Is It Worth Doing a BS/MD Program?

If you were to do a quick Google search of all the pros and cons to a BS/MD program, you’ll find a strong debate happening on sites such as Student Doctor Network (SDN) or College Confidential. Obviously, as a BS/MD student myself, I find that the pros outweigh the cons, but not everyone feels that way. In the points outlined below, I’ve discussed some of the most prominent cons that are associated with BS/MD programs and have either debunked or validated them.

Cons

Lack of preparation for the USMLE

Concern: Since not all BS/MD programs require students to take the MCAT, it is sometimes a concern that this will hurt students in the future when they have to take the USMLE. For those who are unaware of what the USMLE is, it’s the United States Medical Licensing Exam, which is a 3-step exam you take throughout different stages of medical school that tests the knowledge, skillset, and attitudes necessary for you to receive your medical degree (MD) and is used to determine your residency placement. When preparing for the MCAT, you go through rigorous study, and students fear that without having experienced that process before, they may not be ready to handle a similar type of process when it comes time to take the USMLE.

Reality: Having spoken to upperclassmen who’ve avoided the MCAT because of their program enrollment, I haven’t heard of anyone complain that they had a harder time studying for the USMLE because they hadn’t taken the MCAT. Even though BS/MD students may haven’t had to take a standardized test such as the MCAT, they have learned all the same material and gone through the same classroom testing as other pre-med students. Additionally, it seems that BS/MD students place successfully into their top residency choices just as often as their classmates, so even if they were at a slight disadvantage with USMLE preparation, it doesn’t seem to impact their career in any way.

Less prepared for the rigors of medical school

Concern: There’s a common misconception that BS/MD programs are an easy, guaranteed route to medical school. People think that if you’re part of a BS/MD program, it doesn’t matter which classes you take or what grades you get because, hey, you’re already in medical school! And from these misconceptions, the idea stems that due to the lack of rigor in undergrad, BS/MD students are not going to be able to deal with the heavy workload in medical school.

Reality: While BS/MD programs do provide you with a slightly easier (note this is relative!) route to medical school, by no means are they easy. Some programs do not require the MCAT, while others only require you to achieve a certain score (usually lower than that medical school’s average MCAT score). Nearly all programs have a specific GPA requirement, and many also either strongly encourage or require involvement in medical activities (such as hospital volunteering, research, etc.). So as a BS/MD student, you are essentially doing everything exactly as you would if you were a traditional pre-med. The only difference really is that there is less pressure on you concerning whether or not you’ll get into medical school (which is the greatest fear of most pre-meds). BS/MD students still take on the same pre-med course load, still have to secure high grades, and still need to show some involvement in medical activities, meaning that they face almost the same rigor as traditional pre-meds just without the added stress. If you decide to slip up on one of these, then you will likely be dropped out of the program. So really, there should be no reason that any other student is better equipped than a BS/MD student while in medical school.

Too much acceleration

Concern: Many students are concerned that by accelerating your undergraduate experience, you have less time to understand the same amount of material and are thus unable to properly absorb all the information you need for medical school. And if this is the case, then people believe you’ll be at a disadvantage in medical school.

Reality: From what I’ve gathered in talking to upperclassmen who’ve gone through accelerated programs, there is actually no reason to worry about lacking a solid foundation in coursework simply because the speed of your classes is slightly quicker. If anything, I’ve actually heard the opposite. Students often say that accelerated programs are better in helping you understand material because you have no time to forget the material you just learned. And if you think about this logically, it makes sense. Information that you learn in one science class is generally going to be applied in some other science course that you eventually take. Now if you take the first class one year and the second class the following year, then you are more likely to have forgotten material you learned in the first class than if you had taken the two classes within a time span of a few months. Similarly, students often claim that summer classes are better for learning material than regular semester classes simply because you have class every single day in the summer and thus it’s easier to remember exactly what you learned in the last lecture and build upon it.
In an accelerated program, this is exactly what you do; you take more classes during the summer and you take related science classes within a shorter span of time. Thus, there is really no reason for you to be at a disadvantage when you enter medical school; if anything, you probably know the information better!

Also, keep in mind that most accelerated programs offer you the chance to delay your entry into medical school by a year or so if you feel the pace of the program is too fast. Accelerated programs are meant for students who want to finish their medical training as quickly as possible, but if somewhere along the line you decide to change your mind on that, then most programs are flexible with it.

Cannot do a MD/PhD or pursue other graduate degrees

Concern: It is often thought that once you commit to a BS/MD program, you are required to go directly from undergrad to medical school. If you choose to pursue a different graduate degree (such as masters or PhD), then your spot will no longer be reserved in the medical school.

Reality: This concern is generally something that differs on a school-to-school basis. Some schools might reserve your spot in medical school while you take a few years off to pursue other graduate degrees, while others don’t allow you to do so. This generally depends on the school’s philosophy. For example, REMS at the University of Rochester is extremely encouraging of students who want to take gap years to pursue fellowships or other graduate degrees because they believe those graduate degrees will eventually help you become a better doctor. This same mentality may not apply across other schools though. Different schools will have different policies; the best way to find out is to ask such questions during your interview weekend. In my general experience though, most schools are quite flexible and open to allowing students to pursue other graduate degrees in between the undergraduate and medical school years.

Locked into one medical school

Concern: Applicants often worry that if they commit to this program, then they are bound to attended that particular medical school and have no option to apply out to other, perhaps more prestigious, medical schools.

Reality: This concern is also one that needs to be addressed on a school-to-school basis. Some schools, like the University of Rochester, has no problems with you applying out to other schools. If you choose to take the MCAT, fill out the AMCAS application for other schools, and get into another medical school that is perhaps better suited for you, then by all means you have the right to leave. During that process, though, the University of Rochester School of Medicine will continue to reserve a spot for you in case you choose to stick with U of R’s medical school. Other programs, however, might take away your reserved spot if you choose to apply out and will then require you to apply directly to the medical school to gain admission (of which there is no guarantee of being accepted). Still, other schools will offer contingencies on this unique situation; for example, if they don’t require their program students to take the MCAT and you choose to do so in order to apply out, the program will require you to achieve a minimum score in order to keep your spot reserved (otherwise you will be dropped from the program). So based on the information, this can be a valid concern for students who don’t want to commit to one medical school too early on. The best way to find your answer is, again, to ask questions during the interview process and decide in the end what is of greater importance to you: flexibility of choice or certainty of admission.

Locked into one career path

Concern: A main concern among BS/MD applicants is that if they choose to commit to a program, they won’t have the flexibility to explore other career options during their undergraduate years since they’ll be so skin deep into their science courses. As a result, it’s thought to not be realistic to change your career path into something completely different from medicine as a BS/MD student.

Reality: Depending on the school and program, it may be easier or harder to change out of a career in medicine, but by no means are you bound to the career path for life. In fact, many students choose to pursue different majors (while simultaneously completing their pre-med coursework). In fact, I personally know someone who kept up all his pre-med requirements while pursuing an economics degree and decided at the end of his senior year to drop the idea of going to medical school and instead to go to Wall Street. He still had everything he needed to go to medical school if he wanted, but ultimately he decided against it. With accelerated programs it can be slightly more difficult to pursue non-science majors since you’re expected to complete a set number of science classes in a limited amount of time, but it’s not impossible to do. So by no means does any BS/MD program limit your career options; the purpose of them is to offer you a less-pressured, more flexible route to medical school. But if you end up deciding that this isn’t the right path for you, then there is no contract type agreement binding you to it.
Hopefully addressing some of these BS/MD concerns gave you a bit more perspective in terms of what to expect and what not to expect if you choose to commit to a program. The next post might alter your opinion a bit more (in this case towards to positive side!) since it’ll discuss the pros to being a BS/MD student, so make sure to look into that as well. After hearing both sides, you can make a decision in a more confident and informed manner.

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What Medical Schools Have the Highest Average MCAT Score?

Getting into any US medical school is a huge accomplishment and extremely difficult to do. However, there are some schools that make the already impressive feat of a medical school acceptance even more impressive! These medical schools have the highest average MCAT scores amongst their matriculating class.

The following medical schools have the highest average MCAT score (as reported by median MCAT).

Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine 521
New York University School of Medicine 520
University of Chicago Division of the Biological Sciences The Pritzker School of Medicine 520
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine 520
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons 519
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai 519
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine 519
Northwestern University The Feinberg School of Medicine 519
Weill Cornell Medical College 519
Harvard Medical School 518
Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania 518
Stanford University School of Medicine 518
University of Virginia School of Medicine 518
Yale School of Medicine 518
Boston University School of Medicine 517
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine 517
University of California, San Diego School of Medicine 517
Albert Einstein College of Medicine of yeshiva University 516

Remember, the MCAT is just one of many factors that medical schools consider for admission, but it’s a very important one. A high MCAT score can truly make or break your dreams of getting into medical school! GPA, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation and much more make a huge difference in the application process! Make sure to let MedSchoolCoach help you through the application if you are looking to maximize your chances of admission.

After the BS/MD Interview: What to do Next

I want to talk about something that most BS/MD students don’t usually consider until it’s too late. It’s good to start thinking about some of these things as early as when you come home from your interview travel. Who you contact and what you do after you interview is instrumental to both your selection into the program as well as to your ultimate college decision, so don’t take for granted the post-interview steps.

Email program faculty

By emailing the program faculty members (even those whom you may not have had a chance to talk to directly) and expressing your gratitude for their efforts shows that you’re really serious about this program. Once you’ve reached the interview stage of the BS/MD process, your accomplishments don’t really matter anymore. It’s your enthusiasm and excitement for the school and program that are really going to set you apart from others, and one of the best ways to express those sentiments is through an email. It should be apparent from both the length and the content of the email that you took the time to think it through and really make sure you delivered a personal message. By simply sending a “thank you for having me” email, you don’t really add any value to your application. Make sure to also send this email within 1-2 days of the interview to ensure that this act of appreciation is taken into consideration when the selection committee is deciding which applicants to select for the program. The decision is generally made within a few weeks of the interview day/weekend (because program faculty want to make final conclusions while the interview process is still fresh in their mind) so you don’t want to be too delayed in sending the email.

The point is, by taking the time to thank people who have worked tirelessly for the past few months to set up this interview process, you’ll show them that not only are you a smart and diligent student, but so too a kind and grateful person, and that’s exactly the kind of qualities these programs are seeking.

Reach out to upperclassmen

In addition to showing appreciation towards the program faculty, you also want to make sure to reach out to any current students of the program whom you may have had a chance to talk to during the interview process. Some programs take into consideration student input while others may not, but either way, the program will not tell you what they do. So to be safe, it’s always safe to extend your gratitude to any upperclassmen to make sure you’re on their good side as well.

With upperclassmen, it’s not always a requirement for you to send a lengthy and formal email as it is with program faculty. Sometimes simply showing your appreciation via a Facebook message or text is good enough. You should note, however, that a thoughtfully written out email will make a stronger impression. So I would recommend evaluating how impactful the upperclassmen whom you are planning on sending the note to was throughout your interview, and then making an appropriate decision based off of that. For example, if you stayed overnight with a student host, then I would suggest you send that person an email. If, however, the student was simply someone you had one or two brief and casual conversations with during your visit, then a Facebook message will suffice. Be thoughtful and be appreciative; beyond that, there’s not much to it!

Pursue scholarship options

Once March 31st rolls around and you know of all the programs and regular universities you were accepted to, make sure to not let up just yet! Now is the time to take advantage of all the hard work you’ve put in over the last year and try to get as much scholarship money as possible.

As a general rule, it’s not uncommon for BS/MD programs to offer you slightly less scholarship money relative to the other schools. This is simply because these BS/MD programs are offering something that is arguably more valuable than a couple thousand dollars: rare opportunity for an easier route to medical school. Thus, the best leverage to use against these programs is money that other programs are offering you. Because in that case, both sides are offering simpler routes to medical school, so the only other differentiation is money. It is possible to use a regular undergraduate school’s scholarship money as leverage, but it will likely only be effective if that university is quite prestigious. If not, still give it a shot, but don’t be too surprised if the BS/MD program doesn’t match that amount exactly.

Evaluate all options

Now that you’ve interviewed at all the BS/MD programs and have hopefully toured your top undergraduate university options, take some time to figure out which of these schools is best for you. For some people, choosing a BS/MD program might seem like the obvious simply because its providing an easier route into medical school, but don’t be too quick and jump the gun on that decision.
Some BS/MD programs are essentially a “trap.” They use the classic carrot and stick method to entice students and get them to come to their university (to improve their rankings and statistics) by dangling in front of them that conditional acceptance to medical school. At first, there’s seems to be nothing wrong with that. But once you take a closer look at some of the requirements that must be fulfilled in order to gain that acceptance (such as a high MCAT score, a high GPA, or a strict requirement of all science-related activities), you’ll come to realize that there aren’t all that many perks to actually joining such a BS/MD program. If you were to be a traditional pre-med student, you would likely do all the same things but instead at an undergraduate university that is either more prestigious, offering you more scholarship money, or is generally a better fit for your personality. So in this situation, attending that BS/MD program makes really no sense at all.

The best way to decide whether to choose a BS/MD program over a regular undergraduate university (or to decide which specific BS/MD program to choose if you have multiple offers) is by creating a list of your specific educational needs. So, for example, my list consisted of: scholarship money, people, school size, medical school prestige, undergraduate school prestige, MCAT/GPA requirements, and types of classes offered. If a BS/MD program is strongly lacking in all aspects of your list while another undergraduate university is soaring in all aspects except for the medical school guarantee, then I’d recommend choosing the undergraduate school. If one BS/MD program is more prestigious but is offering you very little money as opposed to another BS/MD program that is slightly less prestigious that is offering you a large sum of money, then perhaps consider choosing the program offering more money. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference; the point is to not make a decision solely based on one factor (generally being medical school guarantee/prestige) but rather on a multitude of different factors. Of course, you will have to compromise in some places to benefit in others, but be careful not to compromise too much in any one area just for a conditional acceptance.

At the end of the day, if you’ve been accepted into any BS/MD program, then you likely have the work ethic and intelligence necessary to become a doctor through the traditional route as well. So make a well thought out decision that will really maximize your chances at future happiness and success.

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Preparing for the Medical School Interview

In the previous article, we discussed tips on how to approach undergraduate BS/MD interviews. Today, we’re going to talk about the medical school interview and how you can successfully rock that face to face meeting.

Know your research inside-out

In medical school interviews, you are going to be talking to highly qualified professionals who themselves have extensive training in research. So even if they haven’t done research in the exact field as your, they likely have enough experience to understand the technical details of what you did. And if they don’t, then they’ll know exactly which questions to ask, which means you need to be ready to answer any and every thing. Hopefully you already know the details of your own research, but if not, then do the reading necessary to brush up on anything you’re unfamiliar with. I then recommend making a small presentation to your mentor and asking them to be really critical of you; encourage them to ask tough questions so that you get some practice answering them before your interview. I personally have never had an interviewer grill me with tough research questions, but I do have friends who’ve faced that situation. In fact, one of my friends was faced with a panel of student researchers who were studying the same topic as she was, so they asked her a number of complicated and in depth questions. Though that may have just been her luck, it is always best to be prepared for the most difficult of circumstances. So my advice is to know your research project inside out and practice as if you were about to face a panel of PhD’s!

Be ready for curve ball questions

Your medical school interview is more likely to throw you curveball questions as opposed to your undergraduate interview, simply because the medical school is looking specifically to see how you respond to pressure situations. Remember that if you get a curveball question, its okay to answer it incorrectly (some questions may not even have a “correct” answer). All you have to do is maintain your calm and try to answer the question in the most logical way possible. Sometimes your interviewer will drop hints or try to steer you towards the right answer, and if that’s the case, then follow their cues. But again, you may or may not be able to end up with the right answer. Don’t panic, and you’ll be just fine!

Show knowledge of current medical news

If you can confidently say at 18-years old that you know which field of study you want to pursue as a career, hopefully you’ve done enough research to be able to back that statement up. And part of doing research is knowing current affairs related to that field. So before an interview, always be prepared to answer questions such as “What do you think is medicine’s biggest struggle right now” or “What do you think future doctors need to focus on/be aware of.” These types of questions have more than one right answer. What the true purpose of these questions is to see how up to date you are with the news and current events in medicine. This is not an unexpected question, so you should be ready to answer it in a confident and informed manner.
There may be interviews in which this question is not asked, but in that case, you have the opportunity to seem more informed than the average applicant by mentioning a current issue in the answers to one of the other questions. And what’s better? Perhaps mention some work that the medical school you are interviewing for is doing in reaction to those current affairs. Using either of these approaches will show the interviewer that you are a well-informed student who’s done their research and has the proactive attitude necessary for doctors.
Now that you know the difference between the two interviews, hopefully the purposes of the separate interviews are a bit clearer now. Most students enter these interviews without knowing exactly what to expect or how to act, so knowing this information will help you be one of the more prepared applicants. In the next post, I’ll discuss exactly what to do after the interview is done, (which is another topic that most students don’t know much about) so make sure to check it out for some more valuable information!

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The Lowdown on the BS/MD Undergraduate Interview

The interview process for BS/MD programs consists of two main interviews: the undergraduate interview and the medical school interview. Both have different formats and unique aims, so it’s smart to prepare for both on an individual basis. Today, I’ve explained the best way to approach the undergraduate interview and what to expect from one.

Though this interview is likely going to be more laid-back than your medical school interview, don’t take it lightly though. Schools that require two interview rounds will probably make a large cut after this interview (such as the Baylor^2 program, which first interviews ~100 students at the undergraduate school and only ~15 students for the second interview at the medical school), so it’s critical for you to make a strong impression. To prepare for this interview, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind:

Be ready to start with the question “Tell me about yourself”

In this interview, the interviewer is genuinely trying to get to know more about you and why you would be a good match for the undergraduate school. The conversation is going to head in the direction that you gear it towards, so be strategic in how you answer this question. For example, one of the qualities that I wanted to emphasize about myself was my dual interest in both science and art and how my experience in both has influenced my decision to go into medicine. Thus, in my response to “Tell me about yourself”, I prepared a short intro about me that mentioned my involvement in both scientific and artistic endeavors and how I was looking to grow those throughout my undergraduate years. If you, like me, have a specific quality about you that you want to believe is of great importance to your application, then it is probably important to mention it from the very start with this question. Don’t feel obligated to mention the specific details of your interest in medicine. It will probably come up anyways (since that is what you’re looking to demonstrate to the application committee), but a brief mention of why or how your interest was sparked is plenty. There will be ample time with follow up questions to go more in depth on your medical experience and aspirations, so there is no need to cover all that simply with the first question. Keep your response to this question slightly casual, yet still informative.

Talk about why you’re interested in the undergraduate school

Unfortunately, the reality with these programs is that a lot of students apply to certain undergraduate schools simply to gain acceptance to medical school, not because they are genuinely interested in attending the undergraduate school and see the medical school as an added bonus. And while there is some logic behind this reasoning, faculty of the undergraduate school don’t see it that way. They want students who are just as committed and excited about joining the undergraduate school as they are about gaining conditional acceptance to the medical school. So in your interview, it is important to emphasize aspects of the undergraduate school that you find most appealing and are most interested in getting involved with. You can offer to share your medical interests, but it’s quite possible that this topic isn’t even touched upon during the entirety of the interview. I’ve both heard of and have myself attended undergraduate interviews in which the interviewer has no relationship at all whatsoever to any science or medicine-related field. Undergraduate interviewers can be history teachers, counselors, or pretty much anyone from the school’s faculty. The reason for having such types of interviewers is because these programs are trying to seek out your interests outside of medicine. You can’t really talk about the technicalities of your lab research with, say, a literature teacher, and thus you’re forced to talk about what draws you to the undergraduate school as opposed to your interest in medicine. The undergraduate interview, in many ways, it a test of your authenticity, so if you’re asked to talk about something completely unrelated to medicine or about specifics of the undergraduate school as opposed to the medical school, don’t be caught off guard!

Be flexible in your conversation and ask lots of questions

The best way to approach an undergraduate interview is with an open mind and a flexible attitude. Don’t feel obligated to always hit on certain points if it doesn’t seem as if they fit the flow of the conversation. With this interview, the selection committee is trying to get to know more about your personality, so approach it as a conversation. There will always be the possibility that you get a strict interviewer and have a more formal interview, but don’t be too surprised if that’s not the case (since most people expect all their interviews to be extremely formal and medicine-oriented). In one of my undergraduate interviews, I started up talking to my interviewer about my interest in food and baking and we ended up going on a slight tangent about all the local restaurants in the area. If this happens, don’t push away from it! It’ll show the interviewer a more human side.

So much of what people say in these interviews can come off as seeming staged and fake, so showing off your human side is great because it makes you seem more personable and authentic. The best way to do so is by finding common ground between you and your interviewer and continuing a conversation based on that. And to do that, you must make sure to ask them a lot of questions! Like I said earlier, approach this interview as a conversation. And what makes up a good conversation? A strong balance of back and forth. Sure, they’re probably going to be doing more of the asking and you more of the telling, but don’t be afraid every now and then to interject and ask your own questions about whatever topic you may be discussing. That is actually how my interviewer and I ended up talking about food at such great length. His tone and interest in my baking experience indicated to me that he too was probably interested in food, so I decided to further explore that haunch by asking him questions about any connection he had to cooking and baking. Not surprisingly, he admitted to be a self-proclaimed foodie! The interview then naturally turned into a conversation about some great local eateries and ended up lasting a lot longer than the allotted time.

The purpose of undergraduate interviews is to show that you are capable of building human connections and that there’s more to you than a list of resume activities, so do whatever it takes to show that!

Talk in “lay terms” about research and other technical experiences

If the topic of your research is brought up during your undergraduate interview, then start off describing it in lay terms. Your interviewer may or may not have any prior experience in the field of your research, so it could be difficult for them to keep up with any technical details that you mention. If they show further interest after you’ve given your brief synopsis, then you can consider that the “go ahead” signal and expand your simple explanation to include technical details. If they don’t show any interest, though, then don’t risk confusing them by adding in any technical details. In general, it’s always smart to start simple and adjust your answer based on your interviewer’s reaction. If they ask follow up questions, then feel free to go more in depth on your experiences. But if not, then a simple explanation should suffice.

Sometimes, your lab research may not be discussed at all simply because the interviewer didn’t find time to talk about it or because they didn’t find the need to address it. If that’s the situation, don’t panic! Again, feel out the conversation and follow it’s natural flow. Before you leave at the end, you can offer them your research report and just quickly say “We didn’t get to talk in depth about my research but here’s a report I wrote on it in case you’d like to further read about what I did.” Saying something along those lines allows you to mention your research without having to force it into the conversation, which is exactly what you want.

In our next article in this installment, we’ll cover what you need to know for medical school interviews.

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