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If you’re a motivated high school student who is considering a career in medicine, you have a number of different options to think about. Maybe you have even researched your options for undergrad and med school, and begun to toy with the idea of a combined BS/MD program. These programs can be a great choice for a select group of students, but require careful consideration, as they’re definitely not for everyone. In this post, we’ll discuss the primary advantages and disadvantages of choosing a BS/MD program so that you can make the best choice for yourself.
An Introduction to BS/MD Programs
Combined BS/MD programs allow students to complete a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree and then continue directly into medical school for a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Students apply for the program in their senior year of high school, and are accepted for its entirety, thereby eliminating the separate application process usually necessary to progress from an undergrad college or university to a med school.
In BS/MD programs, students benefit from knowing in advance that they’ve already been accepted to med school, gain access to resources available only to students in their program, and sometimes complete their degrees on an accelerated timeframe. For high school students who know early on that they want to pursue a career in medicine, a combined BS/MD program can seem like a great idea.
But these programs aren’t without their faults. BS/MD program participants sacrifice choice by committing to two schools at once, and they can sometimes miss out on the undergrad experience or the life lessons that come from finding your own way through undergrad. Settling on a BS/MD path should be a choice that’s weighed carefully.
Advantages of a Combined BS/MD Program
Reduces the Stress of the Application Process
While applying to any college is a stressful process, for BS/MD programs the overall application process leading to your MD is greatly simplified. Rather than applying to undergrad, pursuing an undergraduate degree, and then repeating the process all over by applying to med schools, you apply only once to a combined BS/MD program. There are no separate applications for med school.
Of course, BS/MD programs are among the most competitive programs to get into in the country, so the application process is no cake walk. But still, you only go through it once, while you’re still in high school, and you can then progress through your undergrad years with the knowledge that your place in med school has already been secured.
In addition, some (but not all) BS/MD programs waive the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) requirement. Most students who take the MCAT spend no small amount of time preparing for it, so not having to take it will be a major weight lifted further down the line.
More Flexible Undergrad Course Selection
Many students who go into undergrad with the intention of continuing on to med school feel pressure as early as freshman year to compile a transcript that highlights their commitment to the sciences. They may even be hesitant to take many humanities or social science courses as their focus is on showcasing readiness for med school.
While BS/MD program participants still have to take certain premed courses and meet minimum GPA standards, they no longer have to worry about impressing an admissions committee and can therefore choose their other classes with fewer concerns. Ultimately, some argue that you could become a more well-rounded student—anMd doctor—as a result.
Greater Resources Available
In any formal program of study, there are resources available exclusive to program participants, and BS/MD programs are no different. When you enroll in one of these programs, you will find yourself part of a unique community. Of course, the size and spirit of that community will vary widely according to which program you attend, but in general you can expect to be part of a smaller community within a larger school environment.
Some BS/MD programs, like Brown’s PLME program, offer a selection of enrichment activities like study abroad opportunities, chances to observe practicing physicians, research opportunities, and professional development.
Even if your school does not have extensive enrichment activities specific to your program, it may be easier to find some opportunities, like research positions, just by virtue of your status as a BS/MD student.
Finally, some BS/MD programs offer an accelerated path through undergrad and med school. These allow you to complete your undergraduate degree in only three years, thereby allowing you to graduate from med school after seven years of postsecondary education, rather than eight.
This accelerated pace can save you money, because you will pay for fewer years of education and become a doctor with real earning potential one year earlier.
You will also save (on a much smaller scale) on application costs, since you will not need to complete separate applications for med school.
Disadvantages to a Combined BS/MD Program
The most obvious disadvantage to a combined BS/MD program is the relative lack of options available to you. While there are over a 100 medical schools in the U.S., there are far fewer med schools that participate in BS/MD programs. If you’re considering a BS/MD program, you’ll have to attend one of the medical schools that partner with a BS/MD program. You may have to set aside your preference for a research-heavy program or med school geared towards family practitioners if you can’t find a BS/MD program that will cater to these preferences.
Additionally, once you commit to a BS/MD program, you are more or less locked into a career in medicine. You must be absolutely certain from a relatively young age that you want to pursue your MD.Although it’s possible to drop out of a BS/MD program, it’s highly discouraged and even looked down upon due to the limited number of spaces available to begin with. You could find yourself feeling locked into an academic path that doesn’t suit your ultimate goals.
Two Schools Must Both Fit
As we mention above, there are over 100 medical schools in the U.S. There are also over 7,000 undergrad institutions. This leaves a ton of choices for a student who is choosing each individually. When selecting an undergraduate school and med school separately, you will be able to choose each based on your very specific preferences and priorities.
When you apply for a BS/MD program, you need to find one program that fits you well as both an undergraduate and a med student. You cannot pick and choose. More specifically, you will not be able to choose a med school that is best suited to the interests you discover during your undergrad studies, since you’ll already be committed.
Finally, you will not be able to pursue a dual degree in med school, such as an MD/PhD.
Another obvious disadvantage to BS/MD programs is their extreme selectivity. Admissions are among the most competitive in the country. While many Ivy League schools accept as few as 5-6% of applicants, only 4% of BS/MD program applicants are accepted overall.
This means you often have a higher likelihood of being accepted if you go the traditional route and apply for undergrad and med school separately.
Maturity/Life Lessons Aren’t Fully Developed in High School
Finally, when you are choosing a BS/MD program, you are usually only 17-18 years old. You do not have the additional few years of undergraduate education and the life perspective provided by those years. Although you might think you know exactly what you want to do with your life, you don’t have the same insights that a student graduating from college has.
BS/MD programs are a wonderful choice for a student who discovers from an early age that his or her life’s path leads to a career as a doctor. But, like most things worth working for, you must be willing to make some sacrifices in order to pursue a BS/MD program. Ultimately, only you can decide if one of these unique programs is right for you.
If you’re thinking about a BS/MD program, but you’re unsure if it’s the right fit or you don’t know where to begin, consider CollegeVine’s BS/MD Application Help service. Here, you’ll be paired one-on-one with a specialist from one of the top combined undergraduate and medical school programs in the country, who will help to prepare your application, guide your essay choices, and coach you through the interview process.
To learn more about BS/MD programs, read these popular CollegeVine posts:
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
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Is your goal to become a doctor? Do you want to put yourself on a fast track to medical school and making your dream a reality? If so, you may want to consider applying for a BS/MD program.
In this article, I'll explain what these programs are and go over exactly how to get into a BS/MD program, so that you can be one step closer to your dream of becoming a doctor.
What Is a BS/MD Program?
A BS/MD program offers you admission to medical school if you meet certain minimum requirements while you’re in college or applying to colleges. You can apply for a BS/MD program as a high school student during the regular college application process. Additionally, there are BS/MD programs you can apply to as an underclassman in college. Most people begin applying to med school the summer between their junior and senior years of college, so BS/MD programs can let you know you've been accepted to med school years before many of your peers find out.
Much of the information in this article is geared towards current high school students who are considering applying to programs that admit first-year students, but some of the advice and information also applies to current college students who are contemplating entering a BS/MD program.
Typically, for BS/MD programs, you have to maintain a 3.5 GPA while in college, and many programs still require you to take the MCAT, the medical school entrance exam. However, assuming you meet the minimum requirements, you’ll be guaranteed admission to the medical school that’s associated with your BS/MD program.
Usually, it takes at least eight years to finish your undergraduate and medical school programs, but sometimes, you can do so in six or seven through a BS/MD program. Upon completion of the program, you’ll have a Bachelor of Science and a Doctor of Medicine degrees.
Requirements for Getting Into a BS/MD Program
Getting into a BS/MD program is extremely difficult. Each program has different requirements, but, in all cases, you need a high GPA and stellar standardized test scores.The requirements are usually much stricter than those for other undergraduate applicants.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City's BS/MD program has a minimum unweighted GPA requirement of 3.0, one of the lowest for a BS/MD program. However, the average unweighted high school GPA for an admitted student to the program is a 3.80. The minimum ACT score is a 24, but the average for admitted students is a 31. The minimum SAT score is 1090, but the average score for an admitted student is 1380. So, even if the bare minimum that a BS/MD program requires isn't that competitive, expect to need stellar academics if you want to actually get accepted because the competition will be tough.
Also, for most BS/MD programs, you have to write a personal statement, get recommendations, and do an interview. Additionally, you’ll be evaluated on your extracurricular activities. These programs want to see that you’ve demonstrated leadership and achievement; furthermore, they like to see involvement in extracurriculars related to health and medicine.
Here’s a chart with the minimum GPA and standardized test requirements for some BS/MD programs to give you an idea of what you need to be eligible for most of these programs. Keep in mind that you’ll probably need to comfortably exceed the minimum requirements to give yourself a decent shot at getting into these programs.
While the table should give you an idea of the minimum requirements of different BS/MD programs, as mentioned above, you’ll likely have to do substantially better to have a reasonable chance of getting accepted. To give yourself a good chance of getting into a BS/MD program, you should shoot for at least a 3.8 unweighted GPA and either a 1500 SAT score or a 34 composite ACT score. Basically, getting into a BS/MD program is on par with getting admitted to the most selective colleges in the country.
How to Get Into a BS/MD Program: Application Components
Now I’ll focus on each component of your BS/MD program application and offer advice and tips to make yourself as competitive for these programs as possible.
Your GPA and Classes
Your high school transcript is probably the most important component in determining whether or not you gain admission to a BS/MD program.
First, your goal should be to get as close to a 4.0 GPA as possible. Also, you should make sure to excel in the most rigorous math and science classes offered at your school. Because pre-med programs and medical school are very science intensive, you want to show that you’re extremely capable of doing well in demanding science classes. Depending on what classes your school offers, you should plan on taking at least two of these three classes: AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and AP Physics.
Your Standardized Tests
Again, you need exceptional SAT/ACT scores to make yourself competitive for admission. You should follow our tips to get a perfect SAT or ACT score.
We recommend taking the SAT/ACT for the first time by the fall of your junior year. If you don’t reach your target score, you can retake the test in the spring, and, hopefully, you won’t have to worry about it during your senior year when you’ll be busy with school, extracurricular activities, and college applications.
Know how long you’ll have to study to reach your target score. Remember that you want to get at least a 1500 on the SAT or a 34 on the ACT to give yourself a good chance to get into a BS/MD program.
Also, many programs require SAT Subject Tests. I recommend taking your SAT Subject Tests in the spring of your junior year. Some schools have guidelines on what subject tests you must take, but even if there are no specific subject requirements, you're probably going to want to take a math and science SAT Subject Test. If you're doing well in high-level math and science classes, you shouldn't have much trouble with the SAT Subject Tests, assuming you spend a little time to familiarize yourself with the tests. If you take the tests in subjects you excel at, you should do very well.
Your Extracurricular Activities
BS/MD programs want to admit students who have exceptional achievements both in and out of the classroom. Your commitment to your extracurricular activities demonstrates your willingness to do more than what’s required and your initiative to actively pursue your passions.
Because BS/MD programs are looking for students who are passionate about pursuing a career in medicine, you should have at least a couple of extracurriculars related to your interest in the medical field. You may want to volunteer at a hospital, shadow a doctor, help a professor with medical research, or get involved with a summer medical program.
Extracurriculars are a great way to separate yourself from other applicants who have similar grades and test scores. You'll enhance your applications and gain valuable experience by pursuing leadership positions, conducting research, and participating in other activities that show your potential and achievement in the medical field.
Your College Essay
Your college essay or personal statement is another critical component of your college application. The essay gives the school an opportunity to get to know you outside of your grades and accomplishments. It can give you a chance to explain any unique obstacles you’ve had to overcome or express why you’re motivated to become a doctor.
College essays can be challenging and time-consuming. Learn what you need to know about college essays and how to come up with great essay ideas.
I recommend starting to work on your college essays the summer before your senior year or at the beginning of your senior year at the latest. The essays aren’t very long, but you want to give yourself ample time to write and revise your college essays. I've worked with hundreds of students who procrastinated on their college essays, and they ended up not having enough time to produce their best work.
In a few years, you too could be sporting a stethoscope.
While your college essay allows a school to get to know you from your own perspective, your recommendations help a college get to know you from another person's perspective.
Most BS/MD programs will require recommendations from your teachers. Ideally, at least one of your recommendations will come from a science teacher who can speak glowingly about your science skills, character, and desire to learn. Make sure you know what a good recommendation looks like and how to ask for a letter of recommendation.
You can initially ask teachers if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation at the end of your junior year. That will give them time to think about what they’re going to write, and you can get them to agree to write a recommendation for you before they become inundated with requests during your senior year. Then, you can submit a formal request at the beginning of your senior year. For your reference, here are examples of excellent recommendation letters.
Many BS/MD programs do have an interview requirement. I know interviews can be scary, but with some basic preparation, the interview should only enhance your application. Because these programs are so selective, they try to take every necessary step to ensure they admit the best applicants. Be ready to answer why you're interested in that particular program and why you want to become a doctor. Avoid generic answers that could be given by any applicant; incorporating anecdotes and specific examples will strengthen your interview responses.
Don’t worry about the interview too much. By the time you interview, you’ll have completed most of the hard work needed to apply to a BS/MD program. As long as you’re respectful, you’ve done your research on the program, and you thoughtfully answer the questions you’re asked, you should be just fine.
Is a BS/MD Program Right for You?
At this point, you may be wondering if you want to do what’s necessary to get into a BS/MD program. These programs aren’t ideal for everyone, but they're excellent options for certain types of students.
If you have your heart set on becoming a doctor, a BS/MD program will set you on a direct path toward becoming one. You won’t have to deal with the stress of applying to medical school, and you’ll possibly be able to finish medical school in less time.
However, a BS/MD program may not be the best option for you if you’re not completely sure that you want to be a doctor. In fact, most of my friends who started college intending to pursue medical school ended up changing their plans.
Furthermore, many of the most selective and prestigious colleges and medical schools aren’t connected with BS/MD programs. If you want to attend a top college or medical school that isn’t associated with a BS/MD program, then perhaps you should just make yourself competitive for admission to Ivy League schools and not worry about BS/MD programs.
Schools like Harvard and Stanford don’t have BS/MD programs, but the vast majority of their pre-med students get into medical school. In 2012, 93% of Harvard pre-med students with at least a 3.5 GPA were admitted to medical school.
Finally, BS/MD programs tend to be demanding, and the workload can be very rigorous, especially if you're in a 6 or 7-year program. Make sure you're capable of doing the work that will be required, and more importantly, make sure you really want to do the work.
If you think you want to enter a BS/MD program, you really should have a high GPA and excellent test scores to give yourself the best chance of getting into the program of your choice. Learn helpful test prep strategies if you have a low SAT/ACT score but a high GPA. Also, understand the secret to getting a perfect SAT/ACT score.
Finally, regardless of whether or not you end up deciding to apply to BS/MD programs, you should know how many colleges to apply to.
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