MCAT: The mere mention of that acronym induces stress for many students considering medical school. It’s a draining exam, over six hours long, taken by more than 85,000 students a year, that requires intense preparation.
The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a multiple-choice computer-based standardized exam required for admission to medical schools in the U.S. and Canada. It is developed and administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to provide med schools with standard measures for comparing applicants’ qualifications and preparedness for obtaining a Doctorate in Medicine.
Medical school admissions committees look at MCAT scores, along with an applicant’s academic record and supporting materials, to determine the student’s ability to complete the program and enter the healthcare field as a physician. But there are opportunities to gain acceptance to med school without taking the MCAT, including enrolling in a BS/MD or direct medical program.
Some aspiring med school students can skip the MCAT by taking advantage of the BS/MD programs that … [+]
BS/MD programs allow for a smooth shift from undergraduate learning directly into medical school. Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) and then move directly into a medical program for a Doctor of Medicine (MD).
Each BS/MD program will vary in length. Hofstra University and Baylor University follow the traditional timeline: four years in undergraduate then four years in medical school. However, some BS/MD programs, like those at The College of New Jersey and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, offer a seven-year program.
For students who want a faster path to medicine, programs like the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s BA/MD Program and Howard University’s B.S./M.D Dual Degree Program allow students to earn their BA and MD in just six years. This type of accelerated program means a more intense learning journey: Students likely will have to attend summer school to complete all the necessary undergraduate requirements before matriculating into medical school.
As Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc on the medical system and society in general, the MCAT and medical school admissions are in flux. Like the ACT and SAT, the AAMC has suffered delays and cancellations in administering the MCAT at its testing centers. There are still concerns around adequate safety precautions while students take the MCAT.
Is Covid-19 a back-door way to gain admittance to medical school without taking the MCAT? Not exactly. This cycle, a few prominent universities did change their policies regarding the MCAT. For example, for the 2021 application cycle, Stanford Medical School applicants who were unable to take the test could still apply, and that “the MCAT will not be part of the screening and initial review process for interview decisions.” However, students who took the MCAT still had to submit the score as part of their application.
Whether these test-optional policies for the MCAT will continue for the 2022 application cycle has not yet been announced.
Some of the medical schools that didn’t require the MCAT for this past cycle include:
Ironically, there’s actually been an increase in medical school applications during the 2020-21 admissions cycle. According to AAMC, applications to the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) were up more than 15% from the previous cycle. The reasons for this trend are varied and include undergraduate students with more time to consider and attempt medical school applications to the so-called “Fauci effect,” where students have been inspired to consider a medical career by the nation’s most visible physician. As acceptance rates into medical school plummet, high school students might be even more inclined to secure an early spot at a med school. Therefore, taking advantage of direct medical programs, which allow students to bypass the expensive and lengthy medical school application process, might become an even more attractive option.
BS/MD programs guarantee undergraduate enrollees admission to medical school after completing certain criteria. High school students apply when they are in the 12th grade, which means they can fill out one application for their undergraduate degrees and medical school combined. Essentially, a high school student is being conditionally accepted into medical school while still in high school.
While some BS/MD programs waive the MCAT requirement altogether, others require that students achieve a minimum score on the MCAT. Luckily, this requirement is often less than the average score for students who matriculate into medical school.
There are also a handful of BS/MD programs that require the MCAT but have no minimum score. This allows for flexibility on the part of the school, but also the student. Instead of spending months preparing for the MCAT in order to secure a top percentile score, students can instead focus on extracurricular activities like volunteering at hospitals, research or physician shadowing.
The reasons are obvious why a student would prefer to skip the MCAT. For a student that is certain medicine is their chosen career path, BS/MD programs are a fast track way to avoid the MCAT and still get on the pathway to become a physician.