3.5/29 is competitive somewhere!

Right now I’m humming that old Jimmy Buffet song—you know the one…”It’s 5:00 somewhere.” So my first, best answer is, “3.5/29 is competitive somewhere!” In fact, if you’ve read my post, “What’s considered a good MCAT score?“ it underscores the fact that a 29 on the MCAT is good enough to get you into some (lower-tier) schools. If you hit 30-32 with a GPA of 3.5 or higher, it’s probably going to get you into a lot of middle-tier schools. Then, when you land a 34-35 on the MCAT, you won’t have to sing that Jimmy Buffet song anymore, because you’ll be competitive everywhere!

medschoolMy answer isn’t based on empirical data, because you can find that on a lot of medical school websites. For starters, you can check out the 10th and 90th percentile MCAT scores  in the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) 2011-2012. I’m just offering

parameters and pointers for where your GPA/MCAT numbers should be, from my own personal perspective. But in my opinion it’s a mistake giving two little numbers too much power over your psyche! Obviously you need good-looking numbers to seduce adcom committees into inviting you to “the dance,” but I’ve seen some pretty well-endowed students (numbers-wise) smacked down with rejection, while others with badly pocked scores somehow squeaked through. Since this game of predictions is not an exact science, I’ll throw out every bit of wisdom I can….and then recommend that you take it with a grain of salt.

MD vs. DO

Let’s start with the MD/DO difference. Actual data from 2011 and 2012 shows that for a DO program, the average numbers for GPA/MCAT matriculants are 3.48/26.5, while MD candidates have to ramp it up a bit: 3.68/31.2. So if those are averages, then they likely correspond to middle- or lower-tier schools. If you’re targeting top-tier programs, your numbers will have to be higher. That would tend to bear out the number at the top of this post—3.7/32—as a pretty solid combination.

What about 3.6 GPA?

Let’s just say in most cases, a 3.6 won’t keep you out of any school. And yes, I mean Ivy League contenders. But that 3.6 GPA needs to be paired with a good MCAT number, great extracurriculars (EC) and a stellar personal statement. In my opinion, great ECs will give you more of an advantage than another couple of GPA points. If you’re at 3.6 or 3.7, be happy and build on your ECs. If you’re at 3.5, it could be a negative factor, depending on where you apply.

A balanced MCAT

Adcom committees will consider your overall MCAT score, and also your score on the three test sections. They’re looking for a balanced score that shows preparation in all areas. Even a 32 might not cut it if it’s unbalanced. A 7/12/13 may yield the same final number as a 10/11/11, but the latter is more likely to get you noticed.


Extracurriculars can be extraterrestrial! If you have a 3.6 and great ECs, it could bring you more adcom love than a 3.7 with mediocre ECs. Depending on your school, there’s a bottom line GPA that’s acceptable, and once you reach that, your time and attention is best invested in improving your ECs, rather than worrying about an extra tenth of a point in your GPA.

Mistakes to avoid

Here are some don’ts, with some links to my posts on the subject: Don’t apply late. Don’t let your science GPA lag behind your cumulative GPA more than .2, don’t submit a mediocre personal statement, don’t apply to too few schools or to only top-tier programs, don’t mess around when choosing who writes your letters of recommendation, don’t walk into an interview unprepared, and don’t send in sloppy secondary applications. Any one or more of these items—done right—can be the key to unlocking the door to your chosen school, as long as you have the minimal numbers.

“Ding” factors

Here are a few other things that can “ding” you….undergrad grades that trend lower during your upper level classes, taking easy classes for science electives, or major classes taken at a community college. Avoid at all costs!

So finally, I’m going to stick with the 3.7/32 combination, with probably a 75% chance of at least one acceptance. But there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that with lower numbers on both fronts (a 3.6/30) you could still get through with great ECs, LORs, and an excellent personal interview!

Trending up…

If you want my opinion, this post has an expiration date on it. All the trends show that grades and MCAT scores are going up. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of a better class of students, or a more competitive playing field, but if the magic numbers in 2014 are 3.7/32, they will be a point or so higher in 2016.


Here are some related posts:

What’s the best MCAT prep course—Princeton Review, Kaplan, Altius, Examkrackers, Berkeley Review…???

What exactly is in the AMCAS primary and secondary applications?

Where can I find a list of the best MCAT prep books in 2013?

When should I take the MCAT, what’s the cost?

Can I still get into a residency program if I don’t go to a top-tier medical school?

Bryce Johnson co-founded premedFAQ.com in 2011 and is the author of Must Reads for the Well-Rounded Pre-Med on Amazon. If you'd like to write for the site or contribute in another way, feel free to reach out to him on LinkedIn or via email.