Applying to medical school is getting harder and harder each year and the most recent AAMC data confirms this. We have seen a steady rise in medical school metrics as the competition continues to grow with each sequential application cycle. The self-fulfilling prophecy of students electing to take "gap-years" has only exacerbated this trend as more "experienced" applicants flood the pool, forcing less travelled students to buy into the gap-year trend. Perhaps traditional 4 year undergrad applicants will disappear over the years. To be honest, it wouldn't surprise me!
Traditionally you could follow the standard template below to get into medical school.
Step one: Study hard in high school to achieve your best grades possible.
Step two: Earn top scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
Step three: Apply to medical schools and wait to hear back from them...and wait some more...and wait some more...
Step four: Get accepted into an accredited medical school!
If this sounds oversimplified, that's because it is. The medical school application process has gotten far more complex, and the requirements for students have grown dramatically. In order to take your first steps to getting into medical school we need to take a look at some of the classic medical school metrics to see if you are academically prepared for future application cycles. Let's focus on some of the most recent data released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) which may offer some insight. Using the power of numbers, we can see what it takes to obtain a medical school acceptance, at least on paper!
You can also notice similar metrics from the previous years cycle which had a record number of applicants. While the rationale for this phenomenon is unclear, I suspect the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused some applicants to balk at applying while others felt less confident in their applications. This may be due to a massive loss of opportunities to shadow, conduct research, and get involved in a clinical setting due to large scale lockdowns. The 2020-2021 cycle had 53,030 applicants where as the following cycle had 62,443! This subsequently lowered your acceptance chances to 36.3% if you applied during that period. Yikes!
The Average MCAT Score is Up:
As you are probably familiar, the MCAT is the most important standardized exam you must take to get into medical school. Back in the day, an average (50th percentile) score was sufficient to obtain an acceptance, or at the very minimum an interview. In the era of hyper-focused preparation and rise of 3rd-party test services (Princeton Review, Kaplan, etc.), we have seen a steady creep in average test scores across the nation. The bar gets higher each year and students need to pour more resources/time into this venture than ever before.
As you can see the national MCAT score average for all applicants has risen dramatically from a 505.9 to 506.5! This indicates the individuals aren't even applying with lower MCAT scores out of fear of not getting accepted. Alternatively, this may indicate that more and more people are learning how to perform well on this exam. As you can see in the visuals above, the average accepted MCAT of 511.9 has held steady over the last two cycles but is risen year over year since 2018-2019 (511.2). You might think a few tenths of a point is rather inconsequential, yet those who have taken the MCAT can appreciate just how far one extra point on the ticket can help an applicant. What fascinates me is that a ~512 MCAT score translates to the 88th percentile! You did better than 88% of the individuals taking that exam, but on a national scale it only makes you an "average" scorer with respect to your fellow accepted medical students. Crazy right?
Take a look at the figure below to see the chances an applicant would get accepted based on their respective total MCAT score. These percentages include all applicants across the entire spectrum of potential GPAs.
We can also look at each subsection of the MCAT over the years to see if there was any noticeable change in average scores. While the data seems to remain relatively consistent over the last 5 years, we can appreciate a mild uptrend in the Psych/Soc (PSBB) section. The data is ordered chronologically from the 2018-2019 cycle up to the 2022-2023 period.
MCAT CPBS: 126.3 ➜ 126.4 ➜ 126.5 ➜ 126.3 ➜ 126.4
MCAT CARS: 125.9 ➜ 125.9 ➜ 125.9 ➜ 125.7 ➜ 125.8
MCAT BBLS: 126.9 ➜ 126.7 ➜ 126.8 ➜ 126.7 ➜ 126.8
MCAT PSBB: 126.8 ➜ 127.1 ➜ 127.2 ➜ 127.3 ➜ 127.5
For tips and tricks on how to excel on the MCAT as a non-traditional applicant, check out some of our other posts including "The MCAT: Everything You Need To Know For 2022!"
MCAT Scores Based on Academic Major Subgroups:
Interestingly, "Specialized Health Sciences" (which includes Pharmacy Majors) has the lowest applicant MCAT scores at only 503.6 on average. This phenomenon may be associated with the fact that these highly qualified individuals (most of which have graduate level education backgrounds) overestimate their qualifications. Alternatively, they may not have taken the MCAT as seriously due to strong application counterweights that bolster other non-academic strengths. Perhaps it's related to a lack of adequate study/preparation time due to the challenges associated with balancing graduate school responsibilities, a reality I can attest to. Whatever the reason may be applicants in this subgroup may benefit from this situation and can actually get in to medical school with a lower than average MCAT score. We can visualize this with applicants in the accepted specialized health science major subgroup having an average MCAT of 510.6. Keep in mind that this is an entire point lower than the national average of 511.9. Cheers to higher education!
The Average GPA is Up:
The MCAT tends to get all the attention when it comes to admissions counseling but you can't stay afloat without a strong GPA. Although we have covered the differences between your science GPA (sGPA) and total GPA (tGPA) in the past I'll give you a quick reminder. From an admissions standpoint, we often care more about an applicants science GPA since the courses that count towards this metric more closely align with the content in medical school and also tend to be objectively harder to perform well in. In the figure below, you can see the percent chances of getting into medical school based solely on your GPA!
Up-trending GPA's can be stressful to witness, especially as a pharmacy student in a graduate level program. The unfortunate reality is that medical schools don't adjust GPA's based on the rigor of coursework you complete. It doesn't matter that you worked tirelessly to get that 3.3 GPA in graduate school, as it falls short in comparison to a biology major's 3.4 who took elective cooking courses. It's not all bad though! There are obvious upsides to completing your pharmacy education including the added clinical experience to pad your application, along with a strong sense of professionalism that can make you stand out in sea of applicants.
Lets take a look at the sGPA and tGPA trends over the last 5 years starting at the 2018-2019 cycle up to the most recent 2022-2023 data.
sGPA: 3.47 ➜ 3.48 ➜ 3.49 ➜ 3.48 ➜ 3.52
tGPA: 3.57 ➜ 3.58 ➜ 3.60 ➜ 3.59 ➜ 3.62
sGPA: 3.65 ➜ 3.66 ➜ 3.66 ➜ 3.67 ➜ 3.68
tGPA: 3.72 ➜ 3.73 ➜ 3.73 ➜ 3.74 ➜ 3.75
So, What Does This Mean For You?
While it's obvious that medical school statistics aren't the only component that defines an applicants success, they certainly can be prognostic. In the same way practicing physicians avoid absolutes, there are always outliers and exceptions, so I don't want you to read this post and think your chances are moot. The purpose is to ensure you are wholly informed about what you are up against. If you know your MCAT is lower than the average, you can still apply after knowingly compensating with extracurriculars or research. Using these metrics can help assess your "application health" and see what you are up against.
I recommend you make time for MCAT preparation, avoid distractions, and seriously consider a 3rd-party testing service (Princeton Review/Kaplan). At the time, I was concerned about the cost of these services but in the grand scheme of things, a few extra hundred dollars was inconsequential. If you are serious about taking this route, put your time, money, and effort into this and don't look back! That $1,500 prep course allowed me to raise my MCAT by 13 points (497 - 37th percentile ➜ 510 - 80th percentile) and substantially contributed to my ability to get into medical school. When I am an attending some day, I'll look back and laugh at almost putting my dreams on hold for $1,500! Ok, I'll get off my soap-box but hopefully you get my point.
Regarding your GPA, your disposition may already be solidified depending on how far along you are in pharmacy school. We often take so many courses over the 6-8 year process that even heavily weighted credit courses have little influence on your overall GPA. A traditional student may consider applying for a post-baccalaureate which serves as an extra year or two worth of classes to help boost their overall grades. As a graduate student, the possibility of attending more school prior to going "back to grad-school" is unrealistic and may cast you into madness! You will have to compensate by building a strong holistic application, performing well on the MCAT, and applying to programs strategically (including Osteopathic Schools).