It’s no secret, your MCAT is arguably the most heavily weighted objective measurement for when it comes to getting into medical school. Admissions committees want to see that you can handle the rigors that come with a medical school curriculum, and they believe that your MCAT score is the best indicator they have.
This raises the question: what MCAT score do you need to get into medical school? That’s a fair question, but one that’s difficult to give an easy and precise answer to. That’s because it depends. A higher MCAT score, all other things being equal, is going to improve your chances for admission to medical school.
Your MCAT score is not the end all be all, but it is the single most heavily weighted factor in medical school applications. That being said, you don’t need a 525 to get into a top university.
Let’s explore what score to aim for.
Medical School Matriculant MCAT Averages & Stats
Data from the AAMC on medical school applicants indicate that the average applicant to medical school has an MCAT of 506.4, and the average successful matriculant has an MCAT of 511.5 with a standard deviation of 6.5. Assuming a normal distribution curve and knowing this standard deviation, we can deduce that over 84% of matriculants had an MCAT above a 505. That’s a 73rd percentile score.
In terms of category breakdown on each section, the averages for medical school matriculants were as follows:
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys): 127.8
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS): 127.1
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/Biochem): 128.1
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc): 128.6
Knowing this, it’s clear that with an MCAT of 504, it’s not impossible, but rather improbable to be successfully admitted to medical school.
Ok, so a higher score is better, but does that mean everyone should be aiming for a 525? Not quite.
Other Factors Influencing Your Target Score
There are multiple factors you must consider when determining your target MCAT score, and it’s not just a matter of how ambitious or competitive you are.
The AAMC MSAR database is the official resource and the best guide in determining how you compare to successful matriculants at each medical school. You can see the average MCAT, GPA, and standard deviation for the schools you are hoping to attend.
The MSAR is a great tool not only because you get detailed information on each of your medical schools of interest, but also because you can learn about some other medical schools that you weren’t even considering, many of which may be a great fit.
The AAMC’s MSAR is not free, costing $28 for one year or $36 for two. As an alternative, many medical school admissions websites post average GPA and MCAT score statistics which can be accessed free of charge. However, MSAR may still be worth the investment, as it contains the most up-to-date data and allows for a more detailed analysis, such as describing score differences between all accepted applicants versus matriculants only.
Your GPA is the second most important factor in predicting your ability to handle the academic rigor of medical school. Your MCAT and GPA are the two most important objective measurements in a medical school application. Whether that’s fair to you as a premed is not the point, as you are much more than your “numbers.” But when medical school admissions committees need ways to sift through thousands of applicants, they cannot listen to everyone’s story — they need a shortcut, and GPA and MCAT cutoffs help filter down the list to a more manageable level.
I don’t want to oversimplify things for you. At Med School Insiders, we appreciate the importance of nuance. While your MCAT and GPA are the two objective measurements that are easiest to measure and compare, they aren’t the end-all-be-all of an application. We’re speaking in populations and statistics here. Is it possible to get into a top medical school with a low GPA and MCAT, but with a stellar narrative and story? Absolutely — it’s just incredibly rare and difficult to do so.
If your GPA is lower than the average GPA for matriculants at your target schools, you’ll want to aim for an above-average MCAT score to make up for it. This helps to reassure medical schools that you can in fact handle the academic rigor, and perhaps your suboptimal GPA was simply due to an adjustment period early on in college that brought down your overall average. Or perhaps it may be a consequence of some other academic hiccups that occur for many students.
Soft Components of Your Application
The soft components of your application are those that you cannot easily put a number to — think of your personal statement, secondary essays, letters of recommendation, and of course your work & activities and extracurriculars, including research.
At this stage, while you’re preparing for the MCAT, you probably don’t need to worry about your essays, as you’ll be able to handle that closer to when you submit your application. However, you should fairly assess where you stand in terms of the other factors. Are you able to get truly stellar letters of recommendation that make you look like the best thing since sliced bread? Are you crushing your extracurriculars and have substantial research to back it up? Do you have a unique and strong narrative that makes you a highly compelling applicant?
When looking at applicants, these are the factors that help sway the decision of the medical school admissions committees in whether to consider you for an interview. Students that have incredible stories, such as starting a successful non-profit for the underserved populations in a metropolis while publishing a few articles in immunology research, are the ones who don’t need a top score to have an edge over other applicants. And unfortunately, it’s a competitive process and a zero-sum game, as there are only a finite number of spots each year at medical schools. Your admission translates to someone’s rejection.
If you’re a student with average soft components, including extracurriculars, research, and letters of recommendation, you have more to gain with a strong MCAT score. For many of these students, a 515 or even higher is a good goal to aim for, again with higher scores being better.
At the same time, I don’t think that having a particular target score is necessary when approaching the MCAT. When I took the MCAT, I was aiming for a top percentile score, but in reality, the real goal was to study intensely for a couple of months. A few weeks out from my test, I had already overshot my goal on practice tests. Did that mean I should slow down and just be happy that my practice test scores were high? Of course not. Not only would that limit me from achieving a higher score, but by resting on my laurels and getting complacent, I risked scoring much worse on the actual test. It was critical to continue studying intensely for the remaining month to ensure that I maximized my test-day performance. And luckily enough, I scored in the elusive 99.9th percentile.
Ultimately, there is no single target score for every student. The score you should aim for depends on two main factors: how strong the rest of your application is, and which schools you’re hoping to attend.
With approximately half of all medical school matriculants scoring at a 512 or higher on their MCAT while still putting in the work on their extracurricular and research front, this isn’t the time to get complacent and pat yourself on the back for having a few clinical experiences and 1 publication.
You also shouldn’t feel overwhelmed and believe that you cannot achieve an excellent score. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years in tutoring numbers of students, it’s that your study approach and techniques are more important than anything else — even intelligence, which neuroscientists are discovering is more malleable than initially thought.
In becoming doctors ourselves, we’ve seen first hand how inefficient and flawed current medical education is, including MCAT prep. As medical school becomes more and more competitive, students simply don’t have the time to bury themselves in books, when they also need to be attending to volunteering, clinical exposure, research, and earning a strong GPA. That’s why we’ve been hard at work in creating a better way to study for the MCAT. I’ve got two new study tools to share with you.
First, the Med School Insiders MCAT Course is coming soon.
And second, check out Memm, the only MCAT study tool completely built on evidence-based learning principles from the ground up by two 99.9th percentile scoring physicians. Memm delivers what students need — a single, easy-to-use tool that focuses on just the content you need to know for the MCAT, using the most effective methods in learning science, to deliver results fast. We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve created. We’ve seen prior students jump over 10 points in just a few weeks leading up to their exam, and you can read their stories on the Memm blog. Learn more about how Memm can help you achieve your target MCAT score at memm.io.