One of the most common questions I receive is “What MCAT score do I need if I have a low GPA?” Is there a specific number to shoot for? That’s what we talk about today.
Students frequently assume that there’s this global balancing act between the different parts of your application. In the balancing act, they think a great GPA is going to overcome a poor MCAT score. Or a great personal statement and extracurriculars are going to overcome a low GPA and a low MCAT score. What’s wrong with this way of looking at things?
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[01:00] Low GPA, High MCAT: One Does Not Boost Up the Other
The problem with this kind of mindset is that when schools receive your application, they don’t see everything in totality from the beginning. They don’t filter and sort in totality.
“Holistic” admissions is the buzzword right now. But when you think about having a low GPA and getting a high MCAT score to overcome that GPA, it just doesn’t work that way.A low GPA is a low GPA. And an MCAT score, no matter what it is, is your MCAT score. They are two very different parts of your application.Click To Tweet
GPA and MCAT are both number-based. So they are similar in this regard, but otherwise very different.
What Does a High MCAT Score Show? What Does a Low GPA Show?
A high MCAT score tells an admissions committee one thing about you. This tells them how well you take the MCAT, as well as the knowledge and foundation you have in the sciences needed to do well on the MCAT.
This is in contrast to what your GPA shows. Your GPA is your whole track record in undergrad. But GPA is variable at every school: They have different grade inflation and deflation. So the GPA is less valuable to schools a lot of times.One does not boost up the other. A high MCAT score doesn't help a low GPA.Click To Tweet
[02:27] Different Medical Schools Look at Applications Differently
One of the biggest difficulties with admissions is that every school does it differently. One school may look at MCAT only. Canadian schools are very big on this. They look at the CARS section of the MCAT, which is one section on the MCAT. That’s what they care about.
In the U.S., they look at everything. But every admissions committee is going to care about something differently. So when you think about your application, you can’t think of it in terms of raising up your MCAT score to help a low GPA.
A Better Way of Thinking About GPA, MCAT, and Everything Else
This is how I recommend thinking about it: You need to do as well as you can in everything. You need to shoot for the stars in each part of your application.Do as well as you can on the MCAT. Don't worry about finding a specific score that is going to help overcome a poor GPA.Click To Tweet
[03:45] Filtering Applications by GPA and MCAT
Some schools may look at GPA as a way to filter applications. Remember, medical schools are getting thousands upon thousands of applications. Some schools got 12,000 applications last year. So they need a way to filter them.
So if your GPA is below a certain number, medical schools may not look at your application at all. Their computers will filter it out. Or they may put your application so far down the list that there’s almost a zero percent chance you’re going to get an interview. And your MCAT score is powerless to change that because their filter may be just looking at GPA to the exclusion of anything else.
On the flip side, they may worry about MCAT score and filter by MCAT score. In that case, a high MCAT score may save your application from the filter. But in the other case, only a high GPA can save your application from the filter. But different schools are going to sort and filter differently.You don't know what the school is looking at or looking for. So don't worry.Click To Tweet
[What should you do when your GPA is below 3.0 and it would take years of credits to raise it above 3.0, but you have a good application otherwise? In these cases, you need to advocate for yourself by reaching out to the schools. You need to make sure they manually review your application, even though the GPA filters would throw it out. Check out this episode for more about that.]
[04:50] Focus on What You Can Control
My message always boils down to this: Stop worrying about what you can’t control. Asking the question of “What MCAT score do I need to overcome a low GPA?” is something that’s out of your control. Because you don’t know that answer.
The next time you have a question in your head, first, ask yourself, is it something you can really control? What MCAT score you need to overcome a low GPA is out of your control.
What’s in your control is doing as well as you can on the MCAT. The question should therefore be, “How can I best study and prepare for the MCAT, to score as well as I can on MCAT?” Don’t worry about whether it’s going to help your GPA. Just do well. And let the rest fall into place.There are so many moving parts and pieces to the application process... But one does not balance out or correct any other.Click To Tweet
For another look at this same question, check out Session 80 of The MCAT Podcast. That episode looks at the same question of high MCAT “balancing out” a low GPA, but this time I’m joined by Bryan from Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). We look at historical AAMC data about acceptance rates at various GPA and MCAT combinations. Check it out here.
Links and Other Resources
- Check out my book about the MCAT, co-written with Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep): The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT.
- Related episode: How Will an Unbalanced MCAT Score Affect Me?
- Related episode: What the Average MCAT Score Increase Means for You.
- Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code “MSHQ” at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)!