Essential Qualities of a BS/MD Applicant

The biggest obstacle students face when applying to colleges is figuring out what colleges really want. The entire selection process can seem ambiguous and, at times, even random. Nevertheless, there are usually common traits amongst students admitted into certain universities, and that holds especially true for BS/MD programs.

The purpose of this blog post is to tell you not only which traits are most desirable to BS/MD programs, but also to explain why exactly those traits are important in the field of medicine. Because, ultimately, these programs are seeking out future doctors, so they’re really looking for students who’ve got personalities fit for physicians.

Maturity

Perhaps the most important quality for BS/MD applicants to possess is maturity. And if you think about why, it actually makes perfect sense. Most high school students have a general idea of what field they’re interested in, but for a student to acknowledge their interests and subsequently work to build a resume that supports their claim requires a great deal of maturity (especially when building that resume means sometimes you’ll have to sacrifice fun things, such as hanging out with friends!). But maturity is a very broad and general term and it can be interpreted in several different ways. So below, I’ve broken down the word into its two main components: professional and personal maturity.

Professional Maturity

Professional maturity is generally relative to age, since the older you get the more experiences you gain. What you will find with BS/MD applicants, though, is that the activities and experiences they’re involved with are atypical for their age. In fact, many of the tasks they take on are usually reserved for college students. For example, when I was working in a lab at UCSF in 11th grade, I was working alongside a student who was then a junior in college. We were both doing the exact same work, yet I was four years younger than her and hadn’t had nearly the same amount of lab exposure as her. So how did I land that position? Well the key word here is enough. I had enough lab exposure from my prior science fair submissions that my lab PI (prospective investigator) was confident in my abilities to take on the project he was proposing for me. As a high school student, nobody expects you to be as knowledgeable as college students, but you’ve got to have at least some sort of prior experience to prove your credibility. Beyond that, it’s all about your attitude and willingness to learn. Because you can teach skills, but you cannot teach passion. So if you pair your prior experience with strong enthusiasm, you too will be able to land college-level jobs and build your professional maturity.

Personal Maturity

Personal maturity is absolutely necessary for anyone who is even thinking about becoming a doctor. This is a field that’ll require you to deal with life and death situations, expect you to always act in a selfless manner, and challenge you to take important decisions with limited information and in a time-sensitive manner. Some people may know right off the bat that they can’t deal with death and sacrifice, in which case they will likely not choose to become doctors. But for someone to say they are okay with death and sacrifice (especially at 18-years-old, before they’ve truly had to experience both those things) is a bold statement to make. But that’s where your experiences come into play; those experiences are what help you build the personal maturity necessary to become acquainted with sacrifice and death.

Now of course, nobody is going to put a dying patient in front of you in your freshmen year of college. But as part of a BS/MD program, they may expect you to be able to at least talk about topics related to death. Before joining a BS/MD program, it is necessary for you to have the maturity level to handles such conversations, because you are likely going to be having such conversations with your BS/MD advisors and peers.

Leadership

What qualities make up a good leader? A good leader is someone who has effective communication skills, mental toughness, and the ambition to inspire change. Coincidentally, these are also some of the most valuable skills for a doctor to possess, which must mean that a good doctor is also a strong leader.

BS/MD programs are always looking for students who have previously held some leadership positions, because prior leadership experience is a strong predictor of future leadership success. As a result, it may be smart to talk about your leadership experience in both your essays and interviews so the application committee can get a better understanding of the exact role in your positions. It also wouldn’t hurt to mention experiences that clearly show you’ve displayed the three qualities mentioned above, because, again, they are extremely important for doctors. In order to help you better understand the relevance of those three qualities (so you know what specific anecdotes to focus on in your essays/interviews), I’ve explained them down below:

Communications skills

Medicine is a field that requires constant communication. As a doctor, you will always be collaborating with other people, whether that’s your medical staff, your patients, or other doctors. Your communication skills will thus always be necessary because they’ll help you both express your ideas clearly as well as listen to the ideas and concerns of others (because remember, communication requires both give and take!).

In terms of what to write about in your essays/talk about in your interviews, think about a time when communication either helped or hindered your experience, and what exactly you learned from that. For example, in one of my essays, I explained the importance of nonverbal communication. I had been working with a patient who couldn’t speak, and in the beginning, it was quite difficult for me to understand how to connect with him or understand exactly what were his needs/wants. But the more time I spent with him, the more easily I began to understand his nonverbal cues (such as specific hand gestures), which ended up becoming our newfound way of communication. This experience helped me realize that communication may not always happen by means of words (as most of us are so used to), but still, nonverbal communication is just as valid and significant as verbal communication. Lessons like these, which discuss the importance of communication, are great topics for essays. So next time you’re going through your volunteer shift at the hospital or doing any other medical-related activity, keep your eyes and ears open for experiences you could talk about!

Mental Toughness

A strong leader is someone who has the mental toughness to withstand high-stress situations, make tough calls, and lead his team to action all while maintaining composure. This is a quality that is necessary for pretty much any field, but especially medicine. Why? Because high-pressure situations in medicine means life and death situations; mental toughness is something that is needed to make instantaneous medical decisions about someone who might literally be dying in front of you.

So how do BS/MD committees test your mental toughness? The most common way to do so is to throw a curveball question at you during an interview. You’re put on the spot and expected to answer a seemingly impossible question. But that’s because they’re trying to see how you react to high-pressure situations. In reality, the answer to the question doesn’t even matter all that much; they want to see you maintain your composure while trying to use prior experience and knowledge to answer the question in a logical and reasonable way. The other type of question they might throw to test your mental toughness is an ethical question. Again, there is really no right or wrong answer to this, so don’t try to make up and answer simply because you think that’s the answer your interviewer is looking for. As long as you are genuine in your answer and explain why you hold that stance, you should run into no trouble.

Ambition

A leader is someone who is constantly working to make the status quo better, to create lasting change that’ll improve people’s lives. In medicine, that means developing new technology, improving treatment efficiency, and bettering diagnosis accuracy (amongst a multitude of other things!). BS/MD programs are thus looking for students who have the ambition to make such changes, because ultimately, that is the whole purpose of providing you with this “easier route” to medical school. It’s so that you have free time available (something most traditional pre-meds don’t have) to follow your passions and hopefully work to improve the medical community in some way. By taking a chance on you and providing you with this BS/MD honor, schools are looking to get something out of it too – name recognition. As a result, it is critical for you to mention in both your essays and interviews what exactly are your aspirations and if given the chance to be involved in a BS/MD programs, what you would do to make those aspirations come true. Try to emphasize potential weak spots of the medical community that you’re looking to change and why that change is important. Having such a reflective and understanding outlook will show application committees that you have a plan of action for the future and will not take this opportunity for granted. And if that’s the case, then you are more likely to be a student that can help inspire change in the future.

Of all universities you apply to, the ones with BS/MD programs are going to be the most mind-boggling in terms of results. Even if you were to display all the aforementioned qualities, have a perfect resume, and stellar statistic, you might still not get the interview. Sometimes, certain programs are just looking for very specific things, and there’s no way of really figuring out what that is. But if you try your best to emphasize the qualities listed above, then the likelihood of you getting an acceptance letter will increase, and what more could you really hope for, right?

Tips for Improving Your GPA

Improve your GPA

In part 1, we discussed how you could successfully improve your grades while pursuing a BS/MD. Here are two more tips for getting a good GPA during school.

Don’t take shortcuts

This is one of those tips that, even though I heard it in high school, I never really took seriously until I got to college. But now that I have used and applied this piece of advice, I could never go back to my old high school ways.
In high school, depending on your teacher, it’s possible to sometimes get away with not doing your homework or barely studying for an exam and still doing well. And while at the time this may sound ideal, it’ll actually hurt you in the long run. When it comes time to finals week at the end of the semester and you have to take four or five huge tests all at the same time, there is no way you can cram in an entire semester’s worth of material into one night. No matter how easy the teacher is or how lenient the curve is, if you put off the work until the very last minute, it’ll come back to bite you.

In college, if you were to implement that same strategy of putting off all your work until the very last week of the semester, you would most likely fail the class (as opposed to high school in which you would probably just get a slightly lower grade). In college, the difficulty of content is much greater and the pace of learning is much quicker. So as a result, students are expected to take initiative and keep up with the material in a consistent and timely manner. Sure, there are students who slack off and keep up with their high school study habits in college (aka procrastinating on all work until the last minute), but you will find that those students often end up dropping out of the class before finals week even approaches because their grades are so low that there is no chance of recovery.

Ultimately, the main difference between high school and college is time of realization. In high school, you can get through the entire semester by taking shortcuts and only in the end will you realize how horrible of a mistake this was. In college, however, you will quickly notice your grades plummet if you consistently choose to put off your work. The temptation of procrastination is thus greater for high school students, because they don’t realize the negative effects of it until much later. If you give into this temptation, though, you will likely end up hurting your GPA.

So even though you may not realize it now or have the pressure to really so, try to be thorough and consistent in keeping up with lecture material. It will pay off in the long run not only with your GPA, but so too with your success in college.

Figure out what works best for you

There isn’t much to say on this topic other than the fact that different people thrive in different environments, so figure how/where you work best and stick to it!

I’ve listed below some questions you can ask yourself that’ll help guide you when you’re trying to “figure out yourself.” Remember, there’s really no right or wrong answer to any of these questions, they’re simply meant to help you maximize your efforts:

How do I respond to pressure situations

This is an extreme quality to know about yourself when determining what study habits are best suited for you. Some people tend to work better under pressure while others crack under pressure. If you’re of the former type, then perhaps procrastination isn’t the worst thing ever for you. In fact, it might be one way for you to produce some of your best work (read: don’t “pretend” to be someone who works well under pressure just so procrastination is a valid excuse for you… it’ll hurt you later on!) If, however, you’re of the latter type (like me!) then you should make sure to keep close track of your assignment due dates and allot enough time for you to be able to finish them in a timely manner.

How much time do I usually take to work on assignments?

This question is a good follow up to the last question because it’ll probably reinforce your answer. If you’re typically someone who likes to take their time with assignments and spread out the workload over a number of days, then you probably aren’t the type of person who does well under pressure. On the other hand, if you tend to get distracted easily and need an imminent deadline to make you focus on your work, you likely do better under pressure. Whatever the answer may be, make sure you plan ahead of time to make sure you have enough time to produce your best possible work.

What kind of ambiance do I work best in?

To answer this question, there are a lot of sub-questions you could ask to figure out where you work best. For example, how easily do you get distracted? If easily, then would you mind working in a loud environment? Or would you be able to pop in your headphones and tune out the noise? If you don’t get distracted easily, then can you study with friends? If so, how many friends? Do you work better early morning or late night? These are just some of the questions that’ll really help you narrow down your list of ideal workplaces.

Personally, I can tell you that I my workplace varies based on the type of work I’m doing. For example, when I’m studying science or math related subjects, I prefer to work in a quiet study area and only listen to classical music (because any lyrical music distracts me). If I’m working on an essay or doing some writing work, though, I like to be in a coffee shop ambiance (with a little more activity happening around me) and have lyrical music playing because it gets my creative juices flowing. Regardless of the type of work I’m doing, though, the one distraction I must always avoid when studying is friends. I find that when I study with friends, I just end up socializing with them instead of being productive.

One of the benefits of college is that you meet people of all different types, which makes your individuality more acceptable. In high school, everyone is trying their hardest to fit in, so they’ll just do what everyone else is doing even if it isn’t in your best interest. Of course, this is a natural part of high school, but if you’re serious about getting a good GPA, I strongly recommend you find what works best for you and stick to that even if it isn’t what everyone else is doing.

Where do I fall in the VARK model?

The VARK model is used to distinguish between different types of learners: Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic. Knowing which of these categories you fall into can help you figure out which study strategies might be most effective for you. For example, I’m an auditory and visual learner, so if there’s a concept I don’t understand, I like to have someone talk me through it and then I’ll later go and draw a visual representation of the concept to reinforce it in my head and also to help me remember it better. There’s plenty of surveys and tests online you could take to figure out your exact learning type, or you could just think back to how you’ve approached concepts that have given you trouble in the past and what you did to better understand them. Either way, once you figure out how you learn best, try putting it to the test every time you have an upcoming exam. Sometimes teachers tend to focus on one learning strategy more heavily than others (such as taking reading notes, which falls under the read/write category) so it might require a bit of effort on your part if you prefer a category that you teacher doesn’t usually emphasize. But hard work and effort never goes to waste, so just put in the work then and you’ll appreciate it when you later ace that test!

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How to Rock Your GPA for for your BS/MD

High School GPA for BS_MD Programs

It’s no secret that colleges place a lot of importance on your GPA and SAT/ACT scores, but with BS/MD programs, their value is significantly more. With regular undergraduate universities, you can sometimes (but not always!) make up for a slightly lower GPA or SAT score with stellar essays and impressive resumes. With BS/MD programs, however, this is unfortunately not the case. The average GPA for successful BS/MD students is usually anywhere from 3.95-4.0 and SAT scores are usually 2500+. If your statistics aren’t within this range, then there is typically no way to “save” yourself with other notable accomplishments. BS/MD programs are really looking overachievers, and that means students who have high GPAs, above average SAT scores, convincing essays, and remarkable resumes. It’s never enough to just one or two from that list.

Having gone through the entire BS/MD process myself, I can tell you from personal experience that there might be times when the workload is overwhelming and your efforts seem fruitless. But if you stay organized and maintain a steadfast mindset, then it will all payoff in the long run. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s exactly why it’ll be so much more worth it in the end. Below, I’ve listed some of strategies I used that really helped me with my GPA scores throughout high school. Stay tuned for the next blog post topic being related to SAT tips!

Find a reason to enjoy studying

I’ve found that among my friends, the people who are generally the most successful are the people who actually do not mind studying all that much. Of course, there are probably a million other things they could be doing instead of studying, but when it’s something they have to do, they choose to make the best of it. And the most effective way to do that is to find something about studying that excites you. It’ll be different for everyone, and so it might require a bit of trial-and-error, but that’s okay!

For me, personally, something about studying that really excites me is color-coding my notes. I love having a system of highlighting that indicates to me which color is representative of what. So, for example, everything I highlight in yellow is a vocabulary word that I need to know, everything I highlight in pink is a “very important” note, and anything I highlight in orange is either a topic I don’t completely understand or a question that I need to remember to ask my teacher. To some people, this entire process may seem time-consuming and unnecessary, but for me it works. At the end of a study session, I love flipping through all the notes I took and observing all the pretty colors on the page. And not just that, but I’ve also found that it’s a great way for me to organize my thoughts. So when I go to talk to a professor, I don’t have to waste time skimming through all my notes just to find that question I wanted to ask. Instead, I’ll just look for the orange highlight, and voila, there’s my question! Again, to some people this process is pointless, but it works well for me so I stick with it anyways. Even if it’s a quirky habit of yours that makes study fun, use it! Because at the end of the day, it’s not other people who are going to be studying for you, so who care what they think of your study habits.

Choose your friends carefully

Now before you think “Wow this sounds exactly like something my parents preach to me,” try to understand the relevance of this statement. Sure, it’s good advice for the whole “Don’t do drugs!” conversation, but it’s equally as important in regards to your GPA.

In high school, everybody wants to fit in; the only problem is it’s a lot harder to fit in when none of your friends have the same priorities as you. So why not make it easier on yourself and associate yourself with people who understand why you spend so much time doing what you do. My closest friends in high school were people who had the same goals and interests as me; they too wanted to lock in research positions, secure high GPAs, and spend time volunteering at local hospitals. It’s not that we didn’t find time to socialize and have fun, it’s just that we chose to balance our lifestyle in similar ways. So when I had to turn down an invitation to hang out because I had a midterm to study for, my friends understood where I was coming from (because at some point in time, they had done the same thing).

Now don’t get me wrong and completely shut off the possibility of being friends with someone just because they don’t have similar goals or interest as you – it’s never smart to be closed-minded. Just be conscious of the factor of influence that comes with friendships. For example, I remember when I was in my second-semester junior year, I had all of a sudden developed really close friendships with a lot of people who were second-semester seniors. And while I valued their friendship and enjoyed spending time with them, I found myself neglecting work just to hang out with these friends. No one was really at fault here; it’s just that we were both at different points in our life. I was going through one of the toughest semesters of high school while they were breezing through one of the easiest semesters of high school. As a result, we had different priorities, but because I was spending so much time with them, I caught myself slowly wandering away from my priorities. Things like this will happen all the times when it comes to friendship and, well, just life in general. What’s important is that you’re able to catch yourself at the right time and make the necessary decisions and changes to find a balance between work and play.

Find a study buddy or study group

Coming into college, I have found that one of the best ways to study for exams is with other people. Now this doesn’t mean you put off studying until the very last day then go to a study group and assume they’ll teach you everything you need to know for the test (you’d be surprised how many people do this!). Instead, what you should do is plan ahead and try to finish up your individual studying at least one day prior to the exam. That way, when you go to your study group or go to meet up with your friend, you’ll be prepared to both ask and answer questions. If you go unprepared, then neither you nor your friend(s) will really benefit from the study session; instead, both of you will spend your whole time learning the material (which is something you can do on your own) instead of applying the material to test-like questions.

The benefit of having a study buddy is the variation in perspective. Perhaps your friend caught a detail that you didn’t, or maybe they didn’t understand a topic that you can now explain to them. Teaching is one of the best forms of confirming that you really know what you’re talking about, so by studying with a study buddy, you’ll actually be testing your own knowledge.

Make it an expectation, not a goal

By making a high GPA an expectation as opposed to a goal, what you essentially do is transform your mindset from “I want it” to “I need it”. When you’re thinking more along the lines of the “I want it” mentality, it’s easier for obstacles to get in the way of achieving your goal. If, however, you maintain an “I need it” mindset, then you are more likely to dig deep and find the inner motivation to overcome any obstacles that may try to hinder your success. You might still fall short, but your motivation will then only increase to make sure you avoid slipping up again.

Of course, some people might disagree with this approach, but from speaking from personal experience, I can confirm that this “expectation, not a goal” mentality has really geared me to achieve maximum success. Sure, getting one B on your transcript does not mean you are going to fail in life, but there is a possibility that it ends up being the difference between getting accepted or rejected by your dream BS/MD program, so don’t take it lightly!

Above I’ve listed three most important tips that helped me get the GPA I wanted. Stay tuned for part 2 of this topic, in which I’ll discuss two more GPA tips!

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Different Types of BS/MD Programs

BS/MD Students

When narrowing down your potential list of colleges, one of the most important factors to consider is the number of schools you’re applying to. Most guidance counselors recommend applying to anywhere from 8-12 colleges. Any number beyond that, they warn, can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety for students. And while this may be a valid point for any normal high school senior, any student looking to apply to BS/MD programs has to be cautious of such advice.

When I was first considering which schools to apply to, I had originally short-listed about 25 colleges. And while I was well aware and ready to dedicate all the time, effort, and money required into these applications, my guidance counselor did not have that same confidence. She warned me multiple times that this many applications were unnecessary, and that I needed to narrow the focus of my list a bit more. But what she didn’t understand was that when you’re applying to BS/MD programs, application season is a little different.

First, you have to note down a list of regular undergraduate schools that you’d like to apply to. This takes into account your safety schools, target schools, and reach schools. But in addition to that, you have to make another list of all the BS/MD programs that you want to apply to. Now the unfortunate part of BS/MD schools is that even if you’re only interested in the school for their program (which is a debatable topic that’s further discussed below!) you still have to complete their entire regular undergraduate application. The upside, however, is that if you’re interested in both the undergraduate school on its own as well as with the program, then there is only slightly extra effort you have to put in to apply to the program. This sort of overlap is extremely convenient and is the best way to get your total number of colleges down.

But before narrowing down your college list, you’ve got to decide what you’re looking for in a potential college. With regards to regular undergraduate schools, the normal conditions apply: how big is the school, what subjects is it known for, what types of extracurricular activities are available, etc. When it comes down to BS/MD programs, however, there are additional details that need to be considered. Below, I’ve listed some of the most important questions to ask when deciding which programs are best suited for you.

How long do you want your undergraduate career to last?

BS/MD programs can last anywhere from 6-8 years, with 6 year programs being slightly less common than 7 or 8 year programs. The benefit of 6 or 7-year programs is that they allow you to accelerate your study of medicine by a few years. It’s no secret that becoming a doctor takes near 12-years of study, and for some people, minimizing that time is of utmost importance. Not only that, but by cutting your undergraduate education short, you get to save up some extra money that you can later use to fund medical school. The only downside to these accelerated programs is the quicker pace of study. 6-year programs will almost always require you to take summer classes while 7-year programs may at least recommend doing so (especially if that 7-year program requires taking the MCAT).

The best way to find out if an accelerated program is right for you is to determine how organized and confident you are what you want to study/how you want to pursue your interests during your undergraduate years. Any accelerated program requires that their students be extremely proactive in terms of planning. It’s difficult to switch around majors and incorporate things such as study abroad (though it has been done before!) due to the limited time available. Depending on the program, though, there is some freedom given to you for extending your undergraduate times if you wish to do so.

8-year programs, on the other hand, have a completely different goal in mind. The purpose of these programs is to enrich your undergraduate education rather than accelerate it. Many of them, in fact, do not even allow students to enter medical school prior to four years of undergraduate education. Now that doesn’t mean you need to spend all those 4 years in school. Some people choose to graduate in 3 years and use the fourth year to take advantage of fellowship offers, study abroad programs, or pursue a graduate degree in some other subject. And if four years still isn’t enough time to accomplish all of your goals before medical school, then go ahead and take some gap years in between. In general, these programs tend to be flexible with increasing your education time before medical school but strictly enforce at least a four-year minimum. And that’s simply because they don’t any student to come into this program with the goal of accelerating their education; the goal is always enrichment.

In my opinion, one of the greatest advantages of an 8-year program over an accelerated program is the acceptance of uncertainty. On average, the typical undergraduate college student changes his or her majors 3-4 times, and having the freedom to do so is one that should not be taken for granted. I can speak from personal experience on this; coming into college, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to study and had a full 4-year plan sketched out of every class I was going to take. But by the end of my first semester freshmen year, I was doubting my major choice simply because I had heard from older students that my academic department of interest wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped for. So at that point, I had to opt for a new major and completely change up my entire 4-year plan. But again, by the end of my second semester of freshmen year, I was doubting my new major choice because I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would, so I ended up keeping it as just a minor. At this point, I was back to square one with no major in mind even though one year of college had already gone by. But the point is, its okay to be unsure. In fact, it’s quite natural for your interests to change in college. No matter how confident you are in your choice of study or extracurriculars prior to entering college, something or another is going to change, and you are going to have to make adjustments in order to accommodate for those changes. In an 8-year program, its far easier to make adjustments than it is in an accelerated program, and it’s a freedom that I personally value quite highly.

What interests are you planning to pursue in college?

This is an extremely important question when deciding which BS/MD program is best suited for you. While some programs strongly encourage (perhaps even require) research and clinical experience during your undergraduate years, others want their students to focus more time on liberal arts activities and get a more holistic understanding of medicine. With some research of the undergraduate university, it is quite easy to determine the program’s focus (since most programs endorse the whatever philosophy holds true to the undergraduate school). There are, however, also schools that completely leave it up to you by minimizing requirements and maximizing opportunities. Take, for example, the BS/MD program that I am currently enrolled in: REMS at the University of Rochester. Though the undergraduate school is known for their strong research facilities, they also require students to take courses in all three-subject areas of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Natural Sciences. Due to the dual focus of the university, it is very easy to get involved with whatever you want, whether that be more research-oriented interests or liberal-arts oriented interests. And on top of that, the REMS program puts no requirement on you for any specific extracurriculars. As a result, the amount of diversity present amongst REMS students is large; about 50% of students are natural science majors and the other 50% are social science or humanities majors. Not everyone gets involved in research, and even if they do, it might not be the traditional lab-research that everyone associates with pre-meds. A large part of my college application was explaining how I’ve balanced science and art my entire life; with Rochester though, I didn’t have to choose. Some people may be more drawn to one area of study, and if that’s the case, then there is no point in going to a program that encourages an alternative area of study. It’s all about finding what program aligns with your interests, and the only way to determine that is through research.

Are you willing to stay in the same location for an extended period of time?

When I had finally decided to commit to U of R for REMS and starting informing friends and teachers of my decision, the most common reaction I got back was “Wow, congrats! But you’re really willing to stay in one place for 8 years?” This question confused me, since most of the people who asked it had been living in the same city (or at least nearby) for a good majority of their lives. But I guess what most people assume is that they’ll go to college in one city for 4-years and then hopefully relocate for graduate school or job purposes. To some people, location may be a factor of great importance (especially if you get there and find out you hate the area), and it is definitely something to consider when applying to BS/MD programs. Not all programs have the undergraduate school in the same city as the medical school (for example, the Baylor/Baylor program has Baylor University in Waco, Texas but Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas), but many of them do. So just to be safe, it’s best to do some research on it beforehand and make sure you’re really ready to commit to one general area for the next few years.

How important is avoiding the MCAT?

According to older pre-med students, taking the MCATs is one of the most dreaded parts of being a pre-med. It’s an 8-hour test that requires extensive knowledge and commitment because it cumulatively tests everything you’ve learned since day one of freshmen year. The MCAT, in fact, is one of the biggest roadblocks that prevents pre-med students from pursuing interests such as studying abroad. And that’s exactly why many BS/MD programs allow for their students to opt out of taking it, so that they can use that time they would spend studying on other, more enriching experiences.

Unfortunately, not all programs exempt you from taking the MCAT. Instead, they require that you get a minimum score (usually slightly lower than that medical school’s average MCAT score) to be guaranteed admission into the medical school. Of course, no MCAT is usually preferable to a lower score on the MCAT, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically cross out any program that requires the MCAT off your list. In fact, there can be several benefits to taking the MCAT.

One of the most critiqued aspects of BS/MD programs without the MCAT is that their students will be disadvantaged when it comes time to take their USMLE (another standardized test) in medical school. Though I have several friends who have debunked this theory with their own education, it is still a point of valid concern for many students. In that case, perhaps a program that requires you to only achieve a minimum score is ideal. That way, you get the experience of taking a large, standardized test but get to do so without having to overstress about getting the highest score possible. Alternatively, some students might prefer to avoid the MCAT altogether simply because they do not perform their best under standardized testing conditions, in which case a program without MCAT requirements is optimal. It all comes down to personal preference, but this is definitely a question that should be addressed when deciding which programs to apply to.

How prestigious does the undergraduate school need to be?

Disclaimer: By no means am I trying to talk down to any undergraduate school in this section below. Instead, I am simply trying to shed light on a controversial topic that students entering BS/MD programs deal with all the time.

One of the biggest dilemmas that BS/MD applicants face when it comes time to commit to college is how much weight they should put on the “prestige factor” of their undergraduate university. Even though acceptance rates for several BS/MD programs are much lower than those of even the most competitive ivy-league schools, that doesn’t take away from the fact that most of the undergraduate universities part of these BS/MD programs are ranked lower (sometimes substantially so) than those ivy-league schools. Deciding where to commit to is an extremely personal decision, and with options as great as these, you really can’t go wrong. I have friends who have turned down renowned universities including Stanford, Harvard, and MIT simply for a slot in one of these programs. On the flip side, though, I also have friends that have turned down some of the most competitive BS/MD programs to instead attend ivy-league standard schools including Yale, UC Berkeley, and Princeton.

My strongest piece of advice for students leaning towards accepting a BS/MD offer is to make sure you are truly happy with the undergraduate school, even if it is not as highly ranked as some of your other university options. I can remember back to the fall of my senior year when I was so desperately hoping to get into any BS/MD program, regardless of how good or bad the undergraduate university was. Of course, my aspirations were towards programs like Brown University’s PLME, which combined both an excellent undergraduate school with a well-ranked medical school. But when you’re in that deep into application season and are questioning how you could ever go through this entire process all over again, just about any BS/MD program looks promising.

Now, however, having just completed my freshmen year of college and reflecting back to those days, I can’t imagine what I was thinking. I know for a fact that if I had decided to go to a undergraduate university that I didn’t like simply because of the conditional medical school acceptance it was offering, I would have hated it. So much so that I might have even transferred schools. Your undergraduate career is a time to challenge yourself, both intellectually and socially; it’s an exciting part of your life where you get to grow and push yourself to be better. If, however, you choose to go to an undergraduate school that doesn’t excite you or challenge you in any way, then you will never have the motivation needed to reach your full potential.

Previously, I had categorized BS/MD applicants into two different types: those who had turned down BS/MD programs for ivy-league schools and those who had turned down ivy-league schools for BS/MD programs. But I omitted perhaps the most important category of all: those who had regretted the decision they made. These are the students who’s perspective you should really try to understand and ask yourself if you could possibly see yourself having some of the same regrets in the future. Students who regretted choosing a BS/MD program felt so most likely because either (1) they didn’t feel challenged by their peers and professors or (2) they ended up deciding that medicine wasn’t for them and had wished their resume now had a slightly more prestigious undergraduate university on it. Students who regretted choosing an ivy-league type school over a BS/MD program, on the other hand, likely felt so because (1) they felt the stresses and time commitment required to be a successful pre-med was not worth the extra “prestige” factor, or (2) the competition was so fierce that they eventually had to consider an alternative career route because their GPA and MCAT scores were not high enough for medical school.

It is, of course, impossible to predict what obstacles you are going to face in the future. And no matter what you decide, there will always be some “what if” questions still lingering in your mind. The goal isn’t to avoid those questions, though; instead, it’s to avoid regretting your decision in its entirety. The best way to come to a decision, then, is to make sure you’re committing to a university truly because you believe you will be happy there, not simply because it’ll provide you with an “easier” route to medical school or because it’s a more “prestigious” university. Of course those should be points of consideration, but they should not be the only reason for your decision. If medicine is truly your calling, then one way or another, you will get there. And if somewhere along the way you decide medicine isn’t for you, then you should still be happy with the undergraduate university you chose.

Can you afford it?

The final point to consider when applying to a BS/MD program is financial restrictions. Though most people don’t look into this matter too heavily until they’re strongly considering committing to a university, it is a topic to keep in the back of your mind when applying to BS/MD programs. A good majority of these programs have two stages to their application process: (1) an essay portion that is included in addition to your regular undergraduate application, and (2) an on-campus interview with the medical faculty. Of course it’s always exciting to get an interview offer, but the downside to that is that you often have to spend money buying plane tickets/taking long road-trips and book hotels. Unfortunately, these interviews are a non-negotiable part of the application process, so there is no way you can convince the selection committee to offer you acceptance even though you could not make the interview due to financial restraints. The only way to minimize monetary costs, then, is by being very selective with which schools you travel to for an interview. If you apply to a program that’s perhaps you’re not 100% interested in attending but still end of getting an interview, do not waste your time and money traveling to campus unless you are serious about accepting a potential offer from them.

The other downside to BS/MD programs is that once you have been accepted into the program, not all of them offer great financial assistance to their students. And they do so strategically. These programs know that a conditional acceptance to medical school is of great value, and they try to use that as leverage when determining how much scholarship money to give you. As a result, don’t be too surprised if a university with a BS/MD program doesn’t match scholarship offers you’ve received from other, regular undergraduate universities (no matter how prestigious they may be). And don’t at all be surprised if these schools provide you with no money towards medical school. For people with financial restraints, the best programs to apply to are those at public, instate universities. They often provide a bit more scholarship money, and even if they don’t, their tuition prices are already significantly lower than those of private schools.

So to recap, the six questions you should ask yourself when applying to BS/MD programs are:

  1. How long do you want your undergraduate career to last?
  2. What interests are you planning to pursue in college?
  3. Are you willing to stay in the same location for an extended period of time?
  4. How important is avoiding the MCAT?
  5. How prestigious does the undergraduate school need to be?
  6. Can you afford it?

Applying to BS/MD programs is no joke; it takes a large amount of planning to be successful at it. But if you start early enough and do enough research before sending in your application, then you’ll maximize your chances of finding a program that best fits you.

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What’s the Purpose of a BS/MD Program?

For anyone familiar with what a BS/MD program is, it seems that their goal is quite obvious: to give a select few high school seniors early, conditional acceptance into medical school. But why? If these students really are as exceptional as the programs advertise, then why do they even need that early acceptance? Shouldn’t they easily be able to get into medical school four years down the road, through the traditional route?

Indeed, most of the students who get selected into these programs have already developed the study habits and strong work ethic required to be successful as traditional pre-med students. But that just means that by offering these students early acceptance into medical school, the BS/MD programs are aiming to achieve some other goal. This “true purpose” is something few applicants are aware of, but it is something that can give any student a huge advantage, whether that’s at the essay stage or the interview stage of the application process.

Too many students apply to these programs simply because they’re looking for the easy way into medical school. And if we’re being realistic, then of course having an “easy route” into medical school is a strong motivation for anybody (including me!) to apply. But what I’ll try to emphasize throughout the rest of this post is that that shouldn’t be your only reason. If it is, then perhaps you should reconsider applying, because any experienced BS/MD professional will be able to easily see through that.

So I’ll just cut straight to the chase: the purpose of BS/MD programs is to provide intellectually curious students with an opportunity to use their time to explore their interests and enhance their education rather than waste an unnecessary number of hours being burdened by traditional pre-med hurdles. Sounds like a mouthful, right? Well, let’s try and break that down a little.

Intellectual curiosity

The first, and possibly the most important, part of the underlined statement above has to do with regards to a specific type of student: an intellectually curious student. From my personal experience of BS/MD interviews, I can tell you that the students I always found most interesting (and the one’s who I’d categorize as the “Oh yea, they’re definitely getting in”) were those who could not only talk about their previous accomplishments, but also are able to effectively communicate their future undergraduate goals. Whether those goals were or were not academically related was largely irrelevant. The point of focus, rather, was that these students had a plan of action. They knew what there interests were, and they knew what they wanted to spend their time pursuing in the future. Students like this are less likely to waste the precious free time that a BS/MD program grants to its students, and ultimately that is what the selection committee is looking for. Most of your competitors for these programs are going to be just as, if not more, qualified as you. The best way to convince the selection committee that you are the best pick for this program is to show them that you are a proactive student who will use your time wisely to pursue whatever intellectual curiosity you may have.

Academic and extra-curricular pursuits

The second part of a BS/MD program’s purpose is to find a student that wants to “explore their interests and enhance their education.” Depending on the length of your program, your undergraduate career can last anywhere for 2-4 years. And what you get out of those 2-4 years is entirely dependent on yourself. The problem for most traditional pre-meds is that they have to spend so much time securing the highest GPA possible while simultaneously building a resume and acing their MCATs that they are left with no time to pursue outside interests. And while getting good grades and developing a strong work ethic are both essential, they don’t do much to enhance your overall college experience.

Something as simple as studying abroad or getting a major in a non-science related subject sounds like it’s easy enough to incorporate into your college timeline. But it’s not always that easy for pre-med students. Studying abroad requires extensive planning to make sure you’ve got enough time to study for MCATs, write medical school applications, and preparing for interviews. Pursuing a non-science major, on the other hand, means taking extra coursework on top of your required pre-med classes (which coincidentally happen to overlap quite a bit with biology-related majors) and a possible disadvantage when it comes to taking your MCATs. It thus comes as no surprise that most pre-meds choose to forgo such experiences in hopes of maximizing their chances of getting into medical school. But such experiences are just as, perhaps even more, important as studying. Studying abroad, for example, helps students better understand medicine on an international level, and non-science majors, such as economics or philosophy, help students understand medicine from a more liberal arts perspective. Both such experiences can be extremely valuable when it comes to working with patients or running a private practice, but unfortunately, most pre-meds lack these unique perspectives. Therefore, what BS/MD programs are looking to do is grow the best possible future doctors by encouraging them to invest their time in experiences that provide them with a more well-rounded education.

Knowledge

The final part of a BS/MD program’s purpose has to do with knowledge; understanding the difficulties of being a pre-med student is essential for you to understand why these programs were created in the first place. Being a pre-med student is hard. Regardless of whether or not you’re selected for a BS/MD program, that’s a fact you cannot get around. Professors challenge you like no other, and the amount of time and dedication it requires to be a successful pre-med student is no joke. With that being said, though, there are a number of hurdles that can be minimized, and that’s why so many people support BS/MD programs.

Back in April of 2015, when I was deciding which university I wanted to commit to, I consulted a number of my mentors who had themselves gone through the traditional pre-med to medical school route. I informed them of all my options, including the REMS program at the University of Rochester, and nearly all of them told me to accept the offer at U of R without hesitation. But why? These people were some of the most successful physicians (or soon-to-be physicians!) that I knew, and all of them had gone through the traditional route. One had graduated from Princeton University and later from David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, another had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and had also gone onto attend UCLA’s medical school, and the last one had graduated from Ohio State University with a full-ride (though she’d rejected a number of other prestigious college, including Columbia University) and was soon to be a MD/PhD student at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. So if all these ex-premed’s had successfully fulfilled their traditional pre-med duties, then why were they all so strongly pushing for me to accept the BS/MD offer?

Because there is only a finite amount of time available to us in our undergraduate career. And even though any hardworking, dedicated student could use that time towards studying and applying for medical school, why do so if you don’t have to? Instead, use that time and energy to do something that will enrich your life and college experience. Medical school is stressful as is, and there is no point in having to cope with such stresses earlier in life if it can be avoided. Even the most successful pre-med students will tell you that if they could, they would go back in time and try to strengthen their chances at being a strong BS/MD applicant. It’s a prestigious offer that everyone wants, one that could completely change the course of your undergraduate career.

So when deciding whether or not a BS/MD program is right for you, ask yourself three questions:

  • Why do you really want this?
  • What would you do with your free time in college?
  • Do you understand and feel prepared to take on the challenges of being a pre-med student?

If you can confidently answer all the above questions, then you’re most likely on the right track. Keep it up and good luck with the rest of your application process!

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What is a BS/MD Program?

What is a BS_MD Program

College application season is no doubt one of the most arduous parts of any high school student’s career. It requires a large amount of time and dedication to be spent on essays, interviews, financial aid applications, and so, so much more. And the worst part? Doing everything you possibly can and still somehow feeling like you haven’t done enough. So why would anyone voluntarily decide to go through such a grueling process all over again? Well unfortunately, for any undergraduate student who’s decided to pursue a career in medicine, there isn’t much of a choice. When it comes to high school seniors interested in medicine, however, there is! And that’s exactly where BS/MD programs come into question.

So what exactly is a BS/MD program? It’s a dual-degree program that has been constructed by undergraduate universities in partnership with some local medical schools to provide high school seniors with conditional acceptance into medical school. The two degrees, Bachelor of Science (BS) and Doctor of Medicine (MD), are offered to students who successfully graduate through both the undergraduate school as well as the medical school. Typically, these programs last anywhere from 6-8 years (in contrast to the traditional 4 years of undergraduate + 4 years of medical school), and they’re specifically targeted towards students who’ve shown a great deal of interest in medicine throughout their entire high school career. These programs are known to be some of the most competitive programs in the country (some of their acceptance rates make Stanford and Harvard’s 5% acceptance rate sound like a joke), and there are a great number of things to know in order to be a competitive applicant. Getting in depth on any point would take an entire post, so below, I’ve outlined the most important points to note when trying to better understand a BS/MD program.

Start Early!

First, and perhaps the most important piece of advice, is to start early. Given that some of the most difficult BS/MD programs have an acceptance rate of near 2%, these universities are looking for students who have known for quite some time that they are interested in medicine and can really show for it. Most students who are serious about getting into these programs don’t just wake up one morning of their senior year and make a spur of the moment decision to apply. On the contrary, many know before they even step foot into high school. Many might ask, “How can you know what you want to do for the rest of your life in just 9th grade?” and they pose a valid point. But even if you don’t know exactly what you want to pursue career-wise at that age, most students will know whether or not they have an interest in science and if they are even open to the possibility of becoming a doctor. It’s okay to not know for sure (that’s what the rest of high school is for!), but it is important to start getting involved with health-related activities so that either (1) you can decide this field isn’t for you after all, or (2) you realize that studying medicine is something you can envision yourself doing and already have the experience to back that statement up. Whether it’s research, volunteering at a hospital, getting EMT certified, or simply shadowing your family physician, it’s never too early to start get involved with the field of medicine.

Get those grades

Secondly, keep your GPA high and study hard for your ACT/SAT/SAT Subject tests. As previously mentioned, some of these programs have single-digit acceptance rates, which means having a strong GPA and high ACT/SAT score is of upmost importance. Some schools (such as Drexel University, Case Western, Penn State/Jefferson) require BS/MD applicants to be in the 10% percent of their graduating class in terms of GPA and to have standardized test scores to be above a certain number. Keep in mind, though, that even if a school doesn’t explicitly state a certain GPA or SAT/ACT score that they’re looking for, they still expect stellar statistics. Take, for example, the BS/MD program at Northwestern University, which had an average application SAT score of 2309 and ACT score of 35 in 2015. By no means will a 2400 SAT score and 4.0 GPA guarantee you acceptance into any BS/MD program, but high academic statistics are an indication of academic maturity and thus will increase the chances of being considered for the program.

Organize yourself

Thirdly, stay organized. If you haven’t already, by the time you get the application season of your senior year, you will quickly realize how easy it can be to get lost in all the submission dates, essay topics, and other requirements being thrown your way. And on top of that, if you’re applying to a multiple of BS/MD programs, you’re going to have even more essays and date requirements. So my greatest piece of advice is to narrow down your list of colleges early (and by early, I mean by the end of the summer before senior year, at latest) and to create an excel sheet noting down all the important pieces of information in separate columns. Though it may be a pain to sit down one day and spend hours researching all the specific submission details for each university you are applying to, it will largely pay off in the long run. Some BS/MD programs require you to submit essays through email, while others require it through the common app. Some have an earlier application date set for BS/MD applicants (sometimes as early as mid-November), while others ask you to submit at the same time as all other students in January. Some may ask for 4 extra essays, while other simply ask you to checkmark a box that indicates your interest in being considered for the program. Each of these little details is unique to each program and can easily get past you. Rather than having to Google it every time you forget one tiny detail, having an easy-access document with all the necessary information is much simpler. Take my word for it; this document will quickly become your holy grail!

Keep calm

Fourthly, don’t take it personally! Of course the hardest part of this entire process isn’t editing your essays long into the night or sitting through hour-long interviews. The hardest part is always rejection. And though there is nothing you can do to change the outcome, you can remember to not take the results personally. Of course it’s easier said than done, but this statement holds true for BS/MD programs even more so than it does with regular college applications. Most of these programs accept only a handful of students (10-15) out of the hundreds or thousands (yes, sometimes even more than a thousand students!) of those that applied. They are looking to maximize their diversity, and as you can imagine, that is quite difficult to do in such a small group of people. So at the end of the day, you might have been the perfect match for that school in every way possible, but somebody else just happened to match their criteria (however ambiguous it may be…) a bit better. Getting through the entire BS/MD process is an accomplishment in itself; it’s something not any and every student can do. It takes a great deal of commitment, maturity, and strong work ethic to get through this process successfully. Those are the very same qualities that differentiate a successful pre-med from an unsuccessful pre-med, so hey, you’re already ahead of the game! Look forward to all the great opportunities that have presented themselves throughout this application process and take advantage of them in your upcoming undergraduate career.

How to Improve Your GPA for BS/MD Programs

What GPA do I need for BS/MD Programs

 

Gauri Patil, our resident BS/MD expert, wanted to share some tips on how to improve your GPA during high school so that you can get into a great BS/MD program. These tips are also relevant for college students looking to maintain a high GPA!

  1. Don’t take shortcuts

This is one of those tips that, even though I heard it in high school, I never really took seriously until I got to college. But now that I have used and applied this piece of advice, I could never go back to my old high school ways.

In high school, depending on your teacher, it’s possible to sometimes get away with not doing your homework or barely studying for an exam and still doing well. And while at the time this may sound ideal, it’ll actually hurt you in the long run. When it comes time to finals week at the end of the semester and you have to take four or five huge tests all at the same time, there is no way you can cram in an entire semester’s worth of material into one night. No matter how easy the teacher is or how lenient the curve is, if you put off the work until the very last minute, it’ll come back to bite you.

In college, if you were to implement that same strategy of putting off all your work until the very last week of the semester, you would most likely fail the class (as opposed to high school in which you would probably just get a slightly lower grade). In college, the difficulty of content is much greater and the pace of learning is much quicker. So as a result, students are expected to take initiative and keep up with the material in a consistent and timely manner. Sure, there are students who slack off and keep up with their high school study habits in college (aka procrastinating on all work until the last minute), but you will find that those students often end up dropping out of the class before finals week even approaches because their grades are so low that there is no chance of recovery.

Ultimately, the main difference between high school and college is time of realization. In high school, you can get through the entire semester by taking shortcuts and only in the end will you realize how horrible of a mistake this was. In college, however, you will quickly notice your grades plummet if you consistently choose to put off your work. The temptation of procrastination is thus greater for high school students, because they don’t realize the negative effects of it until much later. If you give into this temptation, though, you will likely end up hurting your GPA.

So even though you may not realize it now or have the pressure to really so, try to be thorough and consistent in keeping up with lecture material. It will pay off in the long run not only with your GPA, but so too with your success in college.

 

  1. Figure out what works best for you

 

There isn’t much to say on this topic other than the fact that different people thrive in different environments, so figure how/where you work best and stick to it!

I’ve listed below some questions you can ask yourself that’ll help guide you when you’re trying to “figure out yourself.” Remember, there’s really no right or wrong answer to any of these questions, they’re simply meant to help you maximize your efforts:

  1. How do I respond to pressure situations?

This is an extremely quality to know about yourself when determining what study habits are best suited for you. Some people tend to work better under pressure while others crack under pressure. If you’re of the former type, then perhaps procrastination isn’t the worst thing ever for you. In fact, it might be one way for you to produce some of your best work (read: don’t “pretend” to be someone who works well under pressure just so procrastination is a valid excuse for you… it’ll hurt you later on!) If, however, you’re of the latter type (like me!) then you should make sure to keep close track of your assignment due dates and allot enough time for you to be able to finish them in a timely manner.

  1. How much time do I usually take to work on assignments?

This question is a good follow up to the last question because it’ll probably reinforce your answer. If you’re typically someone who likes to take their time with assignments and spread out the workload over a number of days, then you probably aren’t the type of person who does well under pressure. On the other hand, if you tend to get distracted easily and need an imminent deadline to make you focus on your work, you likely do better under pressure. Whatever the answer may be, make sure you plan ahead of time to make sure you have enough time to produce your best possible work.

  • What kind of ambiance do I work best in?

To answer this question, there are a lot of sub-questions you could ask to figure out where you work best. For example, how easily do you get distracted? If easily, then would you mind working in a loud environment? Or would you be able to pop in your headphones and tune out the noise? If you don’t get distracted easily, then can you study with friends? If so, how many friends? Do you work better early morning or late night? These are just some of the questions that’ll really help you narrow down your list of ideal workplaces.

Personally, I can tell you that I my workplace varies based on the type of work I’m doing. For example, when I’m studying science or math related subjects, I prefer to work in a quiet study area and only listen to classical music (because any lyrical music distracts me). If I’m working on an essay or doing some writing work, though, I like to be in a coffee shop ambiance (with a little more activity happening around me) and have lyrical music playing because it gets my creative juices flowing. Regardless of the type of work I’m doing, though, the one distraction I must always avoid when studying is friends. I find that when I study with friends, I just end up socializing with them instead of being productive.

One of the benefits of college is that you meet people of all different types, which makes your individuality more acceptable. In high school, every one is trying their hardest to fit in, so they’ll just do what everyone else is doing even if it isn’t in your best interest. Of course, this is a natural part of high school, but if you’re serious about getting a good GPA, I strongly recommend you find what works best for you and stick to that even if it isn’t what everyone else is doing.

  1. Where do I fall in the VARK model

The VARK model is used to distinguish between different types of learners: Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic. Knowing which of these categories you fall into can help you figure out which study strategies might be most effective for you. For example, I’m an auditory and visual learner, so if there’s a concept I don’t understand, I like to have someone talk me through it and then I’ll later go and draw a visual representation of the concept to reinforce it in my head and also to help me remember it better. There’s plenty of surveys and tests online you could take to figure out your exact learning type, or you could just think back to how you’ve approached concepts that have given you trouble in the past and what you did to better understand them. Either way, once you figure out how you learn best, try putting it to the test every time you have an upcoming exam. Sometimes teachers tend to focus on one learning strategy more heavily than others (such as taking reading notes, which falls under the read/write category) so it might require a bit of effort on your part if you prefer a category that you teacher doesn’t usually emphasize. But hard work and effort never goes to waste, so just put in the work then and you’ll appreciate it when you later ace that test!

 

Tips for Improving Your GPA From a BS/MD Expert

What GPA do I need for a direct medical program?

It’s no secret that colleges place a lot of importance on your GPA and SAT/ACT scores, but with BS/MD programs, their value is significantly more. With regular undergraduate universities, you can sometimes (but not always!) make up for a slightly lower GPA or SAT score with stellar essays and impressive resumes. With BS/MD programs, however, this is unfortunately not the case. The average GPA for successful BS/MD students is usually anywhere from 3.95-4.0 and SAT scores are usually 2500+. If your statistics aren’t within this range, then there is typically no way to “save” yourself with other notable accomplishments. BS/MD programs are really looking overachievers, and that means students who have high GPAs, above average SAT scores, convincing essays, and remarkable resumes. It’s never enough to just one or two from that list.

How can you prepare yourself for a BS/MD program early in high school? 

Having gone through the entire BS/MD process myself, I can tell you from personal experience that there might be times when the workload is overwhelming and your efforts seem fruitless. But if you stay organized and maintain a steadfast mindset, then it will all payoff in the long run. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s exactly why it’ll be so much more worth it in the end. Below, I’ve listed some of strategies I used that really helped me with my GPA scores throughout high school. Stay tuned for the next blog post topic being related to SAT tips!

Here are some tips to improve your GPA so that you can be as competitive an applicant as possible:

  1. Find a reason to enjoy studying

I’ve found that amongst my friends, the people who are generally the most successful are the people who actually do not mind studying all that much. Of course, there are probably a million other things they could be doing instead of studying, but when it’s something they have to do, they choose to make the best of it. And the most effective way to do that is to find something about studying that excites you. It’ll be different for every one, and so it might require a bit of trial-and-error, but that’s okay!

For me, personally, something about studying that really excites me is color-coding my notes. I love having a system of highlighting that indicates to me which color is representative of what. So, for example, everything I highlight in yellow is a vocabulary word that I need to know, everything I highlight in pink is a “very important” note, and anything I highlight in orange is either a topic I don’t completely understand or a question that I need to remember to ask my teacher. To some people, this entire process may seem time-consuming and unnecessary, but for me it works. At the end of a study session, I love flipping through all the notes I took and observing all the pretty colors on the page. And not just that, but I’ve also found that it’s a great way for me to organize my thoughts. So when I go to talk to a professor, I don’t have to waste time skimming through all my notes just to find that question I wanted to ask. Instead, I’ll just look for the orange highlight, and voila, there’s my question! Again, to some people this process is pointless, but it works well for me so I stick with it anyways. Even if it’s a quirky habit of yours that makes study fun, use it! Because at the end of the day, its not other people who are going to be studying for you, so who care what they think of your study habits.

  1. Choose your friend group carefully

Now before you think “Wow this sounds exactly like something my parents preach to me”, try to understand the relevance of this statement. Sure, it’s good advice for the whole “Don’t do drugs!” conversation, but it’s equally as important in regards to your GPA.

In high school, every body wants to fit in; the only problem is it’s a lot harder to fit in when none of your friends have the same priorities as you. So why not make it easier on yourself and associate yourself with people who understand why you spend so much time doing what you do. My closest friends in high school were people who had the same goals and interests as me; they too wanted to lock in research positions, secure high GPAs, and spend time volunteering at local hospitals. It’s not that we didn’t find time to socialize and have fun, it’s just that we chose to balance our lifestyle in similar ways. So when I had to turn down an invitation to hang out because I had a midterm to study for, my friends understood where I was coming from (because at some point in time, they had done the same thing).

Now don’t get me wrong and completely shut off the possibility of being friends with someone just because they don’t have similar goals or interest as you – it’s never smart to be closed-minded. Just be conscious of the factor of influence that comes with friendships. For example, I remember when I was in my second-semester junior year, I had all of a sudden developed really close friendships with a lot of people who were second-semester seniors. And while I valued their friendship and enjoyed spending time with them, I found myself neglecting work just to hang out with these friends. No one was really at fault here; it’s just that we were both at different points in our life. I was going through one of the toughest semesters of high school while they were breezing through one of the easiest semesters of high school. As a result, we had different priorities, but because I was spending so much time with them, I caught myself slowly wandering away from my priorities. Things like this will happen all the times when it comes to friendship and, well, just life in general. What’s important is that you’re able to catch yourself at the right time and make the necessary decisions and changes to find a balance between work and play.

  1. Find a study buddy/study group

Coming into college, I have found that one of the best ways to study for exams is with other people. Now this doesn’t mean you put off studying until the very last day then go to a study group and assume they’ll teach you everything you need to know for the test (you’d be surprised how many people do this!). Instead, what you should do is plan ahead and try to finish up your individual studying at least one day prior to the exam. That way, when you go to your study group or go to meet up with your friend, you’ll be prepared to both ask and answer questions. If you go unprepared, then neither you nor your friend(s) will really benefit from the study session; instead, both of you will spend your whole time learning the material (which is something you can do on your own) instead of applying the material to test-like questions.

The benefit of having a study buddy is the variation in perspective. Perhaps your friend caught a detail that you didn’t, or maybe they didn’t understand a topic that you can now explain to them. Teaching is one of the best forms of confirming that you really know what you’re talking about, so by studying with a study buddy, you’ll actually be testing your own knowledge.

  1. Make it an expectation, not a goal

By making a high GPA an expectation as opposed to a goal, what you essentially do is transform your mindset from “I want it” to “I need it”. When you’re thinking more along the lines of the “I want it” mentality, it’s easier for obstacles to get in the way of achieving your goal. If, however, you maintain an “I need it” mindset, then you are more likely to dig deep and find the inner motivation to overcome any obstacles that may try to hinder your success. You might still fall short, but your motivation will then only increase to make sure you avoid slipping up again.

Of course, some people might disagree with this approach, but from speaking from personal experience, I can confirm that this “expectation, not a goal” mentality has really geared me to achieve maximum success. Sure, getting one B on your transcript does not mean you are going to fail in life, but there is a possibility that it ends up being the difference between getting accepted or rejected by your dream BS/MD program, so don’t take it lightly!

Above I’ve listed three most important tips that helped me get the GPA I wanted. Stay tuned for part 2 of this topic, in which I’ll discuss two more GPA tips!

How to Prepare for a BS/MD or Direct Medical Program – Advice for 8th and 9th Graders from a BS/MD Expert

Bubble style test form
Bubble style test form

One of the best ways to set yourself up for success with regards to BS/MD programs is by planning ahead. People who know from early on (sometimes even as early as middle school!) that medicine is a potential field of interest are the ones who end up sending the most convincing applications to BS/MD committees.

Below, I’ve outlined the best way to structure your high school career in order to maximize your chances at BS/MD success.

What to do in 8th grade: Explore both current and potentially long-term interests.

At this point in time, it’s far too early to decide whether or not medicine is your calling; it’s never, however, too early to start exploring the field of science. Most students who end up applying to BS/MD programs (myself included!) know from quite early on that science is a subject that sparks curiosity within them. Specifically, students who gravitate towards subjects such as biology and chemistry are likely to develop aspirations of becoming doctors. There are, however, plenty of exceptions; in fact, some of the most in-demand skills in today’s field of medicine have to do with computer science and engineering.

So even if you’re a student who tends to lean more strongly towards math and computer science-related fields, don’t completely rule out medicine as a possible career option, especially if you have even the slightest interest in learning more about the human body.

But how exactly do you decide which subjects interest you? The most foolproof way is to get out and try everything! By the time kids hit middle school, they’ve usually tried out a number of extra-curricular activities and have narrowed it down to two or three that they really enjoy (whether that be dance, music, sports, etc.). But what most students haven’t had the chance to do is test out their academic interests via a trial-and-error method. Of course, most students get a general idea of what subjects they enjoy by simply going to class, but that isn’t usually enough to determine whether you can maintain those same academic interest long-term. The best way to really put it to the test is by participating in extra-curricular activities that are related to those subject areas. For example, a student who likes biology could submit a biology-based project into their local science fair. Or a student who likes math could get involved with Math Olympiad competitions outside of school. The only obstacle you may face is accessibility; it’s slightly difficult to acknowledge your potential interest in a topic that you’ve never experienced (or maybe haven’t even heard of) before. For example, a student may not know whether or not they enjoy computer science if they’ve never taken a class on it (likely because most middle schools don’t offer CS courses). Because of such limitations, try to exhaust all possible options while in middle school, but don’t shut yourself off from subjects you haven’t yet experienced. Ninth grade will provide you with more opportunity to broaden your interests, so stay open-minded!

What to do in 9th grade: Narrow down your interests (both academic & non-academic) and develop a strong work ethic.  

Academic Interests: If you’ve already entered high school and are still somewhat scatter-minded about your academic interests, don’t worry – you’ve still got time! In fact, in some ways, it’s actually advantageous to be uncertain of your interests in high school as opposed to middle school. As mentioned above, the biggest obstacle middle school students face when trying to increase their exposure to different subject areas is accessibility. In high school, though, that’s not the case. There’s a plethora of elective courses to choose from that will help you better narrow down your academic interests.

BS MD advice for 8th and 9th gradersBut what if there’s a subject you want to further explore and your high school doesn’t offer any classes on it? Try checking out your local community college! The benefit of being a high school student is that, given the proper permission, you can usually take classes at your local community college (often times for free!). And just like high school has more course diversity than middle school, college so too has more course diversity than high school. So the likelihood of you not finding a course related to your interests is rather unlikely. If you do choose to go down this route, there may be some applications and forms needed to be filled out, so the best way to get started is simply by approaching your guidance counselor and asking about the process. (Also, keep in mind that 3 years down the road, your counselors will be filling out some of your recommendation letters, so the earlier you go talk to them and try to build a relationship, the better your chances are at avoiding the cliché, impersonal letters that colleges hate!)

Below, I’ve noted some courses I suggest you at least try out when looking to narrow down your academic interests (not all of them will be offered at your high school, so check your local community college as suggested above!). Some of these might seem completely unrelated to medicine, but remember that there is no problem with wanting to combine two academic interests into one interdisciplinary subject. In fact, that’s extremely appealing to some BS/MD programs because medicine itself is inherently an interdisciplinary field.

Suggested Additional Courses:

  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • Government
  • App Design
  • Philosophy/Medical Ethics
  • Public Health
  • Business

Non-academic Interests: In addition to identifying your academic interests, it is equally important to use freshman year to narrow down your extra-curricular interests. The first few months of the year might seem a bit overwhelming, with every club trying to shove a flyer in your face and trying oh-so-hard to get you to come to their new member meeting.

Don’t let that pressure get to you; in fact, embrace it!

The best way to deal with this situation is, in my opinion, to welcome it with open arms. When each club stops you and asks you to sign up for their email list, go ahead and do it. This is the time for you to exhaust all your potential extra-curricular options and to really figure out which activities you want to fully commit to. So go to all those introductory meetings and, better yet, stick with the club for at least one semester. Staying with the cub even when all the new-member excitement dies down will allow you to get a real feel for what the club is like. You’ll see that some clubs aren’t as exciting, structured, or worth your time as you’d thought they’d be, while others that you had expected to be boring are surprisingly quite thought-provoking. But the only way to really weed out which clubs are well-suited for you and which ones aren’t is by maintaining a certain level of commitment to all of them throughout your first semester. After that, you’ll have the personal experience needed to make a knowledgeable decision.

Students who have already been dedicated to certain activities (such as sports or music) for their entire life may ask what is the point of joining clubs at all. If you love what you do and are ready to commit another four years to it, then by all means, go ahead! There will likely be some way for you to continue your passions in high school (ex: join band or playing for your high school sports teams). If, however, you are somewhat hesitant about whether or not you can see yourself continuing that same activity for another number of years, then perhaps consider joining some clubs. Just because you’ve been involved with something for so long doesn’t mean you have to continue it, especially if you’re only going to be a passive participant. In fact, that holds true for just about anything you decide to pursue in high school. One of the most common misconceptions student have about being a competitive college applicant is having a to join every single possible club on campus. But in reality, colleges are looking for quality over quantity. If you’ve got 2 or 3 main activities that you’re heavily involved with and have the experiences, awards, and leadership positions to back that up, then you’re in a much better position than another student who simply has a laundry list of activities written down on their resume. Students who take note of this early on and decide to fully commit their passion and energy into a few, selective activities are really the ones who find the most success with colleges.

Grades: The final, but perhaps the most important, note to make about freshmen year is about your GPA: do not let your grades slip! Your grades are going to be one of most important factors of consideration by BS/MD selection committees, so do everything in your power to maintain a high GPA. Classes are only going to get tougher and your schedule is only going to get more hectic, so the best way to set yourself up for academic success in the future is by laying down a strong foundation in freshmen year with a high GPA.

But why does your GPA even matter that much? Most students know that colleges place a lot of importance on grade point averages, but not all of them really know why. It’s not because your GPA displays your intelligence, but rather because it displays your work ethic. No student will ever tell you that a 4.0 comes easily. Sure, some classes might be an easy A, but on the flip side, some classes will require you to put in endless hours of work to just barely scrape that A. No matter what, every student will at some point face a subject that they really struggle with. But what differentiates a high GPA student from a low GPA student is their willingness to work hard and improve on their weaknesses. Colleges are looking for students who’ve got the intrinsic motivation to overcome challenges, and your GPA is a perfect representation of that.

Lastly, make sure to enjoy 9th grade! It may seem like a whole new, scary world, but you’ll look back and reminisce about those easier times. Ninth grade is a time for exploration and discovery, so don’t let the stresses of a heavy workload make you miss out on all the social experiences. Sure, there will be some sacrifices you have to make, but in the end, it’s all about balance. If you take the necessary actions at the right time, then by all means it is possible to be a competitive applicant and still have fun. Tenth grade is going to get tougher (about which there will be a blog post next!) so enjoy the freedoms of 9th grade while they last!

How to Pick BS/MD Programs and a College List (Part 2)

Choosing a BS MD Program

apple-256261_640Last week, BS/MD expert Gauri Patil took us through 3 questions to ask yourself when choosing a BS/MD program and using them to come up with a BS/MD program list. This week, we continue understanding how to pick BS/MD or direct medical programs with her!

How important is avoiding the MCAT?

According to older pre-med students, taking the MCATs is one of the most dreaded parts of being a pre-med. It’s an 8-hour test that requires extensive knowledge and commitment because it cumulatively tests everything you’ve learned since day one of freshmen year. The MCAT, in fact, is one of the biggest roadblocks that prevents pre-med students from pursuing interests such as studying abroad. And that’s exactly why many BS/MD programs allow for their students to opt out of taking it, so that they can use that time they would spend studying on other, more enriching experiences.

Unfortunately, not all programs exempt you from taking the MCAT. Instead, they require that you get a minimum score (usually slightly lower than that medical school’s average MCAT score) to be guaranteed admission into the medical school. Of course, no MCAT is usually preferable to a lower score on the MCAT, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically cross out any program that requires the MCAT off your list. In fact, there can be several benefits to taking the MCAT.

One of the most critiqued aspects of BS/MD programs without the MCAT is that their students will be disadvantaged when it comes time to take their USMLE (another standardized test) in medical school. Though I have several friends who have debunked this theory with their own education, it is still a point of valid concern for many students. In that case, perhaps a program that requires you to only achieve a minimum score is ideal. That way, you get the experience of taking a large, standardized test but get to do so without having to overstress about getting the highest score possible. Alternatively, some students might prefer to avoid the MCAT altogether simply because they do not perform their best under standardized testing conditions, in which case a program without MCAT requirements is optimal. It all comes down to personal preference, but this is definitely a question that should be addressed when deciding which programs to apply to.

How prestigious does the undergraduate school need to be?

Disclaimer: By no means am I trying to talk down to any undergraduate school in this section below. Instead, I am simply trying to shed light on a controversial topic that students entering BS/MD programs deal with all the time.

One of the biggest dilemmas that BS/MD applicants face when it comes time to commit to college is how much weight they should put on the “prestige factor” of their undergraduate university. Even though acceptance rates for several BS/MD programs are much lower than those of even the most competitive ivy-league schools, that doesn’t take away from the fact that most of the undergraduate universities part of these BS/MD programs are ranked lower (sometimes substantially so) than those ivy-league schools. Deciding where to commit to is an extremely personal decision, and with options as great as these, you really can’t go wrong. I have friends who have turned down renowned universities including Stanford, Harvard, and MIT simply for a slot in one of these programs. On the flip side, though, I also have friends that have turned down some of the most competitive BS/MD programs to instead attend ivy-league standard schools including Yale, UC Berkeley, and Princeton.

My strongest piece of advice for students leaning towards accepting a BS/MD offer is to make sure you are truly happy with the undergraduate school, even if it is not as highly ranked as some of your other university options. I can remember back to the fall of my senior year when I was so desperately hoping to get into any BS/MD program, regardless of how good or bad the undergraduate university was. Of course, my aspirations were towards programs like Brown University’s PLME, which combined both an excellent undergraduate school with a well-ranked medical school. But when you’re in that deep into application season and are questioning how you could ever go through this entire process all over again, just about any BS/MD program looks promising.

Now, however, having just completed my freshmen year of college and reflecting back to those days, I can’t imagine what I was thinking. I know for a fact that if I had decided to go to a undergraduate university that I didn’t like simply because of the conditional medical school acceptance it was offering, I would have hated it. So much so that I might have even transferred schools. Your undergraduate career is a time to challenge yourself, both intellectually and socially; it’s an exciting part of your life where you get to grow and push yourself to be better. If, however, you choose to go to an undergraduate school that doesn’t excite you or challenge you in any way, then you will never have the motivation needed to reach your full potential.

Previously, I had categorized BS/MD applicants into two different types: those who had turned down BS/MD programs for ivy-league schools and those who had turned down ivy-league schools for BS/MD programs. But I omitted perhaps the most important category of all: those who had regretted the decision they made. These are the students who’s perspective you should really try to understand and ask yourself if you could possibly see yourself having some of the same regrets in the future. Students who regretted choosing a BS/MD program felt so most likely because either (1) they didn’t feel challenged by their peers and professors or (2) they ended up deciding that medicine wasn’t for them and had wished their resume now had a slightly more prestigious undergraduate university on it. Students who regretted choosing an ivy-league type school over a BS/MD program, on the other hand, likely felt so because (1) they felt the stresses and time commitment required to be a successful pre-med was not worth the extra “prestige” factor, or (2) the competition was so fierce that they eventually had to consider an alternative career route because their GPA and MCAT scores were not high enough for medical school.

It is, of course, impossible to predict what obstacles you are going to face in the future. And no matter what you decide, there will always be some “what if” questions still lingering in your mind. The goal isn’t to avoid those questions, though; instead, it’s to avoid regretting your decision in its entirety. The best way to come to a decision, then, is to make sure you’re committing to a university truly because you believe you will be happy there, not simply because it’ll provide you with an “easier” route to medical school or because it’s a more “prestigious” university. Of course those should be points of consideration, but they should not be the only reason for your decision. If medicine is truly your calling, then one way or another, you will get there. And if somewhere along the way you decide medicine isn’t for you, then you should still be happy with the undergraduate university you chose.

Can you afford it?

The final point to consider when applying to a BS/MD program is financial restrictions. Though most people don’t look into this matter too heavily until they’re strongly considering committing to a university, it is a topic to keep in the back of your mind when applying to BS/MD programs. A good majority of these programs have two stages to their application process: (1) an essay portion that is included in addition to your regular undergraduate application, and (2) an on-campus interview with the medical faculty. Of course it’s always exciting to get an interview offer, but the downside to that is that you often have to spend money buying plane tickets/taking long road-trips and book hotels. Unfortunately, these interviews are a non-negotiable part of the application process, so there is no way you can convince the selection committee to offer you acceptance even though you could not make the interview due to financial restraints. The only way to minimize monetary costs, then, is by being very selective with which schools you travel to for an interview. If you apply to a program that’s perhaps you’re not 100% interested in attending but still end of getting an interview, do not waste your time and money traveling to campus unless you are serious about accepting a potential offer from them.

The other downside to BS/MD programs is that once you have been accepted into the program, not all of them offer great financial assistance to their students. And they do so strategically. These programs know that a conditional acceptance to medical school is of great value, and they try to use that as leverage when determining how much scholarship money to give you. As a result, don’t be too surprised if a university with a BS/MD program doesn’t match scholarship offers you’ve received from other, regular undergraduate universities (no matter how prestigious they may be). And don’t at all be surprised if these schools provide you with no money towards medical school. For people with financial restraints, the best programs to apply to are those at public, instate universities. They often provide a bit more scholarship money, and even if they don’t, their tuition prices are already significantly lower than those of private schools.

So to recap, the six questions you should ask yourself when applying to BS/MD programs are:

  1. How long do you want your undergraduate career to last?
  2. What interests are you planning to pursue in college?
  3. Are you willing to stay in the same location for an extended period of time?
  4. How important is avoiding the MCAT?
  5. How prestigious does the undergraduate school need to be?
  6. Can you afford it?

 

Applying to BS/MD programs is no joke; it takes a large amount of planning to be successful at it. But if you start early enough and do enough research before sending in your application, then you’ll maximize your chances of finding a program that best fits you.