BS/MD Programs vs. Premed: Which is Right for You?
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In a previous blog post, we outlined the basic structure, perks, and other details of combined BS/MD programs. In this post, we will compare the combined medical program path with the traditional premedical path, listing pros and cons of both.
Combined BS/MD programs, often referred to as seven year medical programs, are an alternate path to medical school acceptance. Students apply to these programs as high school seniors and, if accepted, are granted conditional acceptance into medical school. While commonly called seven year medical programs, not all combined BS/MD programs are seven years long (three years in undergrad, four years in medical school). Many last eight years (four years in undergrad, four years in medical school), while some only last six (two years in undergrad, four years in medical school).
Because the appeal of an accelerated path to medical school is so strong, competition for admission into these programs is fierce. Most programs have less than a dozen spots for incoming freshmen; a few accept more, but are so well-known that they receive hundreds, even thousands, of applications every cycle (Northwestern’s HPME and Brown’s PLME are two examples).
The standard path to medical school consists of spending a certain number of years as an undergraduate, taking the MCAT, sending out dozens of medical school applications, and finally, interviewing at medical schools and being accepted. While the time spent as a medical student is always four years, the number of years a student chooses to spend as an undergraduate is up to them. However, it is usually wise to spend more years as an undergrad, simply because medical school admission boards have been shown to favor applicants with more years of experience (the average age of matriculating medical students is 24).
Combined BS/MD Pros
As you can see, a major benefit of combined BS/MD programs is the time and money saved. Shaving a year or even two off of an undergraduate education is seen by many as an enormous advantage. A year’s worth of both time and tuition is definitely significant, especially considering the fact that the road to becoming a full-fledged physician is by no means a short one (undergrad, medical school, followed by up to seven years of residency).
Conditional acceptance into medical school is another great pro of combined BS/MD programs. While all programs implement GPA and sometimes MCAT requirements, these requisites are usually not very stringent, especially compared to the average GPA of accepted medical school students. Most schools require students to maintain a 3.5 GPA, while the more lax ones only require students to keep a 3.0 or higher. While the low GPA requirement is definitely a plus, the fact that some programs do not require students to take the MCAT is an even greater benefit. The MCAT is a 6 hour 15 minute standardized exam and preparing for it can be extremely time-consuming.
Another pro that combined BS/MD programs boast over the standard premedical path is the freedom awarded to students in pursuing courses and extracurriculars. As part of a combined medical program, students can take part in activities they enjoy rather than only participating in those that would look good on a medical school application. Decreased stress goes hand-in-hand with this freedom. After being granted admission to medical school, med program students don’t have to face every midterm and every paper as if they were life-altering events. Rather, they can enjoy classwork much more without having to constantly think about GPA and its effect on their appeal as a medical school candidate.
Combined BS/MD Cons
While the pros of combined medical programs are numerous, these programs do have their drawbacks. For one, after enrolling as part of such a program, it becomes difficult to “apply out,” or send applications to other medical schools (i.e. not the one the program is associated with). However, this difficulty is not the result of any restrictions placed on the student. Most programs do allow their students to apply out to other schools when the times. The caveat is that, upon doing so, the student will lose his or her guaranteed spot in the program’s medical school. As a result, most students end up remaining as part of the program and do not apply out, even if they stand a strong chance of gaining acceptance to another medical school.
Another drawback, described earlier, is the GPA requirement imposed by many programs. Although most of GPA requirements are rather lax, a few are incredibly stringent. One example is that of the program at Washington University in St. Louis. The WashU program requires students to maintain a 3.8 GPA throughout undergrad, in addition to scoring a 36 on the (old) MCAT. Many would argue that, with a profile like this, an applicant would be able to gain admission into many top medical schools without being part of a BS/MD program at all!
Premed Path Pros
Clearly, not every aspiring medical student applies to combined BS/MD programs. This is because the traditional premedical path has many benefits of its own. To start off, standard premedical students have more flexibility in choosing their academic course load. Many programs, especially the accelerated ones, require students to dedicate several summers to classes and lab work, a commitment premedical students don’t have to make.
Students who choose to take the standard premedical path are able to fully enjoy their time as an undergraduate. While this benefit is largely subjective, many university alumni like to say that their best years were spent as a college student. Traditional premedical students are able to choose the number of years spent in college, a luxury not awarded to most BS/MD students.
Premed students also have more flexibility in choosing a medical school. While BS/MD students have the option of applying out to other schools, in many cases the risk is greater than the reward, which is why most students opt to remain within the program. The traditional premed path awards flexibility in choosing potential medical schools, granting students an option generally not enjoyed by BS/MD students.
Premed Path Cons
Perhaps the most obvious drawback to the standard premedical route is the lack of conditional medical school acceptance. Being able to have a medical school spot on lockdown is what makes combined BS/MD programs so great, and the lack thereof is a major source of stress for traditional premed students who have to worry about med school applications in addition to their college workloads.
Another drawback, directly related to the previous one, is the low acceptance rates of medical schools. Acceptance rates of many top medical schools hover around the 10% mark, which is why being a premedical student and applying to medical school can be such a risky endeavor.
Both BS/MD programs and the traditional premedical route have their pros and cons. While the standard premedical route promises success as long as the student stays dedicated and committed, BS/MD programs are becoming more and more popular as alternate routes to medical school admission.