Getting into medical school in the US is difficult enough as it is, with thousands of candidates to compete against, and acceptance rates at the top schools as low as 2.5%. However, if you are a high school student who is driven, dedicated and determined to fulfill your dreams of being a doctor, then the combined bachelor/medical school programs offered by some US colleges could make your medical journey slightly less stressful.
These programs enroll students straight from high school into a six, seven or eight year track straight through undergraduate studies and medical college. It can be overwhelming even just thinking about applying, so in this article we aim to shed more light on the existence of these combined degree programs: we’ll explain the ins and outs of these programs, their pros and cons, and key application details from the top schools.
What Are Combined BA/MD and BS/MD Programs?
In the US college system, the most common route to medical school is via a graduate program that you apply to upon completion of your undergraduate degree. However, there are a number of institutions out there that offer a combined program. In this option, students will earn a Bachelor’s degree, either in the arts (B.A.) or the sciences (B.S.), and then advance straight to medical school, skipping the typical additional admissions process that they would usually be subject to. Instead, students undergo a single admission process in their senior year of high school, that looks to account for both undergrad and medical school applications at once.
Once students have gained a place on these programs, they are committed to staying in the same institution or choice of partner school when they transition from their undergraduate studies to the medical program. For example, candidates accepted onto the Boston University Liberal Arts/Medical Education Program would be expected to attend their medical studies at Boston University after, with no choice of transfer.
While they will bypass the medical school admission process at the end of undergraduate school, students will be required to maintain minimum education standards throughout such as a steady GPA, successful completion of the MCAT - Medical College Admissions Test (although some don’t), additional research and some clinical experience. For instance, the University of South Florida requires for advancement at the end of undergraduate studies:
- A GPA of 3.7
- Acquiring a benchmark score in the MCAT
- A minimum of two semesters of Undergraduate health-related research (lab-based, clinical or social/behavioral)
- Completion of a minimum of 120 contact hours of medical observation and community service
Duration of Programs
The duration of these combined programs vary between six, seven and eight years. These years will be split differently between undergraduate and graduate years, and different numbers of summer term study:
Application Requirements and the Interview Process
The number of places on these courses is extremely limited, with most programs only having around a dozen spaces (or less). Because of this, applicants should always expect to meet a high barrier to entry. To have a good chance of being accepted, a student should aim to meet the following prerequisites:
- a top percentile SAT score (the most competitive programs have minimum SAT scores of 1400 or higher, with the average accepted SAT score being far higher)
- Placement in the top 5% of the high school class
- Demonstrated record of medical interest and experience in healthcare
- High engagement in extracurricular activities such as athletics, music and art
In addition to this, most programs only allow for US citizens on their programs.
Once you’ve submitted your application, successful candidates will move on to the next part of the process: the interview. At this stage, interviewers are looking for students who are firmly dedicated to a life in the medical world. These are students who are not only aware of the current problems and issues that medical practitioners face today, but are also genuinely interested in ongoing medical research and developments.
Students should be able to speak confidently about their commitment to a career in medicine, as well as displaying familiarity with clinical medicine (one that is usually gained through volunteer experience and shadowing of doctors). Furthermore, exceptional levels of maturity and a passion for helping others will be required.
Although there is no magic bullet or set parameters that guarantee you a place on these programs, there are five things to aim for that will vastly improve your chances of success:
1) A high-achieving school transcript with a focus on upper-level biology and chemistry classes
2) Top percentile standardized test scores, aiming for a 1550 or greater SAT score, or ACT 35 or greater
3) Physician shadowing of several doctors (differing specialties)
4) Both clinical and non-clinical volunteer work
5) Evidence of medical/science related research in your senior year
So, now you have an idea of what these programs entail, and how the application process works, what are the advantages and disadvantages of committing to this kind of program?
Advantages of a Combined Program
One of the biggest positives is that if you are committed to medicine as a career, these programs allow you to be focused from the very beginning of your studies towards that goal. You will have a clear path set before you, with the knowledge that a place at medical school is waiting for you at the end of it. Less surprises mean greater chances of achieving your academic and professional ambitions.
Indeed, this focus results in a more stable learning environment, where you will have a program that takes place across a single school or network of schools with a common study approach. This familiarity can really help your studies, as opposed to the traditional two-stage process that can result in disruption when transferring from one school to another, with unfamiliar professors, facilities and teaching philosophy.
There are two other practical advantages of applying to these programs. The first is that you will have less application stress. Rather than two application processes (one at high school, the other towards the end of your undergraduate studies), you will only have one. Medical school (and preparing to apply for medical school during your undergraduate years) is stressful enough, so the majority of students find streamlining the process a huge benefit - not just to their studies, but also their overall well-being.
Another benefit we want to mention is the financial aid available in the fourth year of the programs. Most combined programs provide the undergraduate financial aid for four years while most students begin to take the medical school curriculum in their fourth year. Hence, this ability to use undergraduate aid will reduce the amount of loans needed for students during the first year of medical school.
Negatives of a Combined Program
Despite the pros we’ve mentioned, there are some drawbacks to these programs:
You will be set in a concrete direction for the next six to eight years of your life - of course, you can always drop out. However, this can set your personal ambitions (however they’ve developed) back a number of years, and be more costly in the long run. Therefore, great commitment and dedication to the program you are applying to is essential, both in your application and throughout your studies.
This commitment to the program should also be seen as a commitment to the location and institution you eventually accept. Following the orthodox path to medical college, students are able to obviously choose a town or city from which they pursued their undergraduate degree. In combined programs, you will most likely be in the same state for at least six years, if not eight.
Another disadvantage comes to the time frame of these accelerated programs. In comparison to other degrees, they will require year-round study, including summer. That being the case, you might find a less traditional student experience, with a heavy workload that could be challenging, especially considering the amount of material you are expected to study in a reduced amount of time.
As you can see, the disadvantages of the combined program mostly revolve around your level of dedication to it - should you find yourself firmly committed to application with a clear set of goals in mind, the hurdles that many others encounter can be of no material consequence to you.
List of Schools Offering Combined BA/MD & BS/MD Programs
The following list is a comprehensive table of schools offering combined BA/MD and BS/MD programs in the US. Important details such as program length, deadlines and minimum SAT scores. We also mention whether Early Decision/Early Action applications are considered. Early Decisions commit their applicants to that college, while early actions do not. You should know that for many schools, applying for combined programs might be via the Early Decision process only.
There are many factors that one needs to consider when applying for a combined bachelor’s/medical program, but hopefully the above information with the guide that we have provided in this article give you a much better idea not only of where you want to study, but also how you want to commit your years post high school. These combined programs do require a lot of effort and dedication, but on completion truly yield great rewards.