The Role of the MCAT in Medical School Admissions
For medical school hopefuls, the MCAT is one of the biggest hurdles you’ll have to face. It is a monster of a test—7 hours long, covering 7 subjects, verbal, and scientific reasoning skills. But how important is it anyways? What score do applicants need, and what role does it play in admissions? In order to answer these questions, let’s take a look at the medical school admissions process in general.
Your Medical School Candidacy: A Stool with Three Legs
A key aspect of medical school admissions is its holistic nature. Much more so than for law school or business school admissions, applying for medical school requires more than just numbers.
Imagine your candidacy as a stool with three legs:
- academic performance (GPA, MCAT)
- extracurriculars (exposure to medicine, research, community service)
- personal qualities (interview performance, recommendation letters, personal statements)
Without any one of these, your stool will have a hard time standing, and you will have a tough time getting into medical school. That being said, not all legs bear equal weight, and some aspects will be more important during different stages of the application process.
The Importance of the MCAT Varies Throughout the Admissions Process
For those who are unfamiliar, there are several stages to applying to medical school. There are primary and secondary applications, in which you send schools your scores, activities, recommendation letters, and essays. The next phase is the interview, which is where a significant number of applicants get cut. Usually, medical schools only interview about 10% of total applicants. According to AAMC surveys, the importance of each aspect of your application changes at each stage of the review process.
From AAMC Analysis in Brief (Volume 11, Number 6, September 2011), “Medical School Admissions: More than Grades and Test Scores.” The importance of each application component was rated on a scale (5=extremely important, 4=very important, 3=important, 2=somewhat important, 1=not important).
Securing the Interview Invite
According to the AAMC, GPA and MCAT are most important before the interview invite. In addition, a recent Kaplan survey showed that the majority of adcoms view a low MCAT score as the “#1 application dealbreaker”. Recommendation letters, medical community service, personal statements, all come second to your academic credentials when it comes to securing an interview invite.
Having a strong MCAT is paramount: at some schools, applicants below the cutoff line won’t even be considered. For reference, the median MCAT score for a matriculant is 510, which is 81 percentile. To have a good chance of attending medical school, you’ll need scores around this area.
Securing an Acceptance
The story changes after you have secured an interview. According to AAMC data, after the interview, your interview performance is the number one factor in final admissions decisions. In addition, the importance of your recommendation letters and medical community service rises. Academic factors, such as MCAT and GPA, are still important, but lower on the list of important considerations. At this point, medical schools care more about who you are as a person rather who you are as a statistic.
The key takeaway: MCAT and GPA get your foot in the door, but personal characteristics get you to the finish line.
Where does this leave us in terms of advice for MCAT takers?
To sum it all up, an exceptional MCAT score won’t guarantee everything, but a strong performance on the test is critical in the early stages of the admissions process.
Prep the best you can to maximize your chances. Contact us to find out how.