BS/MD Combined Programs: Is “Med School Early Decision” Right for You?

August 30, 2017

Have you always wanted to be a doctor? Is college a 4-year stepping stone for med school where you’ll truly be able to pursue your life calling?

If so, you might be a good candidate for 7 or 8-year BA/MD or BS/MD programs that combine undergrad and medical school into a streamlined process. These combined degree programs are offered by approximately 50 universities and can be thought of as early decision programs for med students. (Find a list of schools that offer the program here. A printable PDF version can be found here.)

The appeal of these combined programs is the assurance of medical school after you complete your undergraduate degree. By applying to a BA/MD or BS/MD program, you get to earn a Bachelor’s degree—either a Bachelor’s of Arts (BA) or Bachelor’s of Science (BS)—from the university and then proceed directly into the school’s medical program to earn your Doctor of Medicine (MD). This process allows you to skip the typical med school admissions process.

How they work

The application process is either encompassed entirely in your initial college application so you only apply once, or some schools ask for a condensed application process early on in your college career after you’re already enrolled. In both cases, you will still have to maintain a minimum GPA but you may not be required to take the MCAT. Programs that do require applicants take the MCAT make the med school offer conditional based on the student’s test scores and academic performance.

While many of these combined programs are offered within the same institution, some programs extend to other schools. This means that rather than get your BA or BS at one school and stay at that school for your MD, you have the opportunity to pursue your MD at a partner school or another school within the same network. 

Are they right for you?

This depends on your commitment to the field and your risk appetite. Typically, these combined programs are highly competitive and require applicants to demonstrate prior experience that informs their decision to pursue a path that locks them into 7 or 8 years of study. A rigorous science-focused academic curriculum is a good initial indication of a student’s interest in the field. This means schools will consider whether you’re taking the required AP/IB classes to support your application. Your coursework will likely need to be supplemented by SAT II subject tests in science subjects. In general, your SAT or ACT scores as well as your GPA range will need to be above average for the school’s admissions standards.

An interest in science and the medical field are fundamental prerequisites. However, in order to demonstrate true understanding of what the field entails, you’ll need to show additional commitment outside of your coursework. It’s not enough to take and do well in your science classes; you’ll also need to show a vested interest with your extracurricular clubs, summer work experience, or volunteer activities. Most programs will require a recommendation letter from a science teacher who can speak to your capabilities as well as your level of passion. The college interview will also delve in your rationale for pursuing medicine and your conviction. It goes without saying that your essays will need to be tailored to assert your interest.

For all intents and purposes, your college application will be reviewed by the admissions committee to determine whether you are med school caliber both from an academic perspective and in interest level. So, if thinking about your application from that lens is too much pressure or too much of a commitment, this might not be for you; you can always pursue a pre-med course of study in college and figure out whether medical school is your next step.

Benefits

The main benefit of these programs is the ability for students who know they want to pursue medicine to deal with a single or more streamlined application process without having to go through the extensive admissions process of applying for graduate school. As long as you get good grades, your acceptance is virtually guaranteed.

Skipping the whole process of applying to multiple graduate school programs and crafting new applications gives students the freedom to focus on their coursework and tailor their college experience for a med school path. Clarity around where you’ll be in 4 years time frees you up to pursue long-term research opportunities, develop deeper relationships faculty who can serve as mentors, and immerse yourself in the broader community.

Several universities also offer accelerated programs, which means you can condense your studies from 8 years to 6 or 7 years. The obvious benefit of accelerated programs is saving time and money. You get to entire the workforce sooner while saving the expense of an extra year of school.

Scholarships are often specifically allocated to applicants who get admitted to combined programs. Due to the competitive nature of gaining admission to one of these programs, high achieving students who are admitted to combined programs are often eligible for more financial aid than regular undergraduate program admitted students.

Drawbacks

One of the major drawbacks of applying to combined BA/MD or BS/MD programs is the level of upfront commitment you need to own as a high school student. By locking yourself into a pre-med track, you don’t have the freedom to explore many electives or alternative subjects you may not have had the chance to come into contact with in high school. For many students, college is a time of academic exploration. By committing to med school, you severely limit your ability to explore alternative career paths. While the vast majority of students outside of the U.S. make a career choice as high school students, the benefit of the American 4-year college system is that it encourages self-exploration rather than vocational training.

It’s not just a commitment to a lifelong career in medicine either. BA/MD and BS/MD programs often also mean committing to 7 or 8 years at a single school and campus environment. Although you may love a school, after 4 years there, you may find that your outlook has changed or that you want the option to explore other locations or communities. It’s hard to know what your preference will be in 4 years time, so making a big commitment like this can be daunting. If you’re someone who values optionality and diversity, a combined program may be too limiting.

Note, however, that you can always drop out of the program if you find it’s not right for you; you can always change your mind. Just recognize that there are downsides and consequences to dropping out of a program designed for a specific purpose. If you choose to veer off the pre-med path, you may have to take additional courses in order to graduate.

While accelerated programs save you time and money, they are almost never easier than 8-year programs. Typically, your 4 years of undergrad are condensed into 3 years of study so you get to start working on your MD one year sooner. The transition from high school to the rigors of college can often be challenging, and accelerated programs make this even more apparent. 

So what’s the strategy?

If you are set on pursuing a BA/MD or BS/MD program after reading the above, that’s great! It means you have the conviction to do it. Come up with a list of factors that are important to you in a school (time to completion, coursework, faculty mentoring, etc.) and then do research on which schools offer you what you want. Make sure to tailor your essays and your broader application to the specific programs or schools you decide on.

If you’re interested in the combined program but want to keep your options open until acceptance, we would recommend identifying a few BA/MD and BS/MD programs to shoot for and then apply to other target, reach and safety schools where you can pursue a more traditional 4-year education that keeps med school open as an option down the line. This gives you the flexibility to decide what program you want to enroll at once you know which programs you’ve been accepted to.

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For those of you interested in combining a liberal arts education with med school, check out Brown’s PLME program. It’s an 8-year program that allows you to explore a humanities-focused study during undergrad before medical school.

No matter what path you choose, as long as you know the pros and cons going into it, you’ll be making the right decision for you. For general inspiration about how to tackle essays explaining an interest in medicine or science, read these successful application essays about pursuing science as an academic interest and pursuing medicine as a career.

About The Author

Stephanie Shyu
Stephanie Shyu

Steph is our founder and the most prolific consumer of Easy Mac™® within a 3-mile radius of our office. She attended Duke where she was a Div 1 fencer, then picked up a J.D. and a Wharton Certificate focusing on Entrepreneurial Studies from UPenn plus an LL.M. from the University of Hong Kong. She founded an educational charity in rural China and was once an aspiring journalist (as is clearly evident from this artfully crafted author bio). Named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, she gives interviews and talks about startups and education – email her at steph@admitsee.com.




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