Can a High MCAT Score Offset a Low GPA?

A high MCAT score can help a marginal med school application.
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Admission to medical school is notoriously competitive and every year hundreds of students with solid grades and test scores get rejected. Many student with low GPAs think their medical school dreams are hopeless. In reality, students with poor grades but great MCAT scores can beat the odds and land a coveted seat in medical school.

1 Great MCAT Scores Can Help

Bright students with great test scores and unfortunate grades can take heart -- a good MCAT score can propel a medical school application into the accept pile. According to Med School Coach, an admissions consulting service, every two to three extra points on the MCAT can offset a 0.1 point drop in GPA. In other words, a student with a 3.5 GPA and 33 on the MCAT is roughly equivalent to a student with a 3.6 GPA and 31 on the MCAT. That means that even students with a few bad grades still have a shot at medical school.

2 But There's a Limit

Great test scores can help an applicant with lower grades, but only to a certain extent. According to statistics from the American Association of Medical Colleges, about 25 percent students with stellar MCAT scores and GPAs between 2.8 and 2.99 earned admission over the last 12 years. Medical schools admitted fewer than a fifth of students with the same great MCAT scores and GPAs less than 2.8, however. That means that good test scores can do a lot of good, but applicants have to meet a minimum threshold on grades to be considered at all.

3 Grade Trends Can Help

Applicants with lower grades and good test scores can improve their odds by citing trends in their grades over time. Many students struggle in their first few semesters of college and then recover and build a sterling record in their junior and senior years. Others suffer from a single terrible semester blemishing an otherwise perfect record. According to U.S. News and World Report, medical schools are more sympathetic to students with grade trends than students who earned the same marginal grades every semester. A good personal statement attributing a bad couple of semesters to personal problems can help an application.

4 Other Factors

Grades and test scores are the most important factors in medical school admissions, but schools also consider other elements of an application. Borderline applicants with a strong record of leadership in extracurricular activities, for example, can often secure themselves an admission letter. According to Med School Coach, another option for students with low grades is to take extra courses after college. Earning a master's degree in biology or chemistry can aid a struggling application immensely.

Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.