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Are Combined Undergraduate/Graduate Programs Right for You?
If you’ve seriously considered attending law school, med school, or any other graduate school after getting your Bachelor’s degree, you may have put some thought into applying to a combined undergraduate/graduate program. These programs allow students, once admitted during their senior year of HS, to matriculate into graduate school at the same institution immediately following the completion of their undergraduate education.
For many seniors who have experienced applying to school the first time around, the prospect of going through the whole song and dance again in a few short years’ time is daunting to say the least, which makes the concept of not having to apply again attractive. Some of these programs even allow you to cut a few years off your time in school. But for all their advantages, these programs are not for everyone. We’ve broken down some of the advantages and disadvantages of combined graduate and undergraduate programs to help you decide if it’s right for you.
One major benefit of combined programs is cost. If you’re planning to attend graduate school, especially law school or med school, it’s likely that finances are heavy on your mind; rising tuition prices, high interest rates on loans, and a lack of grant-based financial aid available to grad students means financing your education can be a challenging endeavor. However, combined Bachelor’s/J.D., Bachelor’s/M.D., and Bachelor’s/M.A. programs often allow you to shave at least one year off your total education, in some cases even two. As tuition at private schools begins to push the $70,000 mark, a year or two can make a big difference. In addition, you won’t have to pay all the costs associated with applying to graduate school. Application fees (which can be up to $100 and for which fee waivers are not always offered), fees for sending test scores, professional attire for interviews: it adds up! By circumventing the application process, you can save some serious money.
Another factor is expedience. If you’re absolutely sure that you want to continue on to graduate school, a combined program allows you to skip the time-consuming and stressful experience of applying to school again. Senior year of college isn’t like senior year of high school; there won’t be any room for slacking or any extra time to devote to labor-intensive applications, so eliminating the need to apply to medical school can make the self-assured student’s life much easier. Additionally, because such programs are often accelerated, you’ll begin taking classes directly pertinent to your field earlier, without having to knock out a long list of general education requirements first. The truncated duration of such programs, in addition to saving cost, also allows students to earn a graduate degree and enter the workforce earlier than many of their peers.
The accelerated nature of these programs, while in many ways beneficial to students, also has its drawbacks. Compressing what is typically 8 years of schooling into 6, or 5 to 4, necessitates that students work extra hard to fit all the necessary schooling in a shortened period of time. While many students take a relatively light course load their first semester to ease the transition into college or take a less strenuous load to balance an internship or employment, combined programs require students to take rigorous courses every semester. This is especially true for programs in medicine and law.
Admission to combined programs is also extremely competitive — often on par with or sometimes even greater than the competition for spots at top Ivy League universities. Adcoms need to be assured that the students they admit to these programs have the dedication, intelligence, and maturity to complete such rigorous course loads and perform well in high pressure environments. Even schools that are typically less picky about the students they admit have very high standards for combined programs; many even include minimum SAT/ACT score and GPA requirements, just to apply, that meet or exceed those of the typical Ivy League applicant.
The most important thing to consider when contemplating applying to combined programs is the degree of dedication they require. Not only are you committing to a career path and what you’ll be doing directly after graduation, you’re also committing to staying at the same school in the same city for up to 8 years, which is no small decision to make. The difficulty of this decision is only exacerbated by the fact that you’re being asked to make it at 17 or 18 years of age, when first applying to college as an undergrad. All students, especially teenagers, are prone to indecision and many end up changing their major at least once throughout the course of their undergraduate education. Combined programs, while convenient, usually don’t allow for much flexibility in this sense. If you’re not absolutely sure that you want to follow the career path for the combined program in question, you may want to consider applying solely as an undergrad and allowing yourself more time to make the decision.
In the end, the most important thing you can do for yourself if considering applying to combined programs is to get educated. If you’re concerned about the exceptionally heavy course load, look into the specific requirements and see if you can plan a schedule that allows you to complete the program on time without taking an excessive numbers of classes every semester. If you’re unsure about the commitment required, research whether there is any flexibility for students who decide they want to put off their graduate education or apply to different schools upon completion of undergrad. Find out the average statistics of admits to the program, to see whether you’d be a competitive applicant. Despite the rapid pace and serious dedication that accompanies combined programs, they can greatly enhance and expedite students’ educational careers. If you have a particular interest in an accelerated medical school program, CollegeVine has great tips on how to write your essays and how to prepare for your interviews, which hold much more weight in these programs than they do in the typical applications process. Once you’ve educated yourself on the program of your choice, you can make the best-informed decision possible about the next six, seven, or even eight years of your life.