Choosing Your Target Score for MCAT
One of the major questions on the minds of pre-med students everywhere is “what score do I need to get on the MCAT to get into medical school?” This is a tricky question, as it doesn’t have just one answer. There is a multitude of factors that play into the score an individual might need to get into medical school. Moreover, the MCAT is only one aspect, albeit an important aspect, of a complete medical school application. As you read through this blog post, keep in mind the holistic nature of medical school applications and the other factors besides your MCAT score which may be strengths or weaknesses in your application.
How is the MCAT Scored?
Briefly, the MCAT is a four-section exam that is scored on a scale of 472 to 528, with 528 being the best score a test taker can receive. For more detailed information on where these numbers come from, check out our detailed blog post on how the MCAT is scored. A quick synopsis: MCAT scores have an associated percentile from 1 to 100. A higher percentile is associated with a better score. For example, if you score in the 90th percentile, that means on average you did better than 90% of other MCAT test takers! For reference, in 2021 a score of 515 was in the 90th percentile, and a score of 510 was 78th percentile. The percentiles vary slightly from year to year.
How Do I Choose an MCAT Target Score?
Choosing a target score is highly dependent on your specific goals. Factors such as applying MD vs DO, what “tier” of schools to which you plan to apply, and the strength of the rest of your medical school application are integral in determining how high of an MCAT score you might need. For a small fee, you can get access to the AAMC’s Medical School Admission’s Requirements (MSAR) database or the ChooseDo database to find the scores ranges for successful medical school admits at a bunch of different schools. These databases have accurate and up-to-date information about all U.S. and Canadian medical schools, and I highly recommend checking them out.
As I hinted above, different “tiers” of medical schools will have different ranges of MCAT scores that they typically look for in their applicants, and should help you set your MCAT target score. At the risk of overgeneralizing, most of the “top programs” i.e., the ivy league schools and research powerhouses, are looking for MCAT scores in the high 90+ percentiles. A quick look through the MSAR will give you a better idea of the scores of admitted students. If there is a particular school that is your top choice, you should aim to have your MCAT score within the range of admitted applicants, ideally above the median of the range. According to the AAMC, the average MCAT score for matriculants to U.S. MD schools in the 2021-2022 application cycle was a 511.9. Being in the ballpark of a 510+ is often a good starting goal for students who want to apply to MD schools but are unsure of which medical schools they want to apply to.
When you’re studying for the MCAT, make sure to take plenty of practice exams throughout the process so you can keep a pulse on your progress. I’d recommend comfortably scoring in your goal range on a few practice exams before taking the real thing. If you’re not within range of your MCAT target score, you can reschedule your MCAT test date (for a fee). I am of the opinion that it is better to reschedule and pay the fee, rather than take the MCAT before you are ready.
After you take the MCAT and receive your score, make sure to tweak the list of schools you plan to apply to include schools with MCAT ranges at and below your score, with a few reach schools as well. While there is no such thing as a safety-school when it comes to applying to medical school, you can maximize your chances of getting in by applying strategically! I personally made the mistake of including too many “top 10” schools in my application to MD-PhD programs. Guess how many interviews I got to these reach schools? Zero! Not to say you shouldn’t try, but my advice to a past self would be to prioritize only a few reach schools and spend the majority of your efforts applying to schools in your MCAT range. Keep in mind, just because your MCAT is higher than the average matriculants at a particular medical school does not ensure you’ll get an interview or an acceptance, as the application process is truly holistic and multifactorial.
Think About Your MCAT Target Score in the Context of Your Whole Medical School Application
Other important aspects of a medical school application include GPA, essays, letters of recommendation/committee letters, volunteer experience, clinical/shadowing experience, and other activities or achievements that make you unique and stand out. Since many of these aspects are hard to quantify, this is where you may want to ask for input from your pre-medical advisor, if applicable, or someone close to you that is very familiar with the medical school application process their honest opinion of the strength of your application. Pre-medical advisors can be an invaluable resource, as they typically see all the pre-medical students at a particular university through the medical school application process. My recommendation is to take their advice about the MCAT and applications seriously, it usually comes from years of experience and advising numerous students.
According to the AAMC, the average GPA for matriculants to U.S. MD schools in 2021 was 3.73. The MSAR/ChooseDo databases also have information for the GPAs of accepted students at specific schools. If your GPA is significantly lower than matriculants at most medical schools, you might want to shoot for a higher MCAT score and/or take one or more gap years to strengthen other aspects of your application.
While there is no magic 8-ball that can tell you how to get into medical school or what MCAT target score you should choose, we hope this blog post helped dispel some myths and shed some light on the MCAT and medical school application process. Check out our other blog posts for more tips and tricks to get the highest score you can on your MCAT, and our 1-on-1 MCAT tutoring service to provide you with a custom study experience! Happy studying!