Overcoming a low MCAT score on your AMCAS application can feel daunting. Can they really judge my whole application by my performance on one 8 hour block of life!!? Sadly, most schools do put extensive emphasis on MCAT scores. However, a low score is not the end of the world if you are within the range of applicants to a particular school. Ask yourself: What do medical schools look for? The answer is more dynamic than just a good MCAT score…
But there are a few places within your application that it can be appropriate to address a less-than-satisfactory MCAT. An initially low MCAT score followed up by a stronger MCAT score can be easy to explain. A situation like that may not even require a mention. However, a single, low MCAT score (or even multiple low MCAT scores) can be a more challenging feat to overcome in your application. Situations like such, warrant some explanation.
Here are four ways to address a low MCAT score on your application:
1. The Personal Statement
Your personal statement is the first place people consider when weighing how you can explain a weak point in your application.
Disclaimer: This is extremely difficult to do well, and it will only apply to certain applicants. If you have real life or personal circumstances that interfered with a strong MCAT performance, this would be the place to mention that.
It can be accomplished if you use only a portion of your personal statement (no more than 2 sentences) to explain a poor performance, and what you’ve done to improve yourself and learn from the situation. The emphasis should be on how you have moved forward from the low MCAT score, not the score itself. Whether you are explaining a suboptimal performance followed by a more impressive score or explaining how standardized test taking is not a strong suit, this can be a place to do it. Because this is one of the only sections in your application that allows for free thought (as opposed to objective data), it might be an option to consider.
That being said, it is best not to make excuses for a poor performance. If there is no real reason for your low MCAT score besides simply poor testing, then you should not use the personal statement to address a low MCAT score. Rather, you should focus your energy on telling a compelling story in the essay.
2. Letters of Recommendation
Whenever you ask for a letter of recommendation—regardless of your MCAT score—you should make sure to write a cover letter for your recommenders. This is something we have all of our students at InGenius Prep do, and something that plays a large role in creating a cohesive application.
For the purpose of addressing a low MCAT score though, you should look at the breakdown. If you performed poorly on the Chemical and Physical Foundations section, maybe you want to ask your Organic Chemistry professor to write you a letter of rec. This person will be able to speak towards your ability and aptitude in the classroom over a long period of time—even if your single section score might not indicate such. Asking recommenders to address these sort of topics in their letters is probably the most direct way of addressing the content of the MCAT. These letters are most successful when the writer can speak to your qualities both in and outside of the classroom.
3. Your School List
The next way to address a low MCAT score, is being tactical about selecting where to apply. If you don’t fall into the category of being able to explain a low score in the personal statement, then there are more indirect ways that you can address this issue.
You should be realistic about where you have an actual chance of being granted an interview. Use objective data, like average MCAT scores of matriculated students, to gauge if a school is a reach, fit, or a safety. When selecting your list of schools to apply to, you should have a mix of reaches and safeties. The lower your MCAT score, the fewer safeties you will have. You will need to be honest with yourself about how realistic it is to get an interview at a reach school.
Consider applying to schools in the Caribbean with lower MCAT averages or to DO schools if your MCAT score is low.
Similarly, the lower your MCAT score, the more schools you will need to apply to in order to increase your chances of getting interviews. Apply broadly! Especially with a lower score, you should apply to 20+ schools. The only way you can GUARANTEE that you don’t get an interview, is if you don’t apply!
4. Highlighting Your Strengths
Lastly, you can choose to overshadow a weak MCAT performance by highlighting more impressive aspects of your application. If a strength of your application is your volunteer or work experience or honors and awards, you need to accentuate this aspect of your application to take focus off other areas.
Medical schools want to see quality experiences that show a substantial contribution on your part. If you have meaningful experiences that accentuates your passion or your compassion, this is a great opportunity to make the reader see another side of you as an applicant, besides objective data.
Applying these lessons to your own application
It is reasonable to utilize more than one of the above four approaches when putting together your AMCAS application. You should focus on explaining any downfalls while also highlighting the strengths of your application at the same time. This process is all about framing. You should feel like you have control over how your application is read. Don’t focus on the negative. Make sure your unique experiences, view of the world, background, or research are the pieces that you highlight.
Overall, the MCAT remains a key aspect of any premed’s application; however it does not define the person that it’s attached to. Show the admissions committee who you are in addition to your score. Don’t let that one day hold back your application!