So you want to become a doctor. You have definitely had an aunt at a family dinner tell you, “Medical school? It is way too competitive; try something easier!” Your aunt is right. Getting into medical school is notoriously difficult. In the 2020-2021 application cycle, there were 53,030 people who applied to medical school, but only 22,239 matriculated; more than half of applicants did not get in.
Note: This article uses the AAMC convention and refers to the applicants applying to start medical school in Fall 2020 as “2020-2021 applicants” and applicants who began medical school in Fall 2020 as “2020-2021 matriculants.”
Few careers can match the intellectual stimulation, autonomy, and satisfaction you can achieve as a doctor. Getting into medical school is absolutely possible if you are committed and work hard. However, it is important to approach the application process with a realistic understanding of the metrics involved. In this article we will discuss MCAT scores, GPAs, and the impact these have on your application.
The chart below summarizes the mean science GPA, non-science GPA, and MCAT scores of MD applicants versus matriculants of allopathic medical schools in the 2020-2021 application cycle based on AAMC data.
Science GPA, non-science GPA, and MCAT scores for 2020-2021 allopathic applicants and matriculants
|Science GPA||Non-Science GPA||MCAT|
Take note of the fact that those applicants who were accepted to medical school, on average, had an MCAT score that was 5.1 points higher than those who were not accepted. To put this in a different perspective, an MCAT score of 506 puts you in the 67th percentile, while an MCAT score of 511 puts you in the 82nd percentile. In other words, if you had a room filled with 100 people taking the MCAT, the average accepted applicant would score higher than 82 of those people. Consider the fact that the best and brightest are scrambling to become doctors and you have a recipe for intense competition.
It is also interesting to note that in the last few years, the metrics we are discussing have slowly crept up. This is likely driven by the fact that in the last three years, there has been under a 2% annual increase in medical school applicants. In 2017, there were a total of 51,680 applicants while in 2020, there were 53,030. A greater pool of applicants means that medical schools have the option to be more selective. But for applicants, it means having to work harder to make their application stand out. Below you can see a comparison of data for matriculants in the 2017-2018 and 2020-2021 application cycles.
Science GPA, non-science GPA, and MCAT scores for 2017-2018 vs. 2020-2021 matriculants
|Science GPA||Non-Science GPA||MCAT|
What does this mean for you? Well, a high GPA and solid MCAT score are an integral part of your application. Since your GPA is not something you can change, if you are unhappy with it, consider completing a post-baccalaureate or master’s program to demonstrate that you can handle the rigors of medical school. An updated high GPA can go a long way in compensating for low college grades. Similarly, if your MCAT score is significantly below the mean for accepted applicants, consider retaking it. It is also important to keep in mind that admission committees look at your entire application as a whole. Every year, there are applicants with great GPAs and MCAT scores who do not get accepted because the rest of their application is lacking. Thus, it is crucial to demonstrate passion, drive, and commitment through letters or recommendation, extra-curricular activities, and your personal statement.
Med school applications during COVID
Per NPR, the AAMC has observed a dramatic 18% increase in applications for the current application cycle. Paul White, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in an Admissions Straight Talk interview reported that Johns Hopkins as of October had experienced a 25% increase in applications year-over-year.
The proposed driving force behind this sudden surge has been dubbed the “Fauci effect.” It seems that young individuals all over the country are inspired by health professionals and leaders, most notably, Dr. Fauci, who are steering the battle against COVID. Dr. Kristen Goodell, associate dean of admissions at the school of medicine at Boston University, told NPR, “That, I think, may have a lot to do with the fact that people look at Anthony Fauci, look at the doctors in their community and say, ‘You know, that is amazing. This is a way for me to make a difference.’” Geoffrey Young, PhD, AAMC senior director for student affairs and programs, compared this to the surge in military applicants that followed 9/11. “So far in my lifetime, at least, and for as long as I’ve been in medical education, that’s the only comparison that I could make,” he said. Another proposed theory is that virtual interviews drive down both the cost and time required for interviews, allowing applicants to apply much more broadly.
Regardless of the forces behind this surge, as mentioned above, more applicants make it harder to stand out. Therefore, finding unique COVID-related opportunities in research, community service, and volunteering would be a great way to distinguish yourself during this application cycle.
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