How Important is Your MCAT Score for Medical School Admissions

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The MCAT is one of the most difficult standardized tests you will take, and it is a key component of medical school applications. However, its importance for medical school admissions, and specifically its value to admissions committees, remains shrouded in mystery. Placing too little or too much emphasis on the exam could end up hurting your chances of success in the application cycle. Here we clarify how important your MCAT score really is for medical school admissions, and how and why admissions committee members use this number to evaluate applicants. There are several reasons this score is important, but their relative weights often vary depending on where you’re applying and how strong the rest of your application is.

 

Your MCAT Score Reflects Overall Academic Performance

 

The first and most obvious value of the MCAT score is it provides a single number to quickly assess overall academic performance. Whereas GPA is a highly subjective measure that varies between undergraduate institutions and over time, the MCAT score is standardized. This provides a global sense for a student’s intellectual and academic capabilities because it reflects both studying for the exam itself as well as learning the fundamentals from the pre-medical courses that everyone is required to take. The main drawback of using this score as an objective measure of academic performance is that it is highly biased towards those who do well under a stressful standardized testing environment and students who can afford the time and money to study more rigorously. These limitations may help admissions committees put low scores into context with the rest of the information in the application. Alternatively, a high MCAT score paired with a low GPA may raise some questions about long-term study habits, unless there is an upward GPA trend that shows improvement over time with adjustment to college.

 

The MCAT Predicts Medical School Graduation and USMLE Performance

 

The MCAT is also a strong predictor of future success in medical school, as it is associated with both medical school graduation rates and USMLE pass rates. This is likely not a causal relationship, but rather students who do well on the MCAT have the right study skills and academic capabilities that will allow them to continue succeeding in rigorous coursework. For this purpose, MCAT scores become far less important as they move into the upper range. That is, a low MCAT score bodes poorly for medical school performance and may indicate future struggles with both coursework and USMLEs. Alternatively, a 60th percentile vs. a 90th percentile score does not offer much useful information as they both indicate a very high likelihood of succeeding in medical school coursework and passing all USMLEs. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t aim for a higher score, this can still give you a leg up in medical school admissions, especially if you are hoping to be accepted to a top-rated program, but to point out that there may be some diminishing returns in this case.

 

The MCAT Score is an Important Component of School Rankings

 

Another utilitarian purpose for MCAT scores is using them to rank schools nationally. The US News & World Reports rankings capture many students’ attention, despite being based on a limited and biased set of data. Schools know that these rankings are valuable, especially top-ranked programs, most of which have record high average GPAs and MCAT scores. In order to maintain these numbers, such top-ranked schools will be highly selective based on MCAT scores especially and will primarily only accept students who fall within a certain narrow range. A small number of students with lower scores will be accepted as well, but they will typically have some other very impressive qualifications (e.g., strong research background, founder of a nonprofit) that make up for the low score.

 

Schools Carefully Manage Their Matriculation Numbers

 

Many students don’t realize that it is certainly possible to have an MCAT score that is too high for a program to consider you. For example, consider a school with a typical range of scores between the 40th and 70th percentiles. From their perspective, an applicant with a 95th percentile score is likely to be highly successful in the application cycle and receive multiple acceptances from higher-ranked programs, even if the other components of their application are not quite as exceptional. Schools only send acceptances to students they deem qualified and whom they believe are likely to attend. Otherwise, having a very low offer acceptance rate looks bad for the school and elicits questions about why many students choose to turn down that program. Thus, programs carefully use MCAT scores to select students who are the best match for their program, in terms of both rigor and national ranking. If you are worried that this may be the case for your top choice school, consider sending them a letter of intent to let them know you intend to accept their offer if they were to make one.

 

MCAT Scores are Most Important Early in the Application Cycle

 

The final key point about your MCAT score is that it only gets you so far in the application cycle before its significance wears out. It is an essential piece of your primary application when programs are evaluating thousands of students and need quick metrics on which to assess and compare students. In a sense, the MCAT score simply gets your foot in the door. In other words, it is only useful insofar as it indicates to a program that your academic performance is on par with their expectations and rigors of their curriculum. However, many more students than there are available spots will meet these criteria for any given program, so this is only helpful to a point. After selecting out students who do not fit the bill in this regard, programs will look beyond this and other metrics and dig deeper into the “holistic” aspects of your application. This is where essays (personal statement, secondary applications, etc.), extracurricular activities, and, ultimately, interviews come into play.

 

The key takeaway about the importance of your MCAT score is that its importance is motivated by several factors, relating to both you as an applicant and different programs’ overall goals and rankings. However, keep in mind that it only holds value up to a point in the application cycle before it is overtaken by other factors about you as an individual. Pay attention to this score because the higher it is, the more opportunities you will have to get your foot in the door at the best programs. However, once you have their attention, the score disappears from relevance and it is then up to you to demonstrate why you will be an exceptional medical student and future physician beyond the fundamentals of intellect and academic achievement.

 

Get prepared today! Schedule a free consultation to learn more about how EMP can help you achieve your MCAT score goal, as well as help you stay on top of your medical school coursework, study for your shelf exams, get you through all your USMLEs and more!

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