June 21, 2020

Applying to Medical School with Low MCAT scores

Miscellaneous
Nishtha Sharma

You got your scores back. They’re not what you wanted it to be, and now you’re afraid you’re not capable of becoming a doctor. Stop right there. You, my friend, are walking straight into a downward spiral. Before jumping to conclusions, you need to analytically think about what your score really means. Where does this number place you among other medical students? What is the definition of a “good score”? What’s next? As a medical student who was spiraling down the same path, I can assure you, everything is going to be alright. There is always hope even when it seems like there isn’t.

Analytically approaching your MCAT score report allows you to develop a game-plan for how you can prepare your application. The article below lists three simple steps of how to go about an undesirable MCAT score, along with tips and advice from my own personal experience.

STEP 1: Analyze your score

Why is your MCAT score such a big deal anyways? For medical schools, the MCAT plays a significant role in a student's application because it is associated with students who have a higher chance of passing USMLE and graduating medical school. Students who perform well during their first year of medical school are more likely to pass USMLE and move onto their clerkship phase of medical school. Although students’ MCAT scores have not been linked to success in their last three years of medical school, AAMC research has confirmed MCAT scores foreshadows success during M1.

As mentioned earlier, it is crucial to break down your score and understand the true definition of the three-digit number. A “good” MCAT score is earning a 127 in each section for a total of 508. Anything above this number (128-130 per section) places a student in the competitive range (512-520). Essentially, the lower the MCAT score, the more at risk you are of not performing well in medical school. When reviewing applications, medical schools want to select students with the lowest risk of dropping out/ failing. Therefore, 508 is technically a safe score for applications, but that does not mean anything lower than a 508 means you will not get into medical school. I am going to let you in on a little secret. You can prove medical schools that one score does not define an applicant’s worth. Don’t lose hope, keep pushing, and know your worth.

STEP 2: What do I do now?

Okay, so your score is not near a 508. Well, now what? First of all, I would like you to take a deep breath before moving on to your game-plan for your application. Think about how much time is left between now and until your application cycle opens up. If you have less than 3 months left, then skip to STEP 3. If you have a decent amount of time left, then it is best to start making a list of every extra-curricular activity you have completed so far, including your research, volunteering, shadowing opportunities, etc. After making a summary of everything you have done so far, it is important for you to focus on areas that you can improve on until you apply to medical school.

Ask yourself: what can I do during this time to make myself stand out and strengthen my application? Depending on how much time you have left, you can focus on doing more research at your school or meaningful shadowing experiences that will allow you to build connections with physicians who may be reviewing your applications. These experiences will serve as important talking points in your application and later in your interviews. The key is to divert attention away from your low MCAT score and highlight unique things you have done during your pre-med years. By doing so, you are showing medical schools that you are more than a three-digit number. You are proving to them, and yourself, that you are capable of becoming a successful doctor.

STEP 3: Addressing Low MCAT scores when applying

You are now applying to medical school and preparing your application. What is the best way to discuss your MCAT score in your application?

As stated in STEP 2, it is ideal to maintain the spot light on your strengths during your entire application. By discussing negative points in your application, you are increasing your chances of facing rejection from admissions. While it is important to be honest in your applications, you need to tactfully “beef up” or put more emphasis on your accomplishments.

You can also use letters of recommendation to address a low score in a specific section. For instance, if your lowest section score was in the Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills section, you can ask your English professor to write you a letter of recommendation, who can attest to your skills and ability in their class. By this way, the letter of recommendation will address any concerns that admissions may have.

When applying with a low MCAT score, students need to apply BROAD. Applying broad means to research school’s admission statistics ahead of time and be honest with yourself about your chances of being admitted into an extremely competitive school. To increase your chances of receiving an interview, you will have to send out your application to many schools with admission statistics that fit your background and scores. This tactic significantly increases one’s chances of receiving interviews and getting accepted.

Personal statement is another place where you can mention a weak point. However, this only applies to certain students who under performed due to a life or personal circumstance. Therefore, it is not the best option for most students. But if you choose to bring it up in your personal statement, focus on briefly mentioning it while mostly reflecting on what you have learned from that experience. Personal statements are not commonly used to discuss a poor performance but more on why you are willing to take on this immense journey.

Conclusion

To sum it all up, the best way to approach an undesirable MCAT score is to simply invest your energy into putting your strengths under the spotlight. Whether you “beef up” your extra-curricular section or personal statement, the main point is to show medical schools that you are a well-versed student. By applying broadly with strong letters of recommendation, you are guaranteed to land yourself an interview and get accepted into medical school.

I, myself, received a score of 500 on the MCAT after taking it four times. Yes, you read that correctly. My MCAT score did not budge by a single point the last three times I took it. However, I chose not to let that score define me. During my first application cycle, I fortunately got accepted into a virtuous MD program, passed my USMLE STEP 1 with a competitive score, and I am successfully in my third year of medical school now. It is POSSIBLE, so hang onto hope and don’t give up on yourself. You still got a long road ahead of you.

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