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The Ultimate Guide to Applying to the Brown University PLME Program

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Are you a high-achieving, motivated college applicant who dreams of becoming a medical doctor? Are you already thinking about your future medical school applications as you prepare to fill out your college applications? If so, it’s time to consider whether a BS/MD program — a program that combines a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree — might be a good choice for you.


We’ve covered the topic of BS/MD programs many times before on the CollegeVine blog, most recently in our post A Complete Introduction to BS/MD Programs. Briefly, these programs allow you to apply as a high school senior for both college and medical school at the same institution or partner institutions.


These highly sought-after and competitive programs, which generally take seven or eight years to complete, come with a number of benefits for their students, including a greater sense of security in allowing you to plan your future. Brown University’s Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) program, the only BS/MD program in the Ivy League, adds in the perk of having greater freedom in choosing your undergraduate path through Brown’s well-known, free-ranging curriculum.


Interested in applying to BS/MD programs? Read on for more information about PLME, its application process, and its ramifications for your future.


Want to learn what Brown University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Brown University needs to know.


Brown University’s Program in Liberal Medical Education

Brown University’s Program in Liberal Medical Education is more commonly known as PLME, pronounced as “plee-mee.” PLME is a combination bachelor’s and medical degree program to which students apply as incoming college first-years. Participants remain in the program for eight years, or possibly even longer if they decide to pursue additional degrees.


On campus, students in the PLME program are known as PLMEs or “plee-mees.” About 50 PLMEs are part of every matriculating class at Brown, where they receive their undergraduate degrees with the rest of their graduating class. They’re then guaranteed admission to Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School to complete their medical program.


As an eight-year combination program, PLME differs from some programs of the BS/MD type in that it doesn’t compress the undergraduate portion of its students’ education. It’s a program that’s designed to produce doctors who also have a broad-based liberal arts background, not one designed to allow students to become doctors more quickly or efficiently.


Students in the PLME program can also extend their stay at Brown in order to pursue an additional degree, such as a Master’s of Public Health. Admissions arrangements and educational plans for these multi-degree programs are made on an individual basis, and this is not something you need to have already figured out when you first apply to PLME.


PLME students are charged the same amount in tuition as any other students at either the undergraduate college or the medical school at Brown, depending on which year of the PLME program they’re in. For planning purposes, in 2016-2017, the estimated yearly cost of attending Brown as an undergraduate was $68,106. The estimated yearly cost of attending Warren Alpert Medical School was around $80,000 for the same time period.


Similarly, financial aid for PLME students is the same as that for any other Brown student. During your undergraduate years, your aid will be governed by the same policies as any other undergraduate; during your medical school years, you’ll be subject to Alpert Medical School’s financial aid policies.


Undergraduate students at Brown are guaranteed on-campus housing for all four years, though seniors may be granted permission to live off-campus. University housing is not available for students at Alpert Medical School, so you’ll have to find off-campus housing in Providence during your years as a medical student.


To find out more about the PLME program, its curriculum, and its potential benefits for your educational path, you can access the Program in Liberal Medical Education website at https://www.brown.edu/academics/medical/plme/.



So what’s the point of admitting students to a program that provides a direct route into medical school? At Brown, the intention is to produce doctors whose educational background is substantially broader than that of many medical students, and to give future doctors the freedom to explore different fields as undergraduates instead of focusing entirely on medical school admission requirements.


Exploring a variety of academic fields as an undergraduate can be seen as somewhat risky by future medical students. They may worry that their more eclectic course selections, however academically rigorous or personally enriching, may be viewed with concern by medical school admissions committees in comparison to those of other applicants.  


The process of applying to medical schools is intensely competitive, and just as with the undergraduate application process, many students find it to be quite stressful. Having your acceptance to medical school already guaranteed while you’re an undergraduate can ease that mental burden and allow you to focus on making the most of your undergraduate experience.


Entering the PLME program doesn’t mean that you won’t have to prepare for medical school — yes, you do still have to pass Organic Chemistry. However, alongside the required courses for PLMEs, you can study anything you like and put your energy into the things that interest you most.


As important as the things you can do as a PLME are the things you don’t have to do as a PLME. For instance, you don’t have to concentrate in a scientific field if you don’t want to do so, as long as you fulfill particular course requirements. You also don’t have to take the MCAT, the standardized entrance test for medical schools, if you enroll at Alpert Medical School through PLME.  


Every PLME student gets the full Brown undergraduate experience, concentrating in any field they choose — Brown offers over a hundred options — and taking full advantage of Brown’s broad and open undergraduate curriculum. What this can mean for you is the opportunity to broaden your mind and explore new options without jeopardizing your future medical-school goals.


Applying to PLME

Applying to PLME is, roughly speaking, like applying to Brown’s undergraduate program and medical school program at the same time. Accordingly, in order to get accepted to PLME, you’ll have to face some very tough competition and take special care to ensure that your application reflects your qualifications to best advantage.


To apply to PLME, you’ll first need to fill out Brown’s usual undergraduate application. You have the option of applying either through the Early Decision application process or the Regular Decision application process. (Applying Early Decision to the PLME program comes with some caveats, which we’ll address later in this section.)


Brown uses the Common Application, and like most schools, requires all applicants to submit a school-specific supplement. For a more detailed overview of what you’ll find on Brown’s undergraduate application, check out the CollegeVine blog posts A User’s Guide to the Common ApplicationThe Ultimate Guide to Applying to Brown University, and How to Write the Brown University Essays 2016-2017.


In addition to Brown’s normal undergraduate application, PLME applicants will need to write two program-specific essays. Prompts for these essays will appear in the Brown supplement to the Common App once you’ve indicated that you’re applying to the PLME program.  


For the 2016-2017 application season, the essay prompts were as follows:


  • Most high school seniors are unsure about eventual career choices. What experiences have led you to consider medicine as your future profession? Please describe specifically why you have chosen to apply to the Program in Liberal Medical Education in pursuit of your career in medicine. Also, be sure to indicate your rationale on how the PLME is a “good fit” for your personal, academic, and future professional goals. (Please limit your response to this question to 500 words.)


  • Since the Program in Liberal Medical Education espouses a broad-based liberal education, please describe your fields of interest in both the sciences and the liberal arts. Be specific about what courses and aspects of the program will be woven into a potential educational plan. (Please limit your response to this question to 500 words.)

Once you’ve submitted your application, including all of the PLME requirements, it will be reviewed by Brown’s regular undergraduate admissions office. PLME students are part of Brown’s undergraduate student body, so they’re evaluated by all the same standards, including their potential contributions to undergraduate life at Brown.


After the admissions office determines which applicants should be offered admission to Brown, it will then refer promising PLME applicants to be considered by the PLME Advisory Selection Board. This board will review your application again and make a final decision about whether you should be admitted to PLME.


You should know that the PLME admissions process is extremely competitive. 2,447 students applied to PLME for entrance in the fall of 2015, and only 90 of those applicants were accepted to PLME, making the admission rate a meager 3.7%. For reference, Brown’s overall undergraduate acceptance rate for the same class year was 9.5%.


You can’t get accepted to PLME without getting accepted to Brown. However, it’s possible that you may be accepted to Brown as an undergraduate but not accepted to the PLME program. If this happens to you, and you applied to PLME according to the Regular Decision timeline, you’ll have to decide whether you still want to attend Brown without PLME’s advantages.


Brown’s Early Decision program deserves a special note as it relates to the PLME application process. As we’ve covered in the past on the CollegeVine blog, Early Decision programs are binding, meaning that you commit to attending that school if you are accepted. (For an overview of Early Decision and other early application programs, take a look at our post Early Action Versus Early Decision Versus Restrictive Early Action.)


If you apply to PLME via Early Decision, it’s possible you may be accepted to Brown, but not accepted to PLME. PLME applicants who are accepted to Brown in the Early Decision round may be reconsidered for admission into the PLME program later on, with the Regular Decision applicants.


Either way, however, your Early Decision commitment still holds. In this situation, you’d be expected to withdraw all your other college applications and attend Brown, regardless of whether you’re accepted to PLME.


Taking this risk into consideration, it’s unwise to apply Early Decision to the PLME program unless you are absolutely sure that you want to attend Brown even if you aren’t accepted to PLME. If you’re not sure, it’s better for you to apply to Brown and PLME through the Regular Decision process and keep your options open.


Is it mandatory for PLME students to go to medical school at Brown?

As we’ve covered, the intention of the PLME program is that all PLME students will attend Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School, and your experience in the program will be tailored toward this end. The benefits of being a PLME mostly accrue to those students who take advantage of this path to medical school.


However, Brown understands that eight years is a very long time, especially when you’re applying to colleges as a teenager, and people’s plans may change. For a wide variety of reasons, some students do choose to leave PLME before completing the entire program. Some do so because they no longer want to pursue a medical career at all. Others do so because they’re no longer sure that they want to attend medical school at Brown.


Given the extra work you’ll need to put into preparing your PLME application, it’s wisest to only apply to PLME if you really do want to see the program through and attend Alpert Medical School. Also, since admission to PLME is extremely competitive and students can’t apply later, it would be a shame for you to take a program spot that could go to a student who will complete the entire program as designed.


If, in your senior year of college, you decide that you want to apply to medical schools at universities other than Brown, you’re free to do so. There is one major caveat, however. If you apply to other medical schools, known as “applying out,” you lose your guarantee of a spot at Alpert Medical School.


Students who apply out can still apply to Alpert Medical School as one of their medical school options. However, they won’t have any advantage over other non-PLME applicants. They’ll be considered in the general applicant pool, and they’ll have to compete for a limited number of spots in the matriculating class, just as other applicants do.  


Again, the PLME program is intended for those students who actively want to pursue eight years (or more) of education at Brown, so it’s set up to fit the needs of those students. Applying out would require additional work on your part to prepare applications, take the MCAT, and make backup plans just in case you’re not accepted to any medical schools at all.


As a prospective PLME applicant, it’s not necessary for you to know all the details of the medical school application process just yet. However, as you’re preparing your PLME application, you should keep in mind that while it’s possible to apply out, it’s not encouraged, and doing so will negate some of the major benefits of being a PLME.


If you already feel that you’d like to apply to a range of medical schools, for your own sake and that of other applicants, it’s best for you not to apply to PLME. Unless you’re fully confident in your intention to stay at Brown for medical school, you should instead look into how being a regular Brown undergraduate might prepare you for medical school.


Learning More About BS/MD Programs

If you’re considering applying to PLME, you should also be aware of your other options in the realm of combined BS/MD and similar programs. A number of these programs exist across the United States, some of them lasting the full eight years, others intended to be completed in a shorter time frame.


Each BS/MD program has its own strengths and weaknesses, and with nearly a hundred of these programs currently operating in the United States, only thorough research can help you to find a program that’s a perfect fit for your strengths and needs.


For more information about programs like PLME, check out these posts from the CollegeVine blog:



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Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.