High GPA But Low MCAT Score: What Should You Do?

Padya Paramita

High GPA But Low MCAT Score: What Should You Do?

Being a doctor has always been your dream. You’ve worked hard throughout college to succeed and have an excellent GPA. However, once you take the MCAT you’re faced with a roadblock in terms of a low score. If you have a high GPA but low MCAT score, take a deep breath. You aren’t doomed and your dreams aren’t shattered forever. Think carefully about the next steps, which we have outlined below.

Understand the Importance of GPA and MCAT in the Admissions Process

If you have a high GPA but low MCAT score, you might be wondering what medical schools expect from students. There is no standard “requirement” for GPA or MCAT score for acceptance to medical school. Yet, it is an extremely competitive process with only about 42% of applicants getting a spot in an entering class. 

Your GPA and MCAT scores are an integral part of demonstrating your ability to succeed in medical school. MCAT performance has been linked to future performance on USMLE and board certification examinations. The median MCAT score at many top schools is above 511, with some of them at 520, while the average GPA for top schools are mostly above 3.8. Although many schools have transitioned to a more holistic admissions process, academic performance is still a strong indicator of future prowess in the classroom and is crucial to get your foot in the door throughout the admissions process. You should especially aim to keep a high science GPA. The bottom line is, these numbers are important. 

Retake the MCAT If Possible

It’s still early days in 2022—if you have a high GPA but low MCAT score, there is still time to retake the test. The MCAT offers approximately 20-25 exam dates throughout the year. Some dates do fill up, so it is important to schedule early if you know when and where you want to take it. Keep in mind you should aim to schedule your MCAT exam approximately 18 months before you plan to enroll in medical school. 

For those students applying without a gap year, this will likely be the spring of their junior year. Taking it early, when you are prepared, is important because it allows you the flexibility to retake it if necessary and not have to wait for the next application cycle. You should expect to set aside about 3 months of dedicated study time before taking the exam, especially if you are retaking it. 

Rethink Your School List

If you have a high GPA but low MCAT score, you shouldn’t just apply to MD programs. Consider DO schools as well. DO covers more of the holistic care of the body, looking at the patient as an individual rather than their organs. DO programs are generally easier to get into than MD programs. If your MCAT score is in the lower 500s, DO schools might be a good option for you. According to the National Resident Matching Program, DO school graduates have excellent residency placement rates. Attending a DO School also keeps your options open because you enter any specialty you want.

You have to apply through the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine application system. Similar to preparation for MD school applications, make sure your extracurriculars are strong and reflective of your interest, specifically towards osteopathic medicine. If you know in advance that you would like DO schools as an option, be sure to gain similar clinical experience and shadow an osteopathic physician.

Although DO schools aren’t as reputable, they can train you in ways MD programs can’t. For example, DO students study osteopathic manipulative treatment, which treats diseases by fixing muscles and bones. Upon graduation, DO students can apply to both MD and DO residencies, which MD students cannot. Who knows, you might end up falling in love with osteopathic medicine and decide you want to go to a DO residency. Or, you have the chance to choose an MD residency. Either way, your options are open with a more diverse school list.

Write an Extremely Compelling Personal Statement

This particular point shouldn’t be taken for granted. Medical schools place a lot of emphasis on the GPA and MCAT components. However, if your personal statement is stellar, admissions committees might overlook your less desirable numbers. This is the place to make your story so powerful that you still make the case for your potential as a future physician and remain a top contender. Your medical school personal statement should demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in and passionate about medicine. Write as though admissions officers will presume that you are applying merely because it is the “next step in your life,” and not because you have a genuine interest in the medical field. 

Stand Out in Your Extracurriculars

While it’s important to strategize properly when you have a high GPA but low MCAT score, you should also remember that GPA and MCAT scores are not the only measure of future success when preparing for medical school. You will also need to demonstrate to a medical school admissions committee that you possess additional characteristics of a successful future physician such as empathy, communication skills, and leadership, through your extracurricular activities. 

It is important that you convey strong working knowledge of what it means to practice medicine. Many students tend to join pre-med student groups, work as a scribe, or take a service trip for a week to build their profile. But this isn’t the best way to prepare. While there are no “bad” activities per se, the ones we mentioned are just far too common and not reflective of passion. Consider unique opportunities for shadowing, volunteering, research projects, and independent projects that can help you stand out. These should be cohesive with your application persona or the theme of your application profile. Help your community, gain patient exposure if possible, and stand out as someone who is truly passionate about the field.

Take A Gap Year

You might think you don’t have enough time to retake the MCAT. Or, your extracurricular experiences may not match up to the standard. It is increasingly common to take a gap year before medical school. If your initial MCAT score was significantly lower than the median numbers for the schools you have in mind, a gap year can provide you with a bigger chunk of time to actually sit down and prepare. Make the most of your gap year to study and ensure that you can achieve a higher score this time around.

As I said, if you’re lacking in the extracurricular department. With time off, you’d have more chances to pursue clinical experience and research opportunities in order to beef up your medical school resumé. You’ll be going up against applicants who’ve dedicated a tremendous amount of time to clinics,  conducting research at university labs, volunteering at hospitals, and more. A gap year can allow you to think critically about whether you need more exposure to patients or greater time spent on research and publications. Remember, you’ll need 15 experiences to fill up your AMCAS activities section! If your resumé leaves a lot to be desired, you could certainly benefit from a gap year. 

The medical school admissions process can be extremely brutal. If you have a high GPA but low MCAT score, you must strategize in order to give yourself a fighting chance. Think carefully about your options and make the decision that can provide you with the best results. Good luck!

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