sections? That’s to be expected – you’ve just gone undergone a pretty brutal review of your life. But the admissions committee is scrutinizing submissions with the same critical eye. Anticipating the problems so you can correct them is critical for success in your next attempt. And to start out, let’s look at how you can “fix” a poor GPA.

A low GPA is probably the hardest area to improve. This makes sense – it was years in the making, and can’t be undone without time. It can take about a year in advanced level science courses to bump a high 2.x GPA over 3.0. The lower your GPA, and the more classes you’ve taken, the longer it will take to reflect improvements in your academic record.

Fortunately, whether your GPA is just a bit off the mark or well below the competitive level, there are steps you can take.

Apply to an international medical school. Pursuing a medical degree abroad might be a viable option for you. The required GPA is often lower than the U.S. average and in some programs, the MCAT is not required. Courses are often taught by U.S. academic physicians with clinical rotations in the U.S. But if you do decide to attend an international medical school, realize that you will have to contend with many different challenges – from language barriers to culture shock – that could affect your studies.

Probably the biggest challenge for international medical graduates is securing a residency program after completing medical school. Only 50.9% of IMGs match to PGY1 programs, although the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates reports a consistent increase in this number over the past decade. I’ve worked with many successful IMGs over this same time period. What sets them apart is that they make up for any lack in their initial qualifications by working harder than the average medical student. They’re heavily involved in university activities, community healthcare initiatives, and international competitions. And significantly, they’re the ones who can express the advantages of their non-US medical education, including resourcefulness and the deep grounding in diagnoses that comes from doing without modern diagnostic equipment.

If you’re interested in an international program, do your research. Some Caribbean programs such as Ross UniversitySt. George’s University, and the American University of the Caribbean have consistently high placement rates. Israeli programs like Sackler and Ben-Gurion have partnerships with American programs; likewise, the University of Queensland has an attractive option for U.S. students. And Ireland’s Atlantic Bridge program, although quite competitive, is flexible in its approach to the GPAs of qualified American and Canadian students.

Apply to a DO program. If your application is competitive but you just didn’t make the cut, consider an osteopathic medical program. Because there are fewer applicants, you might have a better chance. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) focus on integrating the whole person into the healthcare process, which makes them especially strong in family practice, general internal medicine, and pediatrics. They are fully licensed physicians; they train in the same residency programs, take the same national board exams, and sit for the identical USMLE exams that the MD students do. Your chance of securing a residency might be less – in the 2014 residency match, 77.7% of DOs matched compared to 94.4% of US senior MDs  but the steady rise in DO matches suggests that any stigma against osteopathic physicians is changing.

The good news for borderline candidates is that DO schools have lower GPAs and MCAT requirements: The mean GPA for the 2014 entering class was 3.43, while the mean MCAT score was 26 (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine). There are a number of programs worth exploring: West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, Lincoln Memorial (Harrogate, TN), Nova Southeastern (Ft. Lauderdale), Touro (Vallejo, CA, Lake Erie (Erie, PA) and Western University (Pomona) all have strong programs that are less competitive. West Virginia, for instance, had the lowest reported average GPA (3.4) of all medical schools and an average MCAT score of 25. However, 55% of their graduates matched at their top residency program.

If you care more about being a doctor than the letters after your name, the DO route is definitely something to think about. However, getting into one of these programs is still going to require a strong GPA. So what can you do if your grades are lower?

Boost your GPA with post-baccalaureate classes. This is a popular route, especially for applicants who did well on the MCAT but need some help with their GPA. Retaking science classes can show you’ve mastered the material, but a better strategy is to take advanced classes and do well. If you have any doubt about your ability to get an A, then this is probably not the best path for you.

The quality of the institution offering the courses is important – community college won’t cut it. The best option is to see if your own alma mater will allow you to take additional courses; often this can be done at a reduced cost. If this doesn’t work out, Syracuse University has a very useful list of programs that offer post-bac courses in the sciences.

Have low stats? Register for our webinar to see how you can get accepted!

Improve your GPA with a science-based master’s program. This is another preferred route for would-be reapplicants, because it provides opportunities for more independent, self-directed research and demonstrates scientific acumen. It can be especially useful if you don’t have a research background already. Keep in mind though that you need to excel in your coursework and that you will have to finish the entire program; making below-average grades or dropping out before the program ends will do you more harm than good when you reapply to med school.

Master’s programs aren’t right for everybody – you might not want to commit to a multi-year program, or you might not be confident about your academic performance. Or you might not have the minimum GPA required for admittance in the first place. In that case:

Prove your potential in a special master’s program (SMPs). These programs, usually a year long, are often associated with a medical school. Students are immersed in a rigorous science-based curriculum almost identical to what they will face in medical school; often, they are even taking classes or being graded alongside first year med students. Success in these courses can show the admissions committee that you’re ready for medical training, which means that once you’re accepted into a SMP, the odds are very good you’ll eventually get into medical school.

Several programs cater to the lower end of the GPA/MCAT spectrum:

East Virginia Medical School M.S. in Biomedical Sciences: In the past five years, 90% of students have been accepted to med school after completion of EVMS’ program. The program runs for two semesters; the majority of courses are taught by faculty in the medical school. They require at least a 2.75 GPA and a 27 on your MCAT. They recommend applying by April, but applications are accepted through May.

• The Virginia Commonwealth University: Pre-Medical Basic Health Certificate Program: Graduates completing the program with a 3.5 GPA/28 MCAT are guaranteed an interview at VCU School of Medicine. They require a 3.0 GPA and 25 MCAT for admission, and applications are accepted until July 1st.

• Drexel’s Medical Science Program (MSP): The year-long MSP offers graduate-level biological science coursework, formal MCAT preparation, community outreach, and undergraduate review courses in chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry. A 3.0 GPA and either a 17 on the MCAT or 70th percentile on the GRE is required for entry to the program. Success in the program guarantees admission to Drexel’s Masters of Biological Science or the IMS course.

• Drexel’s Interdepartmental Medical Science (IMS) Program: Students spend 18 months in first-year medical school classes. Successful completion of their coursework enables them to continue on for another year to earn the MS of Medical Science. They are also guaranteed an interview at the Drexel School of Medicine. Applications are accepted year-round; a 3.0 GPA and an MCAT score of 27 or better is required.

Because SMPs have a reputation as a more certain path to medical school, they can be quite competitive. If you are still determined to be a physician but don’t have the GPA to get into a program, there’s one more route available.

GPA bump followed by an SMP. This method is a bit circuitous, but it does work. First, you need to get your GPA up – a year of good grades in upper-level science courses might be enough to get you up to a 3.0. At that point, you can apply to an SMP with strong links to a medical school. This will take you a minimum two years, which might not seem appealing at this point. However, look upon it as a way to build your confidence and shore up the science and study skills that will enable you to excel in medical school.

Boosting your GPA is likely to test your resolve to be a doctor. The next year(s) won’t be quick or easy, and you may question whether the effort is even worth it. You might find it’s not, and that is fine – there are many other worthwhile careers you can pursue. But if you keep your eyes on the prize, then in all likelihood you’ll be wearing a white coat someday.

Next, we’ll look at some of the other concrete steps you can take to improve your profile – and your chances of succeeding in medical school. Still have questions? Contact Accepted.com to see how our admissions consultants can help you.

Applying to Med School with Low stats - Free guide

Cydney Foote

By , Accepted consultant and author of Write Your Way to Medical School, who has helped future physicians craft winning applications since 2001.

Related Resources:

• How to Get into Medical School with Low Stats , a free webinar
• Applying to Medical School with Low Stats: What You Need to Know, a free guide
• Study Skills: How to Improve your GPA to Become a More Competitive Med School Applicant

Should You Apply to a Postbac Program?

Click here to order your copy of The Definitive Guide to Pre-Medical Postbaccalaureate Programs Not sure if your profile and qualifications are strong enough to get you into med school this year? Maybe it’s time to consider another route to med school: attending a post baccalaureate program first. This is an excellent option for pre-meds who are concerned that their low stats, non-science education, or lack of clinical work experience aren’t quite up to snuff in the race for acceptance to med school

Don’t second guess yourself! You CAN achieve your dream of becoming a physician with the experience and knowledge you gain with a pre-med postbac program.

And to help you…we’d like to unveil the just-released, outstanding new book that will walk you through the postbac admissions maze, The Definitive Guide to Pre-Medical Post Baccalaureate Programs.

Written by former postbac program director and current Accepted.com consultant, Alicia McNease Nimonkar, this guide will teach you:

• The pros and cons of attending a postbac or specialized master’s degree program.

• Success stories of former postbac students who are now medical students and doctors.

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