finding the right major

BS/MD Combined Programs

If you aspire to attend an elite university to obtain a Bachelor’s degree and then continue your education in medical school to obtain an MD degree, then a combined BS/MD program may be right for you. These programs also referred to as Joint-Degree, Direct Medical, and Guaranteed Medical Admission programs, facilitate the preparation of students for medical school and a career in medicine. Students advance directly from their Bachelor’s program (usually a BS but, in a few schools, a BA) to the university’s medical school without the need to undergo that school’s application process.

There are over 60 institutions in the U.S. that offer combined BS/MD programs, some of which are among the best schools in the country at the undergraduate level, including Brown, Tufts, University of Rochester, Virginia Commonwealth, Washington University in St. Louis, Case Western, Drexel, and Northwestern.

Each program’s medical school is part of the same university or is an affiliated medical school in the same university system. For instance, the SUNY BS/MD program offers students the choice of attending several medical schools within the SUNY system. In contrast, the Tufts University program is structured so that students attend Tufts both as undergraduates and medical students.

Because BS/MD programs are so demanding, they aren’t right for all students who may be interested in a career in medicine. Interests evolve, and for those students who think they may want to go into medicine, but aren’t one hundred percent sure that it is the right career path for them, it may be better to pursue a conventional pre-med program in college and consider other options should they prove to be more exciting.

It should also be noted that the requirements for even being “in the mix” to be considered by admissions committees for BS/MD programs are exceptionally high. Standardized test scores need to be at the very top. Transcripts should be filled with A’s and the most rigorous courses available in all subjects, but especially in the sciences.

There must be a long-term demonstrated track record of extracurricular and research activities that are medically related. In essence, a student will be much more attractive to admissions committees considering the applicant for BS/MD programs if the student can make the case that he or she does not simply want to be a doctor, but needs to be a doctor to help others – the student simply could not conceive of doing anything other than being a physician.

Even though BS/MD programs are extremely rigorous, requiring a commitment to medicine at an early age, there are compensating benefits that include a clearly defined academic path. You also may study in one university where you’ll become comfortable with your fellow students, the faculty, and the university’s medical education facilities.

An additional benefit is that, as a student in a BS/MD program, you won’t need to apply at a later point to medical school. In most cases, you’ll undergo the admissions process just once while in high school. However, in a few programs, students need to complete a secondary screening process as undergraduates.

There are BS/MD programs such as Brown University’s in which students at the undergraduate level don’t need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to advance to its medical school. In other programs, underclassmen are only considered to be “pre-accepted” to the medical school. These programs require that students meet certain requirements for advancement to the medical school.  Among these may be an acceptable score on the MCAT. Another condition may be that students maintain a certain GPA in their science courses.

Many combined programs are of the same duration as the regular academic path. In other words, students are undergraduates for four years and then move on to the medical school for an additional four years. However, many other BS/MD programs are accelerated. They compress the time necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree so that the total duration of the program is seven years or, in some cases, six years.

What if you change your mind? BS/MD programs demand full commitment through years of intensive study. Yet your goals and preferences may shift significantly as you gain new experiences in college. Of course, opting out of the program and into a more conventional major is always possible, although some credits may be lost in the transition. However, if you opt out of the program but later decide that you will apply to medical school, you’ll need to succeed in the full process of medical school admissions — no simple task.

Combined programs are a serious undertaking for a young person. They may restrict flexibility in your curriculum. They’re intense, highly structured, and rigorous. They’re suitable for mature, highly motivated students only and they may not be right for other highly qualified high school students who aren’t yet dedicated to medicine as a vocation. As indicated above, there must be a viable record of sustained and deep-seated interest in pursuing a career in medicine. After all, high school students are being asked to make a decision to attend medical school that is normally made by college students that are four or five years their seniors, with more life-experience and a more sophisticated background in academics in general and the sciences in particular.

IvySelect can help you determine if you have the requisite high-level academic and extracurricular background as well as the demonstrated commitment to pursue a BS/MD program. If a BS/MD program is right for you, we have a great deal of expertise in helping you navigate the admissions process for this highly specialized program.