Comparing and Contrasting Different MCAT Prep Options

Every MCAT plan starts with deciding what type of MCAT prep you choose. Between self-studying, buying a MCAT prep course, or a private tutor, there's an option for everyone.

Alright, so you’re taking the MCAT, and that means you’ve gotta study. Like, a lot. But, one friend just dropped $10,000 on 40 hours of private tutoring, and another friend swears that if you just take really good notes on this one book, you can definitely get a 528. So, what's the deal? How do you successfully prepare for the MCAT in a way that preserves your precious time, money, and sanity? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to MCAT prep, but most test-takers end up following one of three approaches: self-study, prep courses, or private tutoring. While the right choice for you ultimately comes down to your goals, learning style, and budget, choosing your approach to MCAT prep is a big decision, so we’re here to give you a quick rundown on the pros and cons of each option.



Self-study is the DIY approach to MCAT prep. For most people, this involves finding a handful of resources you like, making your own study plan, and putting your nose to the grindstone.

Now, if you poke around enough MCAT blogs, it might seem like you NEED to drop thousands on an expensive MCAT course to get into med school. But, for many people, self-study is a perfectly good approach. For one, this is the cheapest option, and saving cash to put towards application fees and tuition down the road certainly doesn’t hurt. Furthermore, self-study is the most flexible and most customizable approach to MCAT prep. There’s no need to worry about squeezing classes or tutoring sessions into your packed schedule. Plus, if you already know biochem backwards and forwards but the thought of a CARS passage is enough to make you cry, that’s no problem; you have the freedom to gloss over biochem review and go all in on CARS practice. 

That being said, there is a good reason some people do decide to fork over the big bucks for a prep course. Self-study requires a LOT of organization, motivation, and discipline. So, if you’ve been saying you’re going to clean out the fridge for the last six months but have yet to do it (no shame, we’ve all been there), self-study might not be the best approach for you. Also, if you tend to learn better from a live instructor than you do from written or prerecorded resources, the amount of self-teaching that this approach requires might be challenging.

Now, if you’ve got some time before you take the MCAT, it doesn’t hurt to test out self-studying for a month or so. If you find yourself improving on practice exams, stick with it! If you’re not seeing much improvement, that may be a sign you need a more structured approach.

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Prep Courses

In that case, MCAT prep courses will likely be the next avenue you look into. Generally, MCAT courses do a great job of providing a comprehensive review of test taking strategies and high-yield content. This can be particularly helpful if it’s been a while since you took pre-med classes in undergrad, or if you didn’t pursue a traditional pre-med undergraduate degree. And maybe even more importantly, many students find that having an instructor and schedule helps keep them on track with their study plan.

Of course, price is one significant downside of MCAT prep courses relative to self-study, as they can cost up to a few thousand dollars. Additionally, most instructors are teaching from a predetermined curriculum, so usually the content won’t be tailored to your strengths and weaknesses. That means you may end up wasting some time reviewing topics you’re already confident in, and you may not spend as much time as you’d like on your problem areas.

Keep in mind that MCAT courses can be online or in person, each of which has its advantages. Online courses obviously save you time going to and from a physical location. Plus, you’re likely to have a broader choice of instructors and class times. And of course, we can’t understate the joy of being able to attend class from bed, in your pajamas, with your pet cat/dog/parakeet/snail nearby for emotional support. On the other hand, some people find it easier to focus in an in person classroom, or they simply don’t want to spend any more time staring into a computer screen. Plus, an in person class gives you the opportunity to meet other students and potentially form study groups, or make friends going through the same process.

Private Tutoring

Finally, if you want the personalization of self-study, but the structure and expert instruction of an MCAT course, private tutoring might be the best option. Since this avenue is one-on-one, a good tutor should help you craft a study plan that’s perfectly tailored to your strengths and weaknesses and makes the best use of your time. Unfortunately, the major downside to private tutoring is that it's usually the most expensive of the three options we’ve covered.

At the end of the day, choosing the best approach to MCAT studying comes down to your goals and learning style. Think about the types of environments where you learn best to help you choose a route that aligns with your needs. If you love being in the classroom, consider a prep course. If you find you usually end up preferring Youtube videos and textbooks to your professors, you might be a great candidate for self-study. And, if you often rely on that one really, really smart friend to break everything down for you right before exams, you might do well with a private tutor.

Finally, be thorough in your research before making a decision. A bad prep course or tutor can turn into a very expensive waste of time. Ask friends and family who’ve taken the MCAT for recommendations and thoroughly vet online reviews to make sure any prep providers you’re considering are reputable and have a proven record of raising test scores.

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