High GPA and Low MCATs? What's the Deal?

The following is a synopsis of a discussion on the NEAAHP listserver on what to do if you have high a GPA but low MCAT scores and are having trouble getting into medical school. This list was complied by Virginia Borden Maier at St. John Fisher College.

Why this can Happen:

  1. Schools that are not highly selective tend to have more "average" students, so our best students may still be average or below average among the pool of excellent students from around the country who take the MCAT. I believe there is some truth to this statement, but I also know that some of the really top students I've worked with are definitely in the same league as applicants from more selective colleges.

  2. Standardized test taking may be somewhat of a "learned skill," so if students haven't mastered this, they will not perform well on the MCAT. A few respondents noted that there is a correlation between SAT score and MCAT score, regardless of coursework taken in college (if anyone has a reference to research about this, please share with the group.) The advising response to this occurs before the MCAT, when I can (and do) encourage students to practice, practice, practice with the format of the exam. A guideline shared by one respondent was 16 hours/week for an entire academic year (8 hours material review/6-8 hours test taking and review of incorrect answers).

  3. Students may have the attitude that if they do poorly on one administration, they can just take it again, which might undermine their preparation. Again, the advising response to this has to be before they take the MCAT.

  4. Some colleges are eschewing broad survey courses in the pre-requisite fields in favor of more specialized courses, so students aren't really getting the content preparation needed. This is a problem at our college, where, for instance, the physiology on the MCAT is barely touched on in our first year Bio courses. My response to this has been to encourage pre-med students to take upper division courses in physiology or the like. I am less familiar with whether there is a disconnect between chemistry or physics course content and what is tested on the MCAT.

What to Do:

Many respondents shared the advice they give to students after they receive a disappointing MCAT. (As a side note, several respondents said that they were seeing lower scores in general this year. I wonder if AAMC has any data on this?)

  • Repeat the MCAT up to 3 times - sometimes scores can be improved as much as 5 - 6 points, if the student had not prepared initially or was not prepared for the test-day environment. I try to head this off with my "practice" advice, but the computerized testing can be a problem.

  • Post bac programs: I heard from a couple of listserve members who administer these programs. Temple's program embeds MCAT prep into the schedule. (As an aside: It would be useful for my advisees if there was a list of programs that explicitly include MCAT prep. It is difficult to determine this from the AAMC post-bac site.) Some advisors suggested that post-bac programs are a good "cure" for students who may not have been held to high standards in college. Others suggested programs that guarantee a medical school interview to students who perform in their program at some threshold level — perhaps this also helps students who have low MCAT scores but are otherwise good candidates?

  • The DO option — for whatever reason, many of my students will not even consider DO until they get a less-than-competitive-for-allopathic-schools MCAT score. This often puts them in a bind, since one of the requirements for admission at many DO schools is a letter of recommendation from a DO. If the student has not shadowed a DO previously, this can be an issue if it is late in the application process. I do try to address this early in their program.

  • The Caribbean option. I was surprised by the number of respondents who do not believe this is a good option for their advisees. It seems to me that at least the "Big 3" (Ross, St. George's, and AUC) are viable. But this might be worth additional discussion.

  • Consider other, similar careers: podiatry, optometry, PA, or graduate programs in related fields (MPH). I do suggest this, but I also think that the students I am referring to shouldn't have to "settle" for less than their goal if their only weakness is the MCAT.

  • Remedial work. Ask them to review their score and their performance on practice tests. What areas were they consistently missing and what additional course work/preparation can they do to improve their content knowledge? Some of this content help may be obtained in particular post bac programs.

  • Get additional experience in a clinical setting or work for Teach for America or the like — but continue test prep!

Questions, Comments, Suggestions?

For more information about the pre-health professions advisement, please contact

Donald Slish
Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee Chairperson
Office: Beaumont Hall 304B
Phone: (518) 564-5160
Email: slishdf@plattsburgh.edu