You’ve spent months in an MCAT review course, taken practice test after practice test, and finally sat for the exam. Your results are in. Are they good enough to get you into your target medical school? Let’s take a look at what your scores mean.
The Difference between the MCAT and Your Grades
The primary purpose of the MCAT is to assess an applicant’s ability to succeed in medical school by testing critical skills and knowledge of natural, physical, and behavioral sciences. The MCAT score is the only piece of the med school application that is standardized.
Your grades are anything but standardized. Applicants to medical schools attended different schools, took courses of different levels and from different professors who used different grading standards. Therefore, even your GPA, which is generally looked at as an “objective” piece of the application, is actually subjective.
Each of the four sections of the MCAT is scored between 118 and 132. AAMC originally designed the test aiming for an average section score of 125 and an average total score of 500 within a total score range from 472 to 528.
For better or worse, the average score of all applicants and matriculants is rising. In 2016-17 the total average score was 501.8. The following year, 2017-18 it had climbed to 504.7.
How to Evaluate the Competitiveness of Your MCAT Score
So, what is the magic number needed to get into medical school? Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this question for all med schools, or even for all med school applicants. Here are some factors to examine when evaluating the competitiveness of your MCAT score:
• What are the average MCAT scores for the schools you are applying to?
Students admitted to MD programs in the US in 2017 had average total MCAT scores between 508 and 509. According to AACOM (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine), those admitted to DO programs in 2016 (the most recent data available) had average total MCAT scores of 502.17.
Those figures give you a broad overview, but it’s the specific schools’ data that should really guide your application strategy. For example, your very respectable score of 504 may be competitive at Northeast Ohio, an MD program where the average MCAT score for admitted students was 505, with a 10th-90th percentile range of 501-512. However, if your dream school is Washington University in St. Louis, you probably need to up your score…or change your dream. The average MCAT score for admitted students at Wash U was 521, with a range of 10th-90th percentile range of 516-525 per MSAR.
• Is your score balanced?
What does it mean if your scores were 130 on three sections of the MCAT and 115 on the fourth? Clearly you have a weakness in an area that most medical schools feel is important enough to test and measure. Although your total score was a respectable 505, med schools will still look at the imbalance in your scores and be concerned in particular about the one area that was so much weaker.
• How competitive is your GPA?
If your GPA is at the high end for the schools you are applying to, the admissions committees may cut you a little slack on your MCAT score. The average undergrad GPA for those admitted to an MD program in 2017 was 3.70. AACOM’s reported 2016 overall mean baccalaureate GPA for matriculants was 3.45.
• How is the rest of your application?
The MCAT is not evaluated in a vacuum, and even a great MCAT score will not be enough to guarantee your med school acceptance. The rest of your application must show the admissions committee that you are serious about medical school and a medical career, have the character to be a compassionate doctor, and have the background and interpersonal skills to contribute to your community. Even if you have all of these attributes, you have to present them effectively via your primary and secondary applications and your interview. Be sure your application is complete and neat. Your essays must be compelling and tell the story of an applicant the adcoms will want to get to know better.
Which Schools Should You Apply To?
When choosing which med schools to apply to, look at their average MCAT scores and the range of MCAT scores for matriculants at your target schools. Be sure that your score is in range for all, or for the overwhelming majority of, your target schools. Unless you have a high GPA, other truly impressive elements in your application, or come from an underrepresented background in medicine, make sure that your MCAT is above average for at least some of the programs you are applying to.
Remember that the purpose of the MCAT is to show your readiness to handle the academics of medical school. It is a very important element of your med school application, but it’s not the only one. Commitment, character, interpersonal skills, and your potential to contribute to your community are important as well. Be sure that your total application shows that you not only can handle the academics, but that you will be an outstanding physician and credit to the med school you attend.
Do you have questions about how you’ll measure up compared to other medical school applicants? Do you need help creating a strong application that will get you noticed…and then accepted? Check out Accepted’s Medical School Admissions Consulting Services for expert assistance in the admissions process.