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

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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.

 

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