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What are the Pros and Cons of BS/MD Programs?

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If you’re a motivated high school student who is considering a career in medicine, you have a number of different options to think about. Maybe you have even researched your options for undergrad and med school, and begun to toy with the idea of a combined BS/MD program. These programs can be a great choice for a select group of students, but require careful consideration, as they’re definitely not for everyone. In this post, we’ll discuss the primary advantages and disadvantages of choosing a BS/MD program so that you can make the best choice for yourself.


An Introduction to BS/MD Programs



Combined BS/MD programs allow students to complete a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree and then continue directly into medical school for a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Students apply for the program in their senior year of high school, and are accepted for its entirety, thereby eliminating the separate application process usually necessary to progress from an undergrad college or university to a med school.


In BS/MD programs, students benefit from knowing in advance that they’ve already been accepted to med school, gain access to resources available only to students in their program, and sometimes complete their degrees on an accelerated timeframe. For high school students who know early on that they want to pursue a career in medicine, a combined BS/MD program can seem like a great idea.


But these programs aren’t without their faults. BS/MD program participants sacrifice choice by committing to two schools at once, and they can sometimes miss out on the undergrad experience or the life lessons that come from finding your own way through undergrad. Settling on a BS/MD path should be a choice that’s weighed carefully.

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Advantages of a Combined BS/MD Program


Reduces the Stress of the Application Process

While applying to any college is a stressful process, for BS/MD programs the overall application process leading to your MD is greatly simplified. Rather than applying to undergrad, pursuing an undergraduate degree, and then repeating the process all over by applying to med schools, you apply only once to a combined BS/MD program. There are no separate applications for med school.


Of course, BS/MD programs are among the most competitive programs to get into in the country, so the application process is no cake walk. But still, you only go through it once, while you’re still in high school, and you can then progress through your undergrad years with the knowledge that your place in med school has already been secured.


In addition, some (but not all) BS/MD programs waive the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) requirement. Most students who take the MCAT spend no small amount of time preparing for it, so not having to take it will be a major weight lifted further down the line.


More Flexible Undergrad Course Selection

Many students who go into undergrad with the intention of continuing on to med school feel pressure as early as freshman year to compile a transcript that highlights their commitment to the sciences. They may even be hesitant to take many humanities or social science courses as their focus is on showcasing readiness for med school.


While BS/MD program participants still have to take certain premed courses and meet minimum GPA standards, they no longer have to worry about impressing an admissions committee and can therefore choose their other classes with fewer concerns. Ultimately, some argue that you could become a more well-rounded student—anMd doctor—as a result.


Greater Resources Available

In any formal program of study, there are resources available exclusive to program participants, and BS/MD programs are no different. When you enroll in one of these programs, you will find yourself part of a unique community. Of course, the size and spirit of that community will vary widely according to which program you attend, but in general you can expect to be part of a smaller community within a larger school environment.


Some BS/MD programs, like Brown’s PLME program, offer a selection of enrichment activities like study abroad opportunities, chances to observe practicing physicians, research opportunities, and professional development.


Even if your school does not have extensive enrichment activities specific to your program, it may be easier to find some opportunities, like research positions, just by virtue of your status as a BS/MD student.     


Lower Costs

Finally, some BS/MD programs offer an accelerated path through undergrad and med school. These allow you to complete your undergraduate degree in only three years, thereby allowing you to graduate from med school after seven years of postsecondary education, rather than eight.


This accelerated pace can save you money, because you will pay for fewer years of education and become a doctor with real earning potential one year earlier.


You will also save (on a much smaller scale) on application costs, since you will not need to complete separate applications for med school.


Disadvantages to a Combined BS/MD Program


Limited Options 

The most obvious disadvantage to a combined BS/MD program is the relative lack of options available to you. While there are over a 100 medical schools in the U.S., there are far fewer med schools that participate in BS/MD programs. If you’re considering a BS/MD program, you’ll have to attend one of the medical schools that partner with a BS/MD program. You may have to set aside your preference for a research-heavy program or med school geared towards family practitioners if you can’t find a BS/MD program that will cater to these preferences.


Additionally, once you commit to a BS/MD program, you are more or less locked into a career in medicine. You must be absolutely certain from a relatively young age that you want to pursue your MD.Although it’s possible to drop out of a BS/MD program, it’s highly discouraged and even looked down upon due to the limited number of spaces available to begin with. You could find yourself feeling locked into an academic path that doesn’t suit your ultimate goals.


Two Schools Must Both Fit

As we mention above, there are over 100 medical schools in the U.S. There are also over 7,000 undergrad institutions. This leaves a ton of choices for a student who is choosing each individually. When selecting an undergraduate school and med school separately, you will be able to choose each based on your very specific preferences and priorities.


When you apply for a BS/MD program, you need to find one program that fits you well as both an undergraduate and a med student. You cannot pick and choose. More specifically, you will not be able to choose a med school that is best suited to the interests you discover during your undergrad studies, since you’ll already be committed.


Finally, you will not be able to pursue a dual degree in med school, such as an MD/PhD.


Admissions Selectivity

Another obvious disadvantage to BS/MD programs is their extreme selectivity. Admissions are among the most competitive in the country. While many Ivy League schools accept as few as 5-6% of applicants, only 4% of BS/MD program applicants are accepted overall.


This means you often have a higher likelihood of being accepted if you go the traditional route and apply for undergrad and med school separately.


Maturity/Life Lessons Aren’t Fully Developed in High School

Finally, when you are choosing a BS/MD program, you are usually only 17-18 years old. You do not have the additional few years of undergraduate education and the life perspective provided by those years. Although you might think you know exactly what you want to do with your life, you don’t have the same insights that a student graduating from college has.


BS/MD programs are a wonderful choice for a student who discovers from an early age that his or her life’s path leads to a career as a doctor. But, like most things worth working for, you must be willing to make some sacrifices in order to pursue a BS/MD program. Ultimately, only you can decide if one of these unique programs is right for you.


To learn more about BS/MD programs, read these popular CollegeVine posts:


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.