Choosing a Combined Bachelors/M.D. Program

Question: My daughter, who is in middle school, is already interested in accelerated medical programs. What colleges do you support?

We support ANY combined medical program that will admit your daughter. It’s a sellers’ market out there!

Seriously, these programs are SO competitive that they typically admit only Ivy-caliber students and can be as selective as the Ivies (or more so!) and also as unpredictable. Even colleges that are not terribly picky when it comes to the rest of their applicant pool will turn away all but the strongest combo-med candidates. For instance, several years ago I visited Drew University in New Jersey. There, the typical admitted freshman has combined SAT scores (Math and Critical Reading only) of just under 1200, but the combo med candidates must have 1400 minimum simply to apply. In fact, an admission official I met during my visit told me that, although 1400 is the cut-off for applications, the accepted students more commonly have SAT’s above 1500. So, just because a college or university seems well within your daughter’s reach, keep in mind that the combo-med candidates are held to a far higher standard. Last year, for instance, I had an advisee who was denied by Boston University’s combined med program, and she is now a student at Yale.

In addition to having near-perfect grades and test scores, your daughter must also demonstrate significant interest in the medical profession and be able to speak convincingly in at least one interview–and sometimes several–about her reasons for choosing this profession at an early age. Admission officials at combo med programs carefully scrutinize all applicants’ reasons for hopping on this fast track as teenagers.

Note also that, although you use the term “Accelerated Medical Program,” I am actually addressing any type of combined bachelors/MD program. All of these typically enable students to be accepted to both undergraduate school and medical school at the same time, when they are still just in the senior year of high school. In fact, some combo programs are 7 (or even 6) years in duration, while others are 8, which is the normal amount of time that most students spend in undergraduate college, then med school. (However, the 8-year combo-program students do not go through a full med school search and application process. So their medical career is also “accelerated” in that way.)

There are obviously pros and cons to combined programs. The pluses are that they enable motivated pre-med students to get a jump start on their medical education and to be able to forge ahead without going through yet another college search in just four years. To me, that’s the best part–the fact that students don’t have to go through this whole application song and dance before they’ve recovered from the first time around! The biggest down side is that students tend to get locked into both an institution and a career path when they are very young and may not be fully prepared to choose either. Just as one college can be markedly different from another, so too can medical schools vary widely. An 18-year-old might be fairly certain that he or she wants to be a doctor but rarely has a sense of whether to choose a research-oriented medical college, a very technical curriculum vs. one that may emphasize alternative medicine, etc.

Also (and very unofficially) I’ve heard directors of medical residency programs admit that they can be suspect of combo-program grads who may lag a couple years behind in maturity than their counterparts who are somewhat older and more seasoned.

I generally recommend that students who are applying to combined programs also apply to colleges or universities without them and then wait until April to make a decision. The combined programs tend to be highly competitive, as I’ve told you, so all applicants should have other, safer options anyway. (If your daughter is a member of an underrepresented minority group, there are a handful of programs that target these populations specifically and may have slightly less stringent admission requirements, especially when it comes to test-score cut-offs.)

When looking for program options, check out the Web site, below. This list is not complete, but pretty close:

http://www.medicalhelpnet.com/content/view/28/46/

As you investigate the combined med programs, contact admission offices and ask these questions:

1. Are the standards of admission to this program far higher than to the university at large? If so, if I am not admitted to the program, might I still be admitted to the university? If there is a minimum SAT score to be admitted, is it at all flexible? Must the score I submit be from a single testing? Will you consider comparable ACT scores if they are better than my SAT? Do most of the admitted applicants actually score well above this minimum?

2. If admitted to the combined program, will I have to maintain a certain GPA (or meet other requirements) to stay in it?

3. If I meet these requirements, are there any further requirements to move from being an undergraduate medical student to a “real” medical student? Will I be required to take MCATs to stay in the medical program? If so, what is your cut-off score?

4. If I decide that I do not wish to remain in the program while still an undergraduate, is it fairly easy for me to stay in the university and pursue another major or course of study?

5. Do students in this program ever earn their undergraduate degrees and then enroll in other medical schools instead of yours (or the one(s) affiliated with your combo program)?

6. Is it an 8-year program or an accelerated one?

7. How do I apply to this program? Do you have a separate application, or do I indicate on the university application that I wish to apply to the combined program?

8. Is an interview required? If so, will ALL applicants be interviewed or just those who pass a preliminary level of screening?

Since your daughter is not yet in high school, you’re wise to look down the road ahead, to make certain that she is selecting the most challenging classes–especially in math and science–that she can handle and also seeking out other medical-field enrichment opportunities (e.g.,. volunteering in a hospital or clinic, taking summer courses in the sciences or related areas). However, because she is so young, she also needs to recognize that she has time to change her mind. If she doesn’t seem 100% certain that a medical career is right for her, then “the Dean” prescribes a broader undergraduate degree. Your daughter can always aim for med school once she is more sure of her goals and has a couple years of college under her belt.

For more information on combo med admission and programs, check out the College Confidential discussion forum on this topic. Go to:

http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/forumdisplay.php?f=476