By Jessica Friedman
For students who are fully committed to a career in medicine, combined programs – those that grant you acceptance to both undergraduate college and medical school – can be a great option. They allow you to earn a bachelor of arts or science and a medical degree and are called BS/BA-MD programs. Some programs are as long as 8 years (4 years of college and 4 years of medical school), some are 7 years (3 years of college and 4 years of medical school) and a few are 6 years (2 years of college and 4 years of medical school). The more abbreviated programs are especially rigorous since you complete your college degree in a shorter time. Students in these programs often are in school year round.
Before deciding to apply to combined programs, you should understand the plusses and minuses of doing so.
You Can Commit Yourself to Medicine from Day 1
A focused and committed student typically thrives in a combined program. You will be surrounded by like-minded peers who are as motivated as you are. Whether in an 8-, 7-, or 6-year program, you “gain time,” which gives you the flexibility to enhance your career or education after completing your combined program by doing research or getting an MPH, for example.
You Avoid the Medical School Application Process
The medical school application process is long and complex. By having a guaranteed medical school admission, you avoid this experience and sometimes are not required to take the MCAT. This may lead to less overall stress. For some students, avoiding a second admissions process can be viewed as a real bonus.
Combined Programs Are Extremely Competitive
Some students apply to combined programs because they believe this path will be less competitive than applying to college first and then medical school. This is a misconception, however. Successful applicants to combined programs are extremely accomplished. Not only is it necessary to earn great grades and test scores in high school, but these applicants typically have research experience, exposure to medicine in some capacity (shadowing is most common), and often excel in another area as well, whether in community service, athletics, or the arts. Indeed, successful combined program applicants are often more accomplished than “traditional” medical school applicants.
The Accelerated Admissions Process is Complex
Since applicants to combined programs are applying to 2 types of programs at the same time (college and medical school), the admissions process is complicated. It requires students to complete both the college common application and a medical school application for each school in which they are interested. A medical school interview also is required for admission. So the student applying to a combined program must write more essays, complete more applications, and go on more interviews.
Once Admitted, You Must Still Do Well in College
Most combined programs require that students earn a minimum GPA (typically a 3.5 overall) in college to keep their medical school spot. If a student drops below this GPA, the admission to medical school may be rescinded. Some programs also require students to take the MCAT.
The Undergraduate Colleges Associated with Programs May Not Be Your Top Choice
Applicants to combined programs tend to be highly motivated and successful people inside and outside of the classroom. Most combined programs are not associated with top-tier undergraduate colleges, however. Therefore, when deciding whether or not to apply to combined programs, students must realize they could likely gain acceptance to a much more selective college than is associated with the programs to which they are applying. Most students, since they must complete the common application as a part of this process anyway, decide also to apply to their top choice selective colleges, which means submitting 2 stellar applications – the common college application and the medical school application required of each medical school. Then, once the student knows where he or she has been accepted, he may decide to go the “traditional route,” which might afford the opportunity to go a top-notch college rather than the lower ranked college that would be a part of a combined program.
Less Academic, Extracurricular, and Social Freedom
In programs that are essentially “condensed,” students have fewer options to explore and discover all their academic interests because combined programs typically offer less curricular flexibility than traditional ones. And since summers are spent working and studying, students don’t have as many options to work (or play!) in the summer, to travel, study abroad, or participate in extracurricular activities. Because of the intensive and serious nature of combined programs, students may also have less time to socialize, spend time with friends, and participate in traditional college activities. For these reasons, many students decide to go the more traditional route so they can have a fuller college experience.
In short, combined programs can offer the intensity, direction, and focus that the exceptional student who is mature and fully committed to a career in medicine needs to thrive in her education and career. However, for the student who is interested in medicine but also has other interests she wants to explore, or who prefers a more typical college experience, these programs can hinder overall development and maturation. Whether or not to pursue a combined program is really a personal decision that each individual should consider carefully by weighing the positive and the negatives of this path.
About the Authors:
Jessica Freedman, MD is the MedEdits Medical Admissions Founder and President. Cindy Milwe is a Senior College Advisor at MedEdits Medical Admissions, the nation’s leading medical school admissions company. MedEdits empowers students applying to college, combined medical programs, medical school, residency, and fellowship.