GPA and MCAT scores are usually the first items that an admissions committee looks at when evaluating a student’s application. Grades and MCATs combined may carry 65% to 70% of the weight in the admissions decision. Admissions committees want be sure that, if you are accepted, you will be successful academically in medical school and ultimately on your National Boards. The National Board exams are taken at the conclusion of the second and during the fourth year of medical school. MCATs play a bigger role in the admissions decision now that students are required to take shelf exams during their clerkship years. MCATs have proved to be a positive predictor of a student’s ability to pass these exams.
Be sure that you have completed all the medical school prerequisites prior to sitting for the MCAT. The MCATs are offered many different times over the course of the year, so do not feel pressured to take them until you are ready. In April of the junior year, students are normally finishing either physics II or organic chemistry II, preparing for finals in all their other courses, getting ready to apply to medical school, and studying for the MCAT. Take your time and think about taking the May, June, or even the July exams. That will give you the opportunity to finish time to study for the MCATs without either feeling so much pressure to do it all at once or sacrificing your spring semester grades.
If you know that you have difficulty with standardized tests, or if you perform poorly the fist time you take the MCATs, consider taking an MCAT prep course through Kaplan or the Princeton Review. Often, however, time and financial restraints prevent routine enrollment in MCAT prep courses.
If your MCAT scores are not what you had hoped, try to pinpoint your area of weak performance, but do not focus exclusively on that area as you prepare to take the exam again. You may need to bring your Verbal Reasoning scores up, but this should not be at the expense of Biological Science or Physical Science. Try to stay balanced in preparing for the exam.
If your GPA, particularly your science GPA, is not as high as it should or could be to apply to medical school, or if your grades fluctuated greatly over the course of your college career, consider completing a master’s degree in the hard sciences before applying to medical school. There are several one-year master’s programs that you might want to consider. For instance, the programs at Boston University, Georgetown University, and the Johns Hopkins University all have a reputation for preparing students well for the medical school curriculum. These programs allow students to take medical school courses with current medical students and provide the pre-med students enrolled in these special master’s programs with very good medical school advising.
Other strong “record enhancing” programs are at Drexel University and Duquesne University. Applicants looking to address a lower GPA are not limited to these programs. Any graduate program offering a master’s degree in the sciences would be a possibility. Discuss your options with your pre-health advisor. There are also special programs designed for students under-represented in medicine, such as Southern Illinois University’s Medical/Dental Education Preparatory Program (MEDPREP).
If you came late to the decision to enter medical school or did not take the science prerequisites as an undergraduate, look for a postbaccalaureate program designed to give students interested in medicine the prerequisite courses they will need to apply to medical school. Check out the AAMC’s postbaccalaureate premedical programs search engine for information on various programs. There are programs available that focus on applicants making a career change, applicants who need to enhance their academic records, minority applicants, and economically or educationally disadvantaged applications.
This post is excerpted from 101 Tips on Getting Into Medical School by Jennifer C. Welch, who has served as the Director of Admissions at SUNY Upstate Medical School since 2001.