Many high schoolers aspire to work in the medical field and become a doctor one day, but they might be less clear on how to start the long process of medical education they need when applying for their undergraduate college. While there are many paths to medical school, there are two pre-determined routes that will set you up well for acceptance to your top choice medical school: a Pre-Med track and BA/MD and BS/MD programs.
Here is everything you need to know about these potential paths to a career in medicine.
What does “Pre-Med” mean?
Pre-Med, short for Pre-Medical, is not technically a major at most undergraduate colleges. Instead, it’s a track that students can take to ensure that they take all the necessary courses that medical schools will be looking at and receive career guidance from an advisor at the school. It is a way of specializing and preparing yourself from the get-go to apply to medical school and ace the MCAT when the time comes. There are also similar tracks that are called something other than Pre-Med, such as Cornell’s Pre-Health program.
But if your dream school doesn’t technically have a Pre-Med track, don’t worry. You can still ask advisors and professors what courses and opportunities you should be taking. The amount and subject matter of the courses that medical schools look for can vary widely from school to school — for instance, look at Harvard Medical School’s extensive list of prerequisites. However, they can’t technically require these courses since the offerings are different at different schools, so they say they’ll “consider alternative course formats or combinations that demonstrate equivalent preparation.”
How do I apply for Pre-Med?
You don’t necessarily apply specifically for Pre-Med at most schools — often, you indicate Pre-Med as your intended track on the general school application/Common App, but you’ll still need to pick a major (Biology, Chemistry, etc. are all ideal choices to accompany Pre-Med, but there are no hard and fast rules in many cases). Then, once you’re in, you just indicate to your dean or advisor that you would like to pursue the Pre-Med track.
However, if you’re seriously interested in Pre-Med, you’ll need to research schools and come up with a list of schools that offer this track. Again, it’s by no means necessary to get into medical school, but it may give you a leg up down the road. Also, check out what the medical school acceptance rate is for each school if that information is available.
Pros and Cons of Pre-Med
PROS: It will set you up well to go to medical school, as previously mentioned, and these challenging courses will give you a wealth of knowledge about your intended profession. It will also likely help you secure research positions, fellowships, and other extracurricular opportunities in the medical field as an undergraduate student. You’ll also receive more specialized support and career guidance from professors and advisors at many schools. If you’re sure you’re pursuing medicine, this is the ideal path for you.
CONS: The Pre-Med track is often known as one of the most difficult and time-consuming on college campuses. It’s an intense, STEM-heavy course load that usually begins in freshman and sophomore year, often before the rest of the students pick their majors in liberal arts colleges. It requires a lot of work and sacrifice, and it does limit the diversity of courses you will have room in your schedule to take. If you’re not 100% sure you want to pursue medicine, you may want to just major in biology and take up Pre-Med when you’re ready if possible.
What are BA/MD and BS/MD programs?
BA/MD and BS/MD programs are a much more selective and formalized approach to going to medical school, but they’re only for students who are committed to pursuing an M.D. As the name suggests, these programs guarantee acceptance into a certain medical school upon completing an undergraduate degree (either a BA or BS, depending on the school). You can apply for these programs as a high school senior or as an upperclassman in college, and you will probably still have to take the MCAT.
It may also be a six- or seven-year program, as opposed to the traditional eight-year route that is necessary for both the undergraduate and graduate degrees. This is known specifically as an “Accelerated” program. Some schools also refer to their BA/MD or BS/MD programs as “Early Assurance,” but they’re effectively the same thing, save for potentially when a student applies to the program.
Also, your standardized test scores will be important. While some schools are going test-optional for general applicants for the foreseeable future, the majority of these programs require high SAT and ACT math scores, particularly, as you might guess, in the STEM-related sections. The rest of the applications mainly consist of essays (especially the “Why do you want to pursue medicine?” question), letters of recommendation (can be as many as 5 like at Sophie Davis/CUNY School of Medicine), interviews (usually more formal than most traditional college admissions interviews), and potentially more supplements during the rounds of admission. And they’re often due early in November or December and are submitted in addition to your usual Common App, if applicable. It is also possible to be rejected from a BA/MD and BS/MD program but still be accepted to the general university, so it’s important to carefully consider your whole application.
How do I apply to BA/MD and BS/MD programs?
While these programs may sound like a dream come true, they’re incredibly difficult to get into. Acceptance rates hover around 5-10% with some schools being as low as 3% — Drexel’s acceptance rate for the 2020 cycle ended up being 2.8%. Some schools take as few as five students every year, and your GPA usually needs to be around 3.8-4.0 if not higher. University of Pittsburgh’s BS/MD program even requires that students “earn the highest GPA possible in their high school in the context of a curriculum showing academic rigor.” It’s important if you’re thinking of applying to these programs to try and gain clinical experience of some kind while in high school, ideally in a research setting.
The best course of action is to plan early. Starting in freshman year, take the most rigorous STEM classes you can, and keep your GPA high. When you’re not in school, pursue health-related extracurriculars, internships, and research opportunities if you can — anything that will give you an edge on the application. It’s even better if you can win awards at science fairs and for your research papers in order to distinguish yourself. Then, once you’re a rising senior, create a list of the best-fit programs for you, research and seek out information from the schools, and start writing your essays and getting recommendation letters as soon as possible.
Pros and Cons of BA/MD and BS/MD Programs
PROS: A guarantee or at least extremely high likelihood of getting into medical school is a relief for students who are dead set on pursuing medicine. Even though you’ll still have to pass the MCAT, you don’t have to stress about the medical school admissions process after graduating, and you’ll probably be done before your peers who followed the traditional, 8-year path. You’ll also have unique access to opportunities that other students may not, and it’s a respectable accomplishment to put on your resume.
CONS: All of the cons of Pre-Med — time-consuming, intense course load that will severely limit your ability to academically explore — are amplified in BA/MD and BS/MD programs. Especially in accelerated programs, you’re going to be exposed to higher-level material earlier on, and these programs will have higher expectations and requirements than a typical Pre-Med track, like an ongoing GPA requirement throughout undergrad, usually around a 3.5. And if you’re not sure about med school, obviously, this would not be a good fit for you.
List of BA/MD and BS/MD Programs in the US
Here is a complete list of all the BA/MD and BS/MD programs in the US as of 2021:
California Northstate University College of Medicine
University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine
Working on your Pre-Med or BA/MD and BS/MD program application? We’re here to help — set up a free consultation today.