What’s a good GPA MCAT combo for acceptance to medical school?
That’s the burning question that keeps most pre-meds up at night and utterly panicked at times. Here’s my response:
3.5/507 is competitive somewhere!
Right now I’m humming that old Jimmy Buffet song—you know the one…”It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” That is to say, “3.5/507 is competitive somewhere!” If you’ve done any digging around to get the lowdown on a good GPA for acceptance to medical school, you know what many pre-meds have happily discovered after applying: depending on your MCAT score, even a rather mediocre GPA is good enough to get you into some (lower-tier) schools. If you hit the 50th percentile on the new MCAT with a GPA of 3.5 or higher, it’s entirely possible you can get into some lower-tier (and maybe even a couple middle-tier) schools. Then, if you land a 518 on the MCAT, you may not have to sing that Jimmy Buffet song anymore, because your GPA MCAT combo will be competitive just about anywhere!
What’s a “good” GPA MCAT combo?
Despite the advice below, 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.
My 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 Official Guide to Medical School Admissions 2017: How to Prepare for and Apply to Medical School or look at the individual stats of students matriculating into U.S. Medical Schools at services.aamc.org/msar/home. I’m just offering parameters and pointers for what a good GPA MCAT combo should be, from my own personal perspective and experience.
As with a lot of my recent posts, let me qualify my opinions with the fact that so much has been in flux with the post-2015 MCAT, that adequately scoring it is something adcoms are finally settling into. There’s no way to say what the ideal score is, since even AAMC is saying that scores in the middle of the curve may be better than (or at least equal to) a perfect 528! Yes I just said that. And yes, it’s stunning!
MD vs. DO
Scores vary depending on whether you are targeting MD or DO schools. Data from 2015-2016 shows that for a DO program, the average numbers for GPA/MCAT matriculants are 3.44/503, while MD candidates have to ramp it up a bit: 3.55/505. So if those are averages, then they likely correspond to middle- or lower-tier schools. Your GPA MCAT combo will need to be higher if you’re targeting top-tier programs. That would tend to bear out the number at the top of this post—3.7/511—as a pretty solid combination.
What about a 3.6 GPA?
Let’s just say in most cases, a 3.6 GPA 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 score, great extracurriculars (EC) and a stellar personal statement, as well as letters of recommendation that are so good they’ll shine. In my opinion, great ECs will give you more props than another couple of GPA points. If you’re at 3.6 or 3.7, be happy and build on your ECs. On the other hand, if you’re at 3.5, it could be a negative factor, depending on where you apply. This assumes that your sGPA is also at 3.5—or higher!
A balanced MCAT sections
Adcom committees not only look at your overall MCAT score, but they want to know your score on individual test sections. It’s best if you have a balanced score that shows preparation in all areas. Even a solid GPA score might not cut it if the MCAT is out of balance. A 120/123/130/131 may compute the same as a 126/127/125/126, but the latter is more likely to get you noticed.
Extracurriculars can be extraterrestrial! If you have a 3.6/508 and really impressive ECs, it could bring you more adcom love than a 3.7/510 with mediocre ECs. Depending on the schools where you apply, there’s often a bottom line GPA that’s acceptable, and once you reach that, your time and attention is best invested in improving your ECs (or applying to other schools), rather than worrying about an extra tenth of a point in your GPA.
Mistakes to avoid
Here are a few don’ts:
(1) Don’t apply late.
(2) Don’t let your science GPA lag behind your cumulative GPA more than .2.
(3) Don’t submit a mediocre personal statement.
(4) Don’t apply to too few schools or to only top-tier programs
(5) Don’t mess around when selecting who will write your letters of recommendation.
(6) Don’t walk into an interview unprepared.
(7) Don’t send in sloppy secondary applications.
All of this advice—if followed—can be the key to unlocking the door to your chosen school, as long as you have the minimal numbers.
Here are a few things that can “ding” you….undergrad grades that trend lower during your upper level classes, taking easy classes for science electives, or taking major classes at a community college. In the last case, one or two science classes at a community college may be overlooked, but not more than that. Avoid trying to “take the easy route” at all costs!
So finally, I’m going to stick with the 3.7/511 recommendation for a solid GPA MCAT combo, with probably a 75% chance of at least one acceptance. But there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that with a lower GPA (a 3.6, even 3.5) and decent MCAT (510-511) you could still get through the door—with great ECs, LORs, and an excellent personal interview!
There’s still a bit (sometimes quite a bit) of juice given for being a minority candidate, depending on the minority group you represent. If you’re a woman, racially diverse and/or the first in your family to graduate from college, it’ll probably help your application.
GPA MCAT combo numbers are 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. Why is that? Better students, or just more competition among them? It could be both. If the magic number in 2018 is 3.7/511, it will be a half a point or so higher next year.
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