How to Overcome the Medical School Application Algorithm

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OPM 225: How to Overcome the Medical School Application Algorithm

Session 225

Our med school hopeful has a 514 MCAT score and a 3.9 graduate GPA, but is worried they might not make it past “The Algorithm” with a low undergrad GPA. What can they do?

I have the privilege of taking your questions from the nontraditional premed forum over at and answering them here on the podcast. If you have a question you want to be answered here on the podcast, just sign up for an account there and ask your question over there at the Nontrad Premed Forum.

So we have an interesting question today from a student who’s asking whether a high MCAT score can offset a low undergraduate GPA. This is a very common question that comes up all the time, traditional or nontraditional.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[01:37] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

“I have been out of undergrad for 5 years. Since then I’ve been living an old dream of working at a large pharmaceutical company. It’s been a great few years but I realized just last year I would like to work with patients for the rest of my life, specifically as a physician. I am planning to leave a very comfortable corporate job to pursue this for the next 10 years, so I consider this to be something I am truly passionate about.

Unfortunately, I found out from your podcast this morning that even AACOMAS stopped doing grade replacement and my heart fell. I felt I would have had a decent chance with DO schools at least. Now, my cumulative GPA will calculate to around 3.0, while my science GPA is below that. My biggest fear is that algorithm… that may disregard my entire application due to that GPA, despite a possibly great MCAT.

I took the MCAT 3 years ago (never applied!) and scored a 514 with shoddy studying (I know that doesn’t make much sense given my GPA, but I just really hated my college and seemed to do a lot better outside that environment). I know from personal growth and from balancing coursework, volunteering, and a rigorous work schedule that I can do this. I am studying diligently for the MCAT in May and am sure I can beat my previous score.

I’ve heard you say in your podcasts to advocate for oneself, to network with people who can pull that application out of the ‘discard pile.’ But otherwise, for a non-traditional applicant, could a high MCAT score (514+) help offset a low undergraduate GPA, with respect to the algorithm or in general?

I would really appreciate it if you could answer this one. Thank you again.

(Just some background- I’ve already retaken many of my low-grade science courses from college. My sGPA is ~2.8 counting repeats.) My master’s was in a medical school and had very high-level science courses, GPA 3.9. In retrospect, I obviously should’ve done a post-bac.)”

[04:09] Will a High MCAT Score Offset a Low Undergraduate GPA?

If all you have is your undergraduate GPA, you don’t have a Master’s, you don’t have any postbac GPA, and you don’t have any sort of upward trend, that low GPA of a 2.8 science GPA less than a three cumulative GPA is probably not going to be offset by high MCAT score.

All that tells the admissions committee is that you’re really good at taking the MCAT but you’re going to potentially struggle during all of your courses in medical school.

And guess what? The board exam is now going pass/fail and not needing a super high score to get into top residencies. That is going potentially to change how medical schools are going to be looking at scores and grades and everything else.

'Having one amazing score for your MCAT but struggling everywhere else is not a good sign.'Click To Tweet

This student talks about the “algorithm” or what he’s talking about is what I call the digital shredders. These are filters that schools can set up to say, they just don’t want to see any student less than a 3.0 cumulative. Or they don’t want to see any students less than a 3.2 science GPA, whatever that school sets up.

We don’t know that. Most schools aren’t transparent about that. So what that tells me from this student with that GPA, not including the Masters, is that a high MCAT score is going to not help a ton. 

Will it help more than a bad MCAT score? Of course, there will be a school out there that will do that. But in general, I would like a better GPA. Now, having taken a lot of courses, the GPA is not going to move much. 

[06:12] Show an Upward Trend

What I would prefer to see is an upward trend in that GPA. Now, unfortunately, the student didn’t really get into the trends in the undergraduate GPA, other than saying that they that he or she really took a lot of the low-grade science courses. I’m assuming that they did better in those courses.

But what really stood out to me is the 3.9 science GPA in the master’s program, which was at a medical school. And so for me, that tells me that this student has probably done enough because of that master’s program.

Now, I’m hoping the master’s program was 20 plus credits, which will be even better. Having that master’s program GPA will be solid. The undergraduate GPA is going to close some doors in some places. And potentially, having a really solid MCAT score is going to open up some more doors. Hopefully, overall, the student will have a great shot of getting into any medical school that they want to go to.

[07:17] Final Thoughts

So can a high MCAT score offset a low undergraduate GPA? It depends. That’s about as blunt as I can get. Because it all depends on what the trend looks like. That is really a big part of it. And how bad is it?

A lot of students pray for a great MCAT score to offset really bad grades and usually, it doesn’t work that well. 

If you’re out there struggling with your GPA, but you’re an amazing test taker and you think you can crush this MCAT, then good. But make sure that those trends are there as well in your GPA, showing a nice upward trend. Make sure that you’re coming into the finish line strong getting into medical school.


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