Why the MCAT Really Matters to Med Schools (it's not what you think)

Why the MCAT Really Matters to Med Schools (it's not what you think)

Up to a total MCAT score of 27 (504 on the new test), the numbers do a pretty good job of predicting who's likely to drop out of med school, who's likely to graduate in 4 years, and who's likely to pass their USMLE exams.

But just because you can succeed in med school with a 27 MCA, it doesn't mean you will get in with a 27.  

Pre-Med News Roundup October 8, 2014

Pre-Med News Roundup October 8, 2014
  • The Best Possible Day In this New York Times piece, author and doctor Atul Gawande explores end of life issues and how we treat terminal illnesses.  He recently wrote a book on the topic, Being Mortal, but if you don't have time to read a whole book, this article will give you a glimpse at how he handles death, illness, and aging as a doctor.
  • Medical Schools Change How Students Prepare for Work Medical students are facing changes to the MCAT, insurance coverage, the laws regarding healthcare, and new guidelines for how medical schools are preparing them for residencies.  The AAMC has created a new set of guidelines: The Core Entrustable Professional Activities for Entering Residency.  Preparation will use more simulations and focus on patient contact.
  • Nobel prize in medicine awarded for discovery of brain’s ‘GPS’  The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded this week to a team of scientists who have discovered the mechanism in the brain that allows people to navigate the world. Their work may lead to future treatments for neurological conditions.  

Which major is most likely to get into medical school?

Which major is most likely to get into medical school?

So if we don't have to major in biology, what should we major in?  Let's start by examining the data about which majors have the highest acceptance rates to medical school.

The top 3 majors are pretty close - humanities, math, and physical sciences majors all have a solidly-above-average (46-48%) acceptance rate.  Sitting right at average are social sciences, biology, and "other" majors, all with a 40-42% acceptance rate.  And bringing up the rear are "health sciences" majors.

Are DO schools harder to get into than MD schools?

If you look up acceptance data on AAMC and AACOM, you get the following numbers:

On its face, it looks like DO schools are harder to get into than MD schools (their overall acceptance rate is 7 points lower).  So what's happening in the data?The numbers above are not the actual acceptance rates, because they include people who got into med school but who chose (for various reasons) not to attend.  In other words, the "true" acceptance rates should be higher (and in DO's case much higher).

Let's start by examining the overlap between MD and DO applicants.  According to AACOM, 52.40% of DO applicants also applied to MD schools. That means that over half of applicants applying to DO schools are already included in the numbers of total applicants for MD schools.

Using data from AACOM, we can tease out how many students ONLY apply to DO school and how many apply to both.  According to AACOM, 52.40% of students who apply to DO schools (14,945 applicants) also apply to MD programs.  Using our good old group formula (G1 + G2 - Both = Total), we get the following chart:

So what happens when you get into both an MD school and a DO school?  According to data from AACOM, of applicants who applied to both DO and MD schools in 2010 who were admitted to at least one MD school, 89% chose to enroll in that MD school (only 9% of that group chose to enroll at a DO school).  In other words, when you have the choice of both, most pre-meds choose the MD school.

As a result, about 20% of students who apply to DO schools end up matriculating at an MD school, thus distorting our data.  In reality, MD schools are harder to get into.  Indeed, their average GPA's and MCAT scores suggest as much:average MCAT   average GPA


     31.3                    3.69


     25.7                     3.41

According to that same report, of all applicants who applied to DO schools, 55% received an offer of admission.  Though we don't have the corresponding number for MD applicants, we can compare the 55% acceptance rate to DO schools to a "true" acceptance rate to MD schools of a hair over the 43% national number.

So what does this all mean to your application?

1.  It shows why DO schools are concerned with losing applicants to MD schools.  They're concerned, because it happens quite a bit.  Roughly half of applicants to DO schools are applying to MD schools, and when they get into both, they mostly choose the MD school.  As a result, I believe a successful application to DO schools will include a specific reason you prefer getting a DO over getting an MD degree. 

Be sure to include this argument in your personal statement to DO schools, and be prepared to answer the same question "why DO?" when you go into your interview at a DO school.

2. If your numbers aren't great, apply to DO schools as well as MD schools. 

 DO's end up in all kinds of specialties (not just primary care), so you will have plenty of options open to you at both schools.

3.  The market seems to have spoken, however, and students still prefer MD over DO schools.  There may be many reasons for this choice.  To name a few: MD schools are better known, have better research opportunities, and have better options of getting students into the more competitive specialties.  Whatever the reasons for the choice, the preference exists, and when figuring out where to apply, decided whether what you want from your career is a good fit for MD, DO, or both.