If you’re applying to med school, you’re probably all too aware of the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test)—the standardized test required for applications to both MD and DO medical schools. Admissions officers place unique emphasis on your MCAT score, because the test provides such a robust assessment of the science and social science knowledge that medical schools expect their students to have, and because it assesses this knowledge in a standardized way.
No pressure! But not to fear: we’ve got you covered. In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed the structure and scoring of the MCAT as well as how best to prepare. In this post, we’ll walk you through the various factors to consider in planning when to take the MCAT, and how this decision affects when you’ll be able to start med school. The bottom line is that we recommend you take the MCAT as early as is appropriate and feasible for you.
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The Impact of Your MCAT Score on Your Med School List
Your MCAT score will help you develop an appropriate medical school list, since your score is a critical factor in your admissibility. It is possible to submit your application without an MCAT score, and provide your score as late as August, but we would then advise holding off on applying to “reach” schools until you know your score to avoid doing a lot of extra work on secondaries for potentially very little return.
Typically, if you apply when the AMCAS application opens on or about June 1, you will receive a secondary application from most medical schools by late June or early July. Each secondary will include 1-7 additional essays; the protocol is to submit the secondary within two weeks of receipt. Therefore, if it turns out that many of your medical schools are not within reach based on your MCAT score, you will have completed extensive additional work for medical schools for which you are not a viable candidate. This will interfere with your ability to complete secondaries for schools that are more feasible.
Beyond this, many med schools will hold off on scheduling interviews until they receive your MCAT score. Since med school admissions occurs on a rolling basis, delaying receipt of your MCAT score could reduce the likelihood of your receiving interview invitations.
The Impact of Your MCAT Schedule on Your Med School Application Timetable
You will need to take into consideration the timing of your pre-med coursework, your availability to study for the MCAT given academic and extracurricular commitments, your desired timetable for beginning med school, and whether you are already planning to take one or two gap years.
Applying After Junior Year
If you would like to attend medical school immediately after college, you would need to apply at the end of junior year, and ideally take the MCAT by May of junior year. This timetable will require careful planning of your pre-med courses such that by the time you take the MCAT you have already taken biology (two semesters), general chemistry (two semesters), organic chemistry (two semesters) and physics (two semesters); and ideally biochemistry and introduction to psychology as well.
Applying After Senior Year
There are many possible reasons to apply at the end of senior year instead of junior year. Many students are not able to complete the MCAT-related coursework until senior year. This could be due to having a double major or a minor with significant required coursework, deciding later in your college career to become pre-med, or not having access to the required pre-med coursework. In addition, some students have such significant extracurricular commitments throughout college that they prefer to wait to take the MCAT until their schedule frees up. Finally, some students prefer to take one or two gap years between college and medical school, either to have an academic break, or to bolster their candidacy through additional coursework or medically related activities.
In these instances, you would take the MCAT in the spring of senior year (or later). You could apply to med school when you graduate college, in which case you would take one gap year; or you could apply to med school a year after you graduate, in which case you would take two gap years.
Retaking the MCAT
Taking the MCAT at the earliest effective date will enable you to retake the exam if you wish. You are allowed to take the MCAT three times in a single testing year (January – September) and four times within two consecutive years. Keep in mind that med schools receive ALL your MCAT test scores and view multiple scores in different ways, including:
- Considering only your highest total score, and the section scores therein (the most common approach);
- Considering your highest section score from each test and recalculating a new total (super-score);
- Averaging your total scores and each of your section scores; or
- Considering your most recent test scores more heavily.
Check the policies of your favorite med schools, as well as how your test scores compare with those of admitted students, to help decide whether to retake the exam. (The Medical Schools Admissions Requirements (MSAR) on the AAMC website is an excellent source for this information.)
For guidance on scheduling the MCAT or any other aspect of the medical school application process, feel free to contact us. As always, at Collegiate Gateway, we’re happy to help!