When studying for the MCAT, knowing what score to aspire to can feel like a nebulous task. The purpose of this article is to provide some clarity when defining what score is good for you and your needs. While there are objectively bad scores (below 500—50th percentile) and objectively good scores (above 518—96th percentile), making sense of the intermediate range demands more finesse.
When defining what score on the MCAT is good, one must recognize that context is critical. The following are important questions to ask yourself when setting a goal score:
The answer to this question will provide the greatest clarification on what score to aim for. For example, most top-20 medical schools have median MCAT scores in the 518-522 range (96th-99th percentile). A less prestigious medical school will likely have a lower median MCAT score. Generally, your state’s public medical schools are the school(s) to which you have the greatest chance of being accepted.
Stats for public medical schools vary drastically between states. Median MCAT scores for public M.D. programs can range from 503 (West Virginia’s Marshall University) to 519 (University of Virginia). Median scores for D.O. and podiatry programs tend to be lower than for M.D. programs. Knowing what’s expected from your desired program provides some clarity on what MCAT score is considered “good.”
I would recommend researching different schools/programs and making a list of those that appeal most to you. If you are interested in medical school specifically, purchase an MSAR account (admissions data platform hosted by AAMC) and familiarize yourself with your desired schools’ accepted student statistics BEFORE you start studying for the MCAT. Cross-referencing stats with schools’ admissions websites is also a good idea.
Your potential medical school looks at many factors when deciding which applicants to accept. The only numerical metric besides the MCAT, however, is GPA. Using MSAR to see how your GPA stacks up against past successful applicants can provide scope on what a good MCAT score is.
If your GPA is more than 0.05 points below a school’s median, you should aspire to score above the school’s median MCAT to maximize your chances of admission. A higher-than-median GPA grants a little more wiggle room concerning your MCAT score.
Medical schools interview the most impressive applicants first, and yes, higher stats make an applicant more impressive. Scoring well above your desired school’s median will help you stand out as an applicant and increase your chances of securing an earlier interview.
For most schools, early interviewers have the best chance of admittance, as, during their evaluations, the incoming class is not close to being full. Also, early interviewers can hear back about their acceptances earlier in the application cycle, granting them more time to make pre-medical school arrangements.
Some medical schools offer merit scholarships to particularly outstanding applicants. Applicants with stats significantly higher than a school’s median have the best chance of nabbing a scholarship. Finding information online above a particular medical school’s merit scholarships can be tricky, so contact the school’s admissions team directly if you desire to learn more about the school’s merit scholarship policy.
My highest practice MCAT score was
Even though my practice tests were lower than my ideal score, I reached the point where I felt comfortable with all topics in my test prep books, and I did not think I would learn anything new by studying more. You want to take the MCAT at your peak, so if you reach a point where you know all MCAT-testable ideas forwards and backward, you are as ready as you will be for the MCAT. Go ahead and take it
Remember that you will likely be applying to medical school one to two years after you take the MCAT, so do not be surprised if your dream school’s median MCAT and GPA increase since you have taken your MCAT. Aim for one to two points above your dream school’s median to have a bit of a safety net.
Admissions committees look at GPA with more context than when they look at MCAT scores. Admissions committees primarily look at how challenging your university is and factor that in when looking at your GPA. An admissions committee will likely value a 3.7 at University of Chicago more than a 3.7 at University of Illinois – Chicago.
Although this is the trend, some schools—like the Medical College of Georgia—state on their admissions websites that they do NOT factor in an undergraduate institution’s rigor when looking at GPA. Be sure to research the schools you are considering to know their policies.
If you have a lower GPA or attended a less renowned undergraduate institution, the MCAT is an opportunity to show to medical schools that you are indeed an exceptional student and will meet (or surpass) academic expectations in medical school. Assuming all else equal, most medical schools would prefer a University of Illinois – Chicago student with a 516 on the MCAT to a University of Chicago student with a 511
You may have heard a horror story of someone who was not accepted into medical school with a 3.9 GPA and a 518 MCAT. (Let’s ignore the quality of his/her extracurricular activities and admissions essays.) If this student is from California, this situation is not that surprising.
California has a greater number of medical school applicants than any other state. In the 2018-2019 cycle, California had 6,237 in-state applicants for 767 spots in its six public medical schools. If the student lived in another state (like Ohio, which had 1,630 in-state applicants for 821 spots in its five public medical schools), the student’s chance of getting accepted would have likely been much higher.
Accepted does not state the sources of its information, and therefore one should not interpret its word as gospel. However, its statistics can give you an idea of how generous your state’s public medical school is in giving out acceptances to in-state applicants.
According to Accepted, Indiana University’s in-state acceptance rate is the highest of all schools at 48.3%. Of all public institutions, UCLA has the lowest in-state acceptance rate, measuring only 3.0%. Having an idea of the acceptance rate of you dream school (whether it be public or private) can help you set expectations for your goal MCAT score.
[One should note that some public medical schools do not accept out-of-state applicants (ex. University of California – Riverside). Some have a strong preference for in-state applicants (ex. University of North Carolina). Others do not show much preference between in-state and out-of-state applicants (ex. University of Virginia). These differences in
2015 marked the MCAT’s redesign. Articles written shortly after then state that a 507 (75th percentile) is the minimum score to be competitive. Now in 2019, a 511 (84th percentile) is the median MCAT score for matriculating medical students.
As stated above, the trend for admitted student MCAT is for median scores to increase every year, so it would not surprise me if the median MCAT score in a few years reaches a 514 (91st percentile). Take MCAT articles more than two years old with a grain of salt.
If I had to pick a single score to which MD-hopefuls should aim, I would pick 513. A 513 is above the median for most schools but is not high enough where it feels impossible to hit. However, please review the stats of your desired medical school to decide whether you should aim for a score above or below 513
A well-above-median MCAT does not guarantee an interview or admission for any particular school. Admissions committees will be considering many factors apart from your MCAT and GPA—medical experiences, community service, research, etc.
Even if you can check all of the boxes of what you think a school wants, keep in mind that a high acceptance rate for a medical school is just five percent. There are simply too many applicants for a medical school to accept all applicants with strong stats.
Before taking the MCAT, doing research on your desired schools to establish what score is “good” is essential. After research, goal scores can end up higher than you may initially expect. Recognize this, and use this understanding to set realistic expectations on how much time and how many resources to give yourself to fully prepare for the MCAT.
If you ever feel intimidated, remember that there are people out there who started with worse diagnostic MCAT scores than you, and they found a way to make it work. By being diligent and strategic, you can make it work too, achieving not only a good but a great MCAT score.