Last week, we covered MCAT retakes. Today, we’ll discuss a more foundational question: What is a competitive MCAT score?
The quick answer: If you get a 509 or higher, that’s generally going to help your application, so many people would consider that “competitive.” But keep in mind: the main function of your MCAT score and your GPA is just to get you an interview. It’s your interview and the rest of your application and your story that will get you an acceptance. So you can still get into medical school with an MCAT score that is less than “competitive.” You just need a score that is good enough to get an interview.You don't need a 520+ MCAT score to become a doctor.Click To Tweet
[02:10] Your Starting Position
The AAMC has provided data from the 2016-2017 application cycle where they give you a grid of GPA crossed with MCAT score and the acceptance rate, how many people applied with these numbers, and how many people were accepted with these numbers.
When you think about the odds of getting in and how that relates to an MCAT score, this is how to think of it: Either my MCAT score hurts my application, my MCAT score is neutral on my application, my MCAT score is good enough but nothing special, or my MCAT score helps in my application.
For many students, a good score is just a score that doesn’t hurt them. For the overachievers, a good score is something that specifically helps their application.
Looking at the AAMC chart, the very bottom right shows all the applicants in the country (27, 772) and all the accepted students in the country (8,883) with an overall acceptance rate of 32%.The average applicant's chances of getting into med school are 32%. This is where you start.Click To Tweet
This is a tough starting point because it could mean a 2/3 chance of failure. But this is the starting position for considering what helps and what hurts. And this statement should be qualified: There are a lot of students that simply shouldn’t be applying—like anybody below a 3.0 GPA—and their low acceptance rates are pulling this statistic down. If you remove those applicants from the equation, then the acceptance rate shoots up significantly.
[Related post: MCAT Scores: What Do I Need?]
[06:57] 508 is the New 30
The nationwide average MCAT score for people who got accepted into allopathic (MD) programs in the US was about 509. Ever since the switch to the new MCAT in 2015, Bryan has said their mantra at Next Step Test Prep has been “508 is the new 30.” (30 was often cited as the score to shoot for on the old MCAT.)
Next Step was telling everybody that an MCAT score of 508 is the new number to shoot for. This was based on percentiles, considering that the MCAT has always been competitive and that it has always demanded that you be about among the top 20% in the nation. A 508 was just about the 80th percentile, so Bryan projected that as the score to shoot for. Ultimately, Bryan felt really vindicated when he saw the data coming in which said that the average MD matriculant is getting a 509.
The bottom line: If you get a 509, that’s going to help your application because it puts you in the “average student who gets accepted” group and not just in the “average applicant” group.
[08:20] What is a Competitive MCAT Score?
Bryan explains that anything below a 508 is going to hurt you. 508-510 are all fine, and if you don’t get accepted with a score in that range, it’s not because of your MCAT score. Anything that’s 510 and above will help you.
I agree with Bryan, and this is going to discourage a lot of people because they may only be getting a 504 or 505. But there is a huge difference between what is a competitive score and what is a score that will get your application a look and possibly get you an interview.
I’ve worked with plenty of students that are getting 501’s or 502’s, and they’re still getting interviews and acceptances. So the difference between competitive and good enough is huge, and it all depends on your complete application. A lot of students focus on the MCAT, thinking it’s all they need to get into school. Looking at this table, more than 10% of students who had more than 3.79 GPA and greater than a 517 on the MCAT still couldn’t get into medical school. So MCAT is not the only factor.
[10:00] A Well-Rounded ApplicationA high MCAT score does not provide guaranteed acceptance.Click To Tweet
Bryan says that scoring over 517 on the MCAT is the top 5% in the nation, but still, 12.5% of those people managed to screw up the interviews so badly they didn’t get in, or they wrote poor personal statements or had poor letters of recommendations. Usually, the people getting these high MCAT scores are possibly not the most social people, and they may not have great communication skills; so you need to have a well-rounded application. It’s not just your MCAT score or your GPA. It’s so much more than that. But when it comes to what is a competitive score, I think Bryan nailed it on the head.
[12:00] Hitting 506-509 to 510 and Above
So, for students who are doing about average or a little above average on the MCAT, in the 502-505 range, that’s good enough to get a look and probably good enough to get an interview—although you would have to knock it out of the park on everything else—it could get you an acceptance.
Then when you get to the 506-509 range, there’s a significant jump in the acceptance rate at 46.2%. So, now you’re well above the national average for MCAT scores, and that’s likely to be accepted. And then there’s an enormous jump once you get to the 510-513 mark at 60.3%. And then the acceptance rates for people scoring the highest on the MCAT reaches up to almost 80%.Once you hit 510 MCAT score, it becomes a real asset on your application.Click To Tweet
Nevertheless, Bryan points out the compounding effect: the kind of student who is with it enough to really work hard and get a high MCAT score is probably also getting their clinical exposure, their lab work, and all the other things they’re supposed to be doing, as well.
[13:20] Hitting a 520 on the MCAT: Does It Matter?
Bryan says unless you’re trying to come work for him and become a premium MCAT tutor, there is literally no reason to go for a 520.
He adds that the GPA and the MCAT score only really serve two functions. First is to make sure they don’t throw out your application. They have to be good enough so they will look at you as a human being. Second, they have to be good enough that they will interview you because no medical school in the country takes someone without interviewing them first.
If you got a 510, they’re certainly going to interview you as long as everything else is fine. Bryan has never heard of someone whose application was otherwise good and the 510 got them rejected and the 520 would have gotten them accepted. Unless you really want to get into Harvard or Washington University or one of these schools that have hilariously high MCAT averages, then a 520 wouldn’t really make a difference. You don’t need a 520+ MCAT score to become a doctor.
[15:15] Final Thoughts
Now you know what you should be shooting for on your MCAT. Knowing where you want to go is important to achieve your goals. Write down the score you want on a piece of paper and pin it up on your wall. Draw it on your bathroom mirror. Tell yourself every day that you’re going to get a 510 or a 505, whatever score you’re shooting for. Shoot for the stars, and make it happen.
- AAMC Table A-23
- Next Step Test Prep
- Related post: MCAT Scores: What Do I Need?
- Related episode: MCAT Retakes: Change and Improve to Get the Score You Want
- Check out Dr. Gray’s book The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT
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