Applying to medical school with a low MCAT score

DO MCAT MD medical school admissions strategy

Statistical Mediation & Moderation in Psychological Research (5)-1Pre-meds all over the world freak about the MCAT. It’s a long, overwhelming test that functions as a predictor for how well you might perform in medical school. For some schools, it’s the metric for whether or not you are offered an interview. So, pre-meds study hard, and some do well, while others are less than pleased with their scores. Low scores can send us into a downward spiral of self-deprecation, leading us to wonder whether or not we are cut out for medical school in the first place.

Bottom line: that’s terrifying, but there is hope!

Here’s the thing: low MCAT scores are no fun to deal with, but the reality is that you can make them work. Here are my top 3 tips for sending in an application when your MCAT scores are less than ideal.

Consider the DO path

MD (allopathic) and DO (osteopathic) degrees both allow you to practice medicine as a doctor in the United States. DO degrees are historically less popular, but have been on the rise recently, with 30 schools in the US. However, DO matriculants continue to have lower average MCAT scores and lower average GPAs. Here’s my quick personal algorithm for determining which option may be better when considering low testing scores: An MCAT score of 505 is the minimum viable score when applying to MD programs. Below 505, you should begin considering DO schools as the more realistic option.

Bottom line: 505 is the cut-off I use with applicants.

Create a realistic school list using quantitative metrics

If you decide that you are a candidate for MD programs but still feel that your MCAT score is a hindrance, my first line of advice is to carefully select your schools according to average MCAT scores and GPAs (Cambridge Coaching has amazing tools to help you do this), sorting your list into these categories: realistic, reasonable, and improbable. Realistic schools have an MCAT and GPA entrance range that match your current scores. Reasonable schools have slightly higher MCAT averages, but you still feel okay about applying for reasons such as: you have the GPA they’re looking for, the school is in your home state, or you have something else they will want. Improbable schools are the shots in the dark that you’ll always question if you don’t at least try.

Bottom line: organize your medical school list with score and grade data (or, reach out to Cambridge Coaching, and we can help you do this with our tools).

Tailor your secondaries to individual programs

All schools have an “ideal student” in mind and some schools find that ideal through your experiences rather than your test scores. How do you find out what a school is looking for? Look at the mission statement!

It’s amazing how many people send in an application without ever taking a glance at what the school specifically indicates that it’s looking for in a student. Remember to craft your application each time to include the keywords and phrases that the medical school is looking for. You have to make admission boards believe that you bring those qualities to the table. For example, if a mission statement emphasizes diversity, I would write about the uniqueness of my own background. Alternatively, if a mission statement touts a devotion to research, I would write about research I did in undergrad and my love of discovery.

Bottom line: Tailor your essays to fit the school mission statement.


Applying to medical school with a low MCAT score can be daunting, but consider your situation strategically. Deliberateness in deciding your program path, choosing your list of medical schools, and shaping secondary applications all help increase your chances of acceptance. There are many more strategies that are helpful in navigating such a stressful process, but these three are good high-level general rules to keep in mind when beginning the application journey.