High GPA and MCAT scores (i.e., your numbers) are typically necessary to get applicants past the initial screening that most medical schools apply to applications. Thus, the first step for most prospective applicants is to ensure that their numbers are high enough to get their foot in the door to their target medical schools. However, the numbers you need vary based on criteria like the rank of the medical schools to which you are applying, your demographic information, your undergraduate major, your undergraduate institution’s reputation, and your state of residency. In this post, we break down the numbers you need to get into medical school.
1 | Rank of Target Medical Schools
Higher ranked medical schools typically admit students with higher average GPA and MCAT scores. The first step to crafting your medical school list is to look up the average GPA and MCAT scores of your target medical schools. If your numbers are around the average of the matriculants (not the applicants), it is likely you will pass the initial screening and be seriously considered by the medical school (i.e., be sent a secondary). Conversely, if your numbers are well below the school’s averages, it is unlikely that you have a good chance at obtaining admission. In-depth, school-specific information can be found on the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements), which is a paid service. Pro tip: save yourself some money by sharing an account with a friend who is also applying to medical school in the same cycle.
2 | Your Demographic Information
Your race/ethnicity affects the numbers you need. This is because many medical schools are committed to increasing diversity in their medical students and therefore compare applicants based on their ethnicity. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) publishes the GPA and MCAT scores for applicants and matriculants every year. The AAMC also subdivides these metrics by race/ethnicity, US medical schools, primary undergraduate major, state of legal residence, and sex. However, it is my opinion (and the data shows) that race/ethnicity is by far the most consequential of these different factors. Underrepresented minorities will likely be accepted with lower numbers compared to Caucasian and Asian applicants, who are traditionally overrepresented in medical school classes. This assertion is demonstrated by the MCAT and GPA scores organized by race/ethnicity for the 2018-2019 application cycle, which I condensed in Google Sheets.
3 | Your Undergraduate Major
Your undergraduate major might affect your chances of getting accepted to medical school. I again condensed the average MCAT scores and GPA of students in the 2018-2019 application cycle by primary undergraduate major from the AAMC website. This data demonstrates that the acceptance rates for humanities, math and statistics, and physical sciences are about 5-7% higher than the biological sciences (i.e., the most popular major, with >50% of applicants and matriculants majoring in this discipline) and the overall average. However, there are no significant differences in the GPA and MCAT scores between different majors for both applicants and matriculants. This indicates that high GPA and MCAT scores are correlated with success no matter your major. However, your selection of major does affect your chances of acceptance. This makes sense, as Biological Sciences majors have more raw competition (29,443 applicants) compared to math and statistics majors (353 applicants). Applicants with unique characteristics such as uncommon majors will certainly stand out in the competitive medical school application process.
This is not to say you should pick a specific major because it might help you stand out and increase your chances of getting into medical school. Rather, pick a major that you find intellectually stimulating and in which you can excel.
4 | Your Undergraduate Institution’s Reputation
The prestige of your undergraduate institution may affect the numbers you need. A high undergraduate GPA at a brand-name university that is known for rigorous coursework looks more impressive than a similarly high GPA at a lesser-known institution or one where grade inflation is well-documented. If you are coming from the latter type of institution and are worried about competing with applicants from brand-name universities, fear not. The solution to your problem is achieving a stellar score on the MCAT and putting to rest any doubts on the part of admissions committees that your high GPA is due to grade inflation. Applying an objective measure of academic potential is the main reason why standardized tests like the MCAT exist. Bottom line: be proud of your college and hold your head high, work as hard as you can, and let your stellar GPA and MCAT score speak for themselves.
5 | Your State of Residency
Your state of residency can affect the numbers you need and your ultimate chances of acceptance for some public medical schools. These schools generally favor in-state applicants; however, there is a continuum within this generalization. For instance, medical schools like the University of Washington or Florida State University preferentially accept in-state applicants. Thus, out-of-state applicants must have relatively high numbers to get into these schools. However, there is essentially no in-state advantage for other public medical schools like UCSF. State residency generally has no effect on your chances if you are applying to a private medical school. Refer to the MSAR to see if any of the public medical schools you are considering prefer in-state applicants.
The first step to applying to medical school is to understand what numbers (i.e., GPA and MCAT score) you need to succeed. These metrics might change drastically depending on the five items described above. The rank of your target medical schools and your demographic information are the two most important criteria. Your undergraduate major and institution do matter, but with some caveats and to a lesser degree than the first two criteria. Finally, your state of residency can play a role if you are applying to public medical schools that preferentially accept in-state applicants. Make sure to do your research, and good luck with the upcoming application cycle!