If you dream of being a doctor, you probably already know that the road to medical school is arduous and highly competitive. With many medical schools offering admission to less than 4% of applicants, it is important to think critically about which college or university will set you up for success on your path to graduate study. but what qualities or characteristics should you keep in mind when choosing a pre-med program? And once you are enrolled, how can you begin to prepare for medical school during your undergraduate years?
Choosing a Pre Med Program
As you weigh your options for pre med programs, consider these important factors:
Graduates' medical school acceptance rates
Given the competitiveness of the medical school admissions landscape, the undergraduate institution you attend can impact your chances of acceptance to highly-ranked medical schools – many elite universities boast graduate acceptance rates in the 90s. While some schools may not list their graduates’ acceptance rates, you can also work backwards by looking at a particular medical school’s profile, which should list the undergraduate institutions from which its incoming class graduated. If you see a particular undergraduate premedical program names in a number of these pages, you can trust that this is a rigorous and well-respected program for preparing graduates for the competitive world of medical school admissions.
Percentage of matriculation
This is an often overlooked statistic, but it’s critical in providing you with some perspective on an individual school’s pre-med culture. Of course, it’s common for students to enter college with one major and change their course of study along the way, but a lower percentage might indicate that a school does not have adequate resources to accommodate all of its pre-med students, or that grade deflation is in practice.
Many schools will boast impressive-sounding anecdotes of students getting involved with laboratory work, but take the time to figure out exactly how to receptive most professors are to having undergraduate assistants. At a huge research university, for example, graduate students often win out over undergrads in terms of lab opportunities, so check to see how common it is for pre med students to participate. In order to combat the disproportionate allocation of opportunities to graduate students, many schools now offer specific undergraduate research pathways and programs, so be sure to ask whether the college of university you’re interested in has such a program.
Student organizations and on-campus activities
While this is not the mist critical consideration, it can be helpful to have the added support that comes with an organized pre-medical student group. Oftentimes, these groups are affiliated with university advising systems, making it easier to get the help you need as you navigate the complex process of applying to medical school.
Is a BS/MD Program Right For You?
Talented and hardworking high school students who are confident that the pre-medical track is right for them might consider applying to BS/MD programs in addition to traditional four-year colleges. While students interested in medical school typically apply to medical school during their senior year of undergraduate study, students in combined BS/MD programs forgo the formal application process and immediately enter a specific medical school that is affiliated with the undergraduate institution. BS/MD programs typically take 7-8 years to complete, depending on the program’s intensity – while some extend over eight years and allow or encourage a gap between the BS and MS, seven-year programs are higher intensity and move directly from the BS into MS study. In addition, different programs approach their curricular with different pedagogical philosophies, so its important to evaluate what learning environment is best for you. For instance, Brown’s undergraduate open curriculum encourages students to take classes outside of their major requirements, and the interdisciplinarity of Brown’s educational philosophy is similarly reflected in their eight-year Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME). Enrolling in a program like Brown’s would offer a more holistic, and socially conscious medical education, whereas other schools may approach their curriculum with a more traditional focus on biology and physiology coursework.
Regardless of the particular school you choose, these programs are rigorous and can vary greatly in their structure and curriculum, so it is important to critically weigh your options to determine whether a BS/MD is a good fit for you. Here are three key insights to take into consideration:
You can be "admitted" to medical school early
Combined BS/MD programs are unique because the offer seniors in high school conditional acceptance into medical school. If you’re sure you want to pursue an MD, a combined program can alleviate a lot of stress during undergraduate years, Some schools allow students in BS/MD programs to opt out of taking the MCAT altogether if they maintain a particular GPA, while other schools guarantee acceptance into their MS program ti students in the program with certain MCAT scores, alleviating some of the pressure caused by testing and allowing students to focus on getting involved in research and developing other passions.
Your grades and scores still matter
While being accepted into a BS/Md program includes a conditional offer of admission for medical school, programs are entitled to set standards that must still be met. For example, the Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program, which offers students the opportunity to receive a BS from Rive University in Houston and then a MD from Baylor College of Medicine, mandated that students maintain at least a 3.5 GPA, both in science courses and overall . Students must also still take the MCAT, a test required of undergraduates wishing to apply to medical schools through the more traditional route. However, when you compare this requirement to the 3.88 average GPA of incoming Baylor Medical School students in 2017, you can see one of the clear advantages of the BS/MD path.
Applying to a BS/MD program is different from applying to a traditional 4-year colleges.
BS/MD programs are intended for serious and dedicated students who are able to decide on a future career path with clarity at a young age. As such, the application process for these programs is particularly demanding and requires specialized and focus. Rather than merely evaluating you as a strong potential contributor to a college campus and an exceptionally bright student, committees for these programs are trying to determine whether or not you will make a wise and compassionate physician. These metrics are obviously quite different, so its important to tailor your approach when applying. Our trained counselors know what it takes to be admitted to and thrive in a BS/MD program. In addition to strong test scores and grades, emotional intelligence plays a large factor in determining which applicants have that maturity and perspective to succeed.
Preparing for Pre Med and Beyond
Even if you will not be enrolling in a BS/MD program, it’s important to start preparing for medical school early. To that end, it’s a good idea to have a general sense of what to expect if you intend to pursue a pre-medical track. In order to eventually secure admission to medical school, these are multiple steps you’ll want to take when you’re a college student. Here we walk through an overview of what you should aim to accomplish as an undergraduate in order to be competitive and well-prepared for a career in medicine.
Consider your course load.
In order to apply to medical school, you’ll generally need to complete:
1 year of biology with a lab component
1 year of general chemistry with a lab
1 year of organic chemistry with a lab
1 year of physics with a lab
1 year of English
1 semester of biochemistry
More specifically, it’s often necessary to take these classes during your first couple of years of study. You will be tested on these topics when you take the MCAT, an entrance exam for medical schools that evaluates how prepared you are for advanced coursework in medicine. In addition to the above, you might want to tack on a semester each of psychology and sociology, topics that can be studied independently but will appear on the test in some form.
Of course, it’s imperative to do as well as possible in each of these courses. Medical schools will consider what’s called your “science GPA”, which is exactly what it sounds like – a grade point average consisting only of grades earned in science-related courses. The closer to a 4.0 this number is, the better, but realistically, you’ll need to have around a 3.9 to have a shot at top schools.
Get involved in research
You should start contacting professors early on in your freshman year in order to get leads on undergraduate involvement in scientific research. It’s critical to demonstrate this experience on your application to medical schools, so cast a wide net by reaching out to plenty of labs. If you need assistance with this, set up an appointment with an academic dean or advisor.
Medical schools want to feel assured that prospective students are aware of the demands of the field and have some up-close experience with real patients and physicians. In order to demonstrate this, be sure to spend time (beginning in your first year of college!) volunteering at a local hospital. The specifics of your duties as a volunteer are less important than the overall perspective you’ll gain from being in a clinical setting.
Take the MCAT
Before you can apply to medical school, you will need to take the MCAT, a standardized test that measures your knowledge and abilities in four core sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. the test takes 7.5 hours to complete.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I get into medical school without an MCAT score?
While certain schools do not require the MCAT, it is advisable to take the test and submit your scores to each school to which you are applying.
Is a combined BS/MD worth it?
If you feel certain that medical school is in your future, a BS/MD program can be an expeditious way to complete your degree and break into the profession sooner. However, keep in mind that BS/MD programs are intensive, so consider not only your future goals but also your learning style, capabilities, and goals for your college experience before committing to the BS/MD track.
What should I consider when choosing a pre med program?
When choosing between pre med programs, the most important factors to take into consideration include rates of med school acceptance and matriculation amongst the schools’ graduates, as well as the school’s resources, research opportunities, and student organizations.