Medicine is a compelling educational pathway, but many students understandably balk at the prospect of four years earning a bachelor’s degree, four years pursuing an MD, and another three to seven (neurosurgery, anyone?) for residency specialty training. And let’s not even talk about becoming a gynecologic oncologist where you’ll have to add four years of obstetrics and gynecology residency and another four years of a fellowship in gynecologic oncology.
There has to be a better way to fulfill your dream of practicing medicine.
Students who are interested in a medical career can consider combined BS/MD programs, which are sometimes referred to as early decision programs for med students. Many of these undergraduate/graduate med school pathways reduce the overall number of years you’ll spend studying to become a physician. But speeding up the process isn’t the only advantage of combined degree programs.
If you’re certain that a career as a physician is for you and you’re still in high school, one option is to apply to a program that guarantees acceptance into medical school after you complete your undergraduate studies; some don’t even require you to take the MCAT. Avoiding the stress of that exam and the anxiety caused by applying to medical school seems a compelling enough reason to consider a combined program.
Each university has slightly different offerings, and since the details can change from year to year, it’s important to check the school’s website for specific application and program requirements before you get started. In general, though, you’ll need to apply to BS/MD programs in the fall of your senior year of high school in order to meet program deadlines, which range from late October to early January. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have competitive SAT or ACT scores and a good GPA. Among schools with minimum admissions requirements for standardized test scores, the threshold is around 1200 combined for the SAT and 27 for the ACT. Typical minimum GPA targets are close to 3.25–3.5. Remember, though, that some schools may have less rigorous entrance requirements, or none at all.
Below are five schools at which acceptance into the BS/MD program promises a straight path to becoming a licensed physician.
The Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME) at Northwestern University offers a comprehensive early decision program that integrates undergraduate major requirements and med school prerequisites, mentoring experiences, and opportunities to shadow licensed physicians and participate in research. The program is known for encouraging curiosity in its students by broadening the available learning experiences beyond a traditional pre-med/med school education.
The undergraduate portion of HPME can be completed in three or four years, depending on students’ choice of majors. In addition to completing required pre-med science courses, students can, with the guidance of an advisor, choose a major from departments in the College of Arts, School of Communication, or School of Engineering and Applied Science in Evanston, Illinois. Once you complete the bachelor’s portion of your education, you’ll head to the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago to complete your MD program.
Applicants must take the SAT II subject tests in math and chemistry, as well as submit an SAT or ACT score. Successful candidates’ scores for these latter two exams are generally around 2200 or higher on the SAT and at least 35 on the ACT. The good news is that there’s no MCAT or GPA admissions requirement, though you do have to maintain a GPA of 3.2 or higher once you’re admitted to the program.
Brown University offers an eight-year combined undergraduate/graduate program, and is the only early decision medical program in the Ivy League. Like Northwestern, Brown offers a comprehensive educational approach with a wealth of enrichment activities. In addition to earning a bachelor of arts or science degree, the university offers formal opportunities to explore research interests in emergency medicine or biomedical sciences. Students are also able to study abroad, engaging in medical-related community advocacy and international health.
As with many combined programs, Brown recommends that applicants have specific formation in a few areas of high school coursework, including four years of English, three years each of college-prep level math, three years of laboratory sciences (biology, chemistry, or physics), and three years of a foreign language. There is no minimum GPA or standardized test score requirement, but competitive applicants would need similar test results as those noted for Northwestern and as close to a 4.0 GPA as possible.
While the Rice University/Baylor College of Medicine BS/MD program has no minimum GPA or entrance exam score requirements, competitive students should be high achievers in high school. The majority of those admitted have SAT scores above 2100 or ACT scores over 35. That said, Rice prides itself on a holistic approach to evaluating candidates, even providing guidance for homeschooled applicants. In addition to academic excellence, Rice seeks students who have shown a demonstrable commitment to a career in medicine by participating in activities like volunteering in a medical setting, shadowing a practicing physician, or participating in other related health care experiences.
Like Northwestern, Rice encourages a broad undergraduate experience, allowing students to pursue any major as long as they fulfill the required medical school courses. This is a highly selective eight-year program, with a mere six students accepted annually. Yes, the competition is stiff, but it’s worth the effort to apply if you have the academic credentials — Rice meets 100 percent of financial need for admitted students.
Drexel University offers an accelerated seven-year BA-BS/MD program, and applicants need at least a 3.5 GPA along with a minimum SAT score of 1360 or an ACT score of 31. In addition, they must be on track to complete a total of four years of high school lab sciences (at least one year each in physics, biology, and chemistry).
Drexel’s BA-BS/MD students are required to major in biological sciences, chemistry, psychology, or engineering to take advantage of the accelerated option. In order to ensure that students are able to earn their combined degree within seven years, the university integrates general undergraduate requirements with those for the specific majors and pre-med prerequisites. For example, undergrads will typically take one year each of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and English, as well as a few other limited choices for a given major.
The program structure highlights an important point, though: If you wonder whether you may want to spend your undergraduate years learning Latin and Greek or studying political science, you should think seriously before committing to Drexel’s program.
The University of Toledo (my med school alma mater) offers two separate combined degree pathways. The first, its BS/MD program, is an eight- (or nine-) year program that combines a bachelor of science in bioengineering with an MD degree. Students fulfill general undergraduate requirements while studying bioengineering, including a co-op/internship in the biotech space, before entering med school. This program is ideal for those interested in medical device development and the intersection of the biotech industry with clinical medicine.
UT’s alternative programs is the “Bacc/MD," which allows students more flexibility in their choice of major. Participants can pursue undergraduate pathways in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the College of Language, Literature, and Social Science, or the College of Communications and Art. Although this option offers considerable choice, it does exclude majors in the Colleges of Business, Education, Social Justice and Human Service, Nursing, and Health Sciences.
For either program, high school seniors should have at least a 3.5 GPA and a 1260 on the SAT or a 28 on the ACT.
High school seniors who are admitted to one of the combined programs are required to maintain a 3.5 undergraduate GPA and complete a newly established College of Medicine mentoring program. The aim of this latter requirement is to provide students with experience in leadership activities, research, medicine-centric volunteering, and shadowing during their undergraduate years to that they are effectively prepared for the upcoming med school interview.
It’s important to note that, as of 2015, UT no longer offers guaranteed acceptance into its medical school for students in either program, although it does promise an early med school interview during the fall of students’ fourth year of the five-year undergraduate component. This effectively provides a conditional acceptance.
Both pathways provide students with a no-nonsense, clinically strong medical school education, as well as access to supportive administrators and faculty. While UT may have fewer extracurricular offerings and opportunities for medical research (though these are increasing every year!) than some other MD programs, the school still offers a solid foundation to pursue any residency program.
If you’ve always thought about a career in medicine but weren’t sure you could commit to all the years in school — not to mention the stress of applications, MCATs, and waiting for responses — BS/MD programs offer a compelling alternative. These five choices are a great place to start considering the combined degree as a pathway to a rewarding medical career.
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