Roughly a quarter of U.S. medical schools offer combined undergraduate/MD programs for high school students. Admitted high school students go from high school to medical school without having to apply to medical school at all. Medical schools partner with one or more undergraduate institutions located in the same geographic region to make this possible. Often times, the undergraduate college and medical schools are part of the same university system but they can also be independent institutions. If admitted, students will spend two to four years at the undergraduate college completing their BS or BA degrees along with premedical requirements. Afterwards, they will proceed to the medical school affiliated with the undergraduate institution for their MD. Some of these programs are accelerated, meaning that students would get their BS or BA and MD in 6 or 7 years rather than the traditional 8. Nevertheless, most of the programs are 8 years long.
The draw is obvious. Students who are admitted to these programs forgo the stress of medical school applications and are essentially guaranteed a spot in medical school. Traditional pre-meds stress about getting an A in almost every class and getting at least a 33 on their MCAT. At the same time, they need to pursue multiple extracurricular activities to boost their medical school applications. Even after all this work, admission is not guaranteed. In 2012, 45,266 people applied to medical school and only 19,517 (43%) of them actually matriculated.
So, instead of competing against tens of thousands of other applicants with less than 50% chance of acceptance, admits into these combined MD and Bachelors programs only need to worry about maintaining their GPA and scoring a minimum MCAT. Many programs require their students to take the MCAT, but only a minimum MCAT score (usually between 24-30, which is not very high considering the average MCAT score of a medical school matriculant is 31) is required to progress onto medical school. In some programs such as UCSD and Northwestern, students do not even need to take the MCAT. Students in these combined programs can pursue activities and majors that traditional pre-meds would hesitate to pursue because of the freedom from application pressure. There are even programs that allow students to apply to other medical schools in case they want a change of scenery for medical school.
The promise of combined undergraduate/MD programs sounds great, but there are many factors that need to be considered before you decide to apply to or enroll in one of these programs.
1. Many of the universities and medical schools that offer this program are not “top tier” schools.
If you are a competitive applicant for one of these combined programs, you are usually qualified for regular admissions to top universities in the U.S as well. For example, what if you got into Boston University’s combined program but also got into Harvard? Even though Boston University (BU) is a good school for undergraduate and medical education, it is not a top ranked university nor medical school. If you decided to go to BU but you eventually realize that you do not want to be a doctor, you will have an undergraduate degree from BU when you could have had one from Harvard. Unfortunately, only a handful of combined programs have a great undergraduate institution and medical school. If you “settle” for one of these combined programs, you could lose the opportunity of going to a prestigious university and potentially a top ranked medical school.
2. Are you sure you want to be a doctor?
This is probably the most important factor to consider. These high school to medical school programs are designed for mature high school students who are committed to a career in medicine. If you are unsure, it would be best not to go. If you decide to quit the program, you will most likely be stuck at school that you probably would not have gone to if not for the combined degree program. The scenario with BU and Harvard given above is a good example.
3. Are you a competitive applicant?
Admissions committees are looking for smart, diligent, and mature applicants. Most applicants who are accepted have superb GPA’s and SAT/ACT scores, medically related volunteer work, leadership experience, and various other extracurricular activities. As I mentioned before, most competitive applicants are also viable applicants for elite universities.
4. Most state schools give preference to in state students
Public medical schools that offer the combined program are generally trying to educate physicians who are likely to stay in state. Thus they will give preference to applicants who are residents in their state because they are the most likely to stay in state after they become doctors. Private schools have more flexibility regarding state preference.
Before you apply to a combined undergraduate/MD program, make sure you do your research. Every school is unique in its requirements and preferences. You want to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into before you make a commitment that can change the rest of your life.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter @ProspectiveDr