Five tips to overcome a Low GPA or MCAT Score

Your grade point average and MCAT score are the two most important deciding factors in whether your medical school application is put in the “interview” stack or the “reject” stack.

Typically, an administrative assistant makes the initial review of applications, checks those two numbers, and decides on the spot whether your application warrants an interview or rejection letter.

Sadly, your odds of ending up in that second, larger stack are quite high.  For example, most North American medical schools only accept somewhere between two and eleven percent of applicants, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“If your GPA or MCAT score is low, don’t despair,” says Scott Cunningham, MD, PhD, Oceania University of Medicine’s Curriculum Consultant.  “There are several ways to overcome that hurdle.”

Having served on admissions committees at several medical schools, Dr. Cunningham knows what they’re looking for and offers these tips to overcome a setback:

  1. Distinguish yourself. There may be something in your background that distinguishes you from your competition—extraordinary volunteer work, a prestigious award, or a significant obstacle that you had to overcome.  Find a way to highlight that in your essay or another part of your application.
  2. Get strong letters of recommendation. A letter from a dean, respected faculty member, or other high ranking person who knows you well may overcome that “C” in organic chemistry.  Give references your resume and other highlights to help them write a customized letter that really promotes your strengths.
  3. Consider a post-baccalaureate program. Post-bac programs will give you additional exposure to the sciences which could boost your MCAT score.  But remember, if you think you may need to take the exam more than once, try planning ahead to do the post-bac study before the first sitting. Otherwise, you must compete with two applicant groups, roughly 90,000 instead of 45,000 applicants.
  4. Readjust your sights. As much as you would like to get into a top-tier medical school, your scores and/or GPA may not get you there.  Consider lesser known, smaller, public vs. private institutions, or an osteopathic medical school.
  5. Go international. Look at schools outside your home country, if possible. But be very careful to choose an accredited medical school. Look for schools accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the US National Committee for Foreign Medical Education Accreditation.  If a school tells you it is accredited by WHO and ECFMG, run.  They are not accrediting bodies.

“Most importantly, if you are determined to become a physician, don’t let one rejection discourage you,” says Dr. Cunningham. “Reach out to the school’s admissions office to see if they can share advice on what your application may have been missing. In the case of OUM, our admissions counselors work with prospective students to guide and counsel them through the application process from the first email or phone call, through gathering documentation, scheduling interviews, and hopefully, acceptance into the program. Where there is a will, there is a way.”