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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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