For some students, college is a time of exploration and discovery. You try on a few different subjects and figure out what you like—and what you don’t. On the other hand, some students graduate high school knowing exactly what they’d like to do in the future.
If that sounds like you, and if you’d like to become a doctor, a BS/MD program might be for you. These programs offer a simplified path to a medical degree, plus added benefits like reduced pressure and unique opportunities. In this guide, we’ll examine everything you need to know about BS/MD programs.
About BS/MD Programs
We’ll start with the basics. What are BS/MD programs, what are the pros and cons, and how do you know if a BS/MD program is right for you?
What are BS/MD programs?
BS/MD programs allow you to apply for both your undergraduate program and your medical school program at the same time. If you’re accepted, you’ll commit to both the college and the college’s medical school, all before officially graduating from high school.
After earning your undergraduate Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, you’ll proceed directly into the medical program and earn your Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. This means you get to skip the tedious, expensive, and competitive process of applying to medical school. For this reason, they are sometimes called “direct medical programs.”
Of course, you can’t just party for four years and still expect a guaranteed spot in med school. You will still need to take certain prerequisite courses, maintain a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA), and meet any other requirements of the program. Some programs may require a minimum score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Other programs don’t require you to take the MCAT at all.
What are BA/MD programs?
BA/MD programs function just like BS/MD programs. The only difference is that you’ll earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) instead of a BS.
What’s the difference between a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts?
BS degrees focus on technical and scientific topics. You might major in subjects like biochemistry, engineering, mathematics, biology, physics, or computer science.
Bachelor of Arts degrees focus on history, foreign languages, literature, social sciences like psychology and sociology, and communications.
While some programs are specifically BS/MD or BA/MD, others allow you to earn either a BS or a BA through the program.
What other types of related programs are there? What are the differences?
Applying to college can be confusing, especially with all the unfamiliar terminology. Here are a few similar programs and the differences between them.
Early Assurance Programs
Some colleges offer Early Assurance Programs for undergraduate students who are committed to pursuing a medical degree. Similar to BS/MD programs, these programs allow students to apply and receive acceptance to medical school early.
Here’s the key difference: You usually apply to Early Assurance Programs after successfully completing your first two years of undergrad. So, you don’t apply while you’re still in high school. Your application to the Early Assurance Program is separate from your application to the college itself.
If you’re not 100% sure you’d like to be a doctor, finding a school with an Early Assurance Program is a good alternative to the BS/MD program. You have two extra years to decide on your career path, but you still have the option to pursue early acceptance to med school.
BS/DO programs work just like BS/MD programs, but the medical school degree you’ll earn differs slightly. Instead of a Doctor of Medicine (MD), you’ll earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).
Both MDs and DOs are licensed doctors who complete residency programs and a rigorous medical curriculum. The main difference is that MDs study allopathic medicine, while DOs learn osteopathic medicine.
Osteopathic medicine is considered a “whole person” approach to illness. DOs consider how factors like lifestyle and environment contribute to a patient’s well-being. They often take a preventive approach to health. DO students complete additional hands-on musculoskeletal training called osteopathic manipulative treatment.
On the other hand, MDs focus more on diagnosing and treating existing medical conditions by looking at signs and symptoms, then recommending surgery or medication. However, MD programs increasingly teach holistic and preventive approaches too. The two degrees are very similar and lead to the same credentials and profession.
Accelerated BS/MD Programs
Traditional BS/MD programs make the path to becoming a doctor smoother, but they don’t necessarily make it faster. If you’re interested in completing your education faster, you may want to look into accelerated BS/MD programs.
These programs allow students to complete their medical education in six or seven years. This saves you time and money, but it does require intense focus and hard work.
How long are BS/MD programs?
So, how long is a traditional BS/MD program? Most of these programs follow the typical medical school format, taking eight years to complete. You won’t go through the standard process of applying to med school, but the basic curriculum and program of study remain the same.
If you’re looking for a shorter program, look into an accelerated direct medical program. Traditional BS/MD programs offer many benefits, but acceleration is usually not one of them.
How do I know if a BS/MD program is right for me?
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re considering a BS/MD program:
- Am I sure that I want to be a doctor?
- Am I willing to commit to this particular medical school right now?
- What are the requirements to remain in this program, and am I up to the challenge?
Committing to a college, a medical school, and a career path is a lot for a high school student. Ask yourself how sure you are about your decision. If you need more time to shop around, that’s completely understandable!
In addition, it’s a good idea to look up the requirements of the BS/MD programs you’re considering. What minimum GPA will you need to maintain? What prerequisite courses do you have to take? Will you need to take the MCAT, and what score is required?
Once you’ve considered these questions, weigh the pros and cons below to decide if a BS/MD program is right for you.
What are the pros and cons of BS/MD programs?
The pros of BS/MD programs include:
- Reduced pressure and the relief of an early seat in medical school
- Potentially getting to skip the MCAT (or only needing to achieve a minimum threshold score)
- Spending eight years in the same location networking and building valuable connections
- Early access to medical facilities and sometimes med school faculty
Possible cons of BS/MD programs include:
- Committing to a career path early
- Committing to a medical school early
- Challenging expectations within the program
It’s important to note that although you’re committing to a career early, many BS/MD programs still provide opportunities to explore other interests and passions.
At Brown PLME, for instance, students can work toward a bachelor’s degree in the sciences, humanities, social sciences, or behavioral sciences. During sophomore year, students collaborate with an adviser to create an individualized educational plan. The goal of the program is enrichment, with Brown stating, “A great physician is one whose mind has been enriched by the broadest possible social, cultural, and historical contexts.”
Northwestern HPME is similar. Students can earn a BS or BA in almost any field, with the option for a full year of study abroad. Students build a customized plan with an adviser, who ensures that the student still completes prerequisites in chemistry, biology, and physics.
Depending on the program you choose, a BS/MD program can actually offer more flexibility than the traditional path. Knowing that your med school seat is secure and your school will guide you on prerequisite requirements, you’ll also have freedom to focus on other subjects that inspire and excite you.
Of course, you are still expected to complete a medical school degree and become a doctor at the end of the program. If you’re confident that a career in medicine is the right path for you, a BS/MD program can offer many unique advantages.
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How hard are BS/MD programs to get into?
BS/MD programs are seeking high-achieving students who have already demonstrated the ability to handle the rigor of med school and a career in the medical field. For that reason, earning an acceptance to one of these programs is challenging.
Because of the advantages BS/MD programs offer, many students are drawn to them. However, most BS/MD programs accept around 15-40 students. Some accept as few as five, and even large programs admit less than 100 students. With hundreds or even thousands of applications for these few seats, it’s safe to say that BS/MD programs are highly competitive.
In addition, the application process for BS/MD programs is more extensive than the typical application process. You’ll likely need to write extra essays and sit for an interview.
What are BS/MD program acceptance rates?
Acceptance rates vary, but many BS/MD programs have an acceptance rate ranging from 1-5%. Less selective programs may accept closer to 10% of applicants. Still, this number is on par with the acceptance rates of Ivy League universities.
The competition is tough, but don’t let these numbers discourage you from applying, especially if you have a strong background in science and/or research. In the next section, we’ll discuss applying to BS/MD programs and share some helpful tips. Plus, the only way to guarantee you won’t get in is to not apply.
Do I need to be a valedictorian to get into a BS/MD program?
You don’t need to be a valedictorian to get into a BS/MD program. However, it’s certainly helpful to be near the top of your graduating class. Some programs require applicants to be in the top 5-10% of their class to be considered. Look into the requirements of the BS/MD programs you’re interested in to make sure you qualify for admission.
Are BS/MD programs hard to stay in?
If you’re accepted to a BS/MD program, you’ll have to meet certain requirements to remain in the program. These may include maintaining a minimum GPA, taking and passing certain prerequisite classes, and possibly earning a minimum score on the MCAT.
If you’re focused, engaged, and working hard in the program, meeting these requirements shouldn’t be overly challenging. You’ll also have resources like your classmates, advisers, and professors to support you along the way.
Am I guaranteed to get into med school if I attend a BS/MD program?
Technically, your admission to medical school is “conditional.” But if you meet basic requirements like GPA, prerequisites, and sometimes MCAT score, the med school spot is yours. You won’t need to complete another application process or go through an anxious waiting period to see if you were accepted.
Applying to BS/MD Programs
If you’ve decided that a BS/MD program is right for you, you’ll need to apply. The application process is rigorous and competitive, but these tips will help you put your best foot forward.
How should I choose which BS/MD programs to apply to?
Choosing a BS/MD program is a lot like choosing any college. Look at location, acceptance rates, and tuition. Find out what classes you might take, what unique benefits the program offers, and whether you’ll have access to internships, study abroad, or other opportunities that interest you. If there’s a certain undergraduate degree you’d love to pursue, see which programs will allow you to do so.
Remember to see what the requirements are to stay in the program. Look into prerequisite courses and minimum GPA requirements. Will you need to take the MCAT? If so, what score will you have to earn?
If possible, it’s always a good idea to talk to current or former students, take a tour, and/or attend an info session. If you don’t know any current or former students, it’s also helpful to browse online forums like Reddit for student opinions and feedback.
You should look into the medical school you’ll be attending, but don’t forget to learn about the undergraduate college too. Undergrad will be a significant part of your college experience, and it’s the highlight for many students. Don’t apply to a BS/MD program at a school you wouldn’t want to attend otherwise. Find a BS/MD program that fits your needs at a school you genuinely like.
What is the BS/MD program application process?
The exact application process varies by program. Some schools have a separate BS/MD application, while others only ask you to answer additional essay questions on the traditional application. Some BS/MD programs require you to request an application. These programs only send applications to student who have demonstrated the academic aptitude and achievement they’re looking for.
You will need to complete standard application requirements when applying for a BS/MD program, as well as requirements that are specific to the program. Additional requirements may include counselor and teacher recommendations, essay questions, SAT Subject Tests, and portfolios. Sometimes, these are “recommended” or “strongly recommended.” Remember how competitive these programs are, and send all requested information, whether it’s recommended or required.
Most BS/MD programs invite top candidates for interviews before sending acceptance letters. Others offer optional alumni interviews. You may be interviewed in a group, one-on-one, or even in a series of interviews. You can expect questions about your interest in medicine, your interest in the program you’ve applied to, and background information and experiences.
What’s the timeline for applying to a BS/MD program?
In general, the timeline for applying to BS/MD programs looks like this:
- Applications available: August-October
- Applications due: November-January
- Interviews: December-March
- Decisions/Acceptance letters: March-April
If you’re considering applying early, there are a few things to keep in mind. Some BS/MD programs don’t accept early applications. Students must apply regular decision.
Other BS/MD programs do allow early applications. If the school has binding early decision, here’s an important scenario to keep in mind: You might be accepted to the undergraduate college, but not accepted to the BS/MD program.
In this scenario, you are still bound to attend the undergraduate school, even though you didn’t get into the BS/MD program. Before applying early, ask yourself: Do I want to attend this school even if I’m not in the BS/MD program? If you’re not sure, it’s safest to apply regular decision.
What are the best strategies to getting into a BS/MD program?
To get into a BS/MD program, you’ll need stellar SAT/ACT scores and a highly competitive GPA. You should be in the top 5-10% of your class, at minimum.
Of course, most applicants will have excellent academic qualifications. To stand out, it’s helpful to have experience and achievements in research, science, and/or medicine. If you can demonstrate aptitude and passion in these areas, you’ll show a commitment to the medical field—and a likelihood to succeed in med school and beyond.
Make sure this passion shines through in your essays and in your interviews too. It’s also important to demonstrate qualities that make a good doctor: compassion, sensitivity, communication skills, teamwork, emotional maturity, intellectual curiosity, motivation, etc.
Finally, do your research before writing essays and interviewing. You should understand some basics about the medical field—what an average day might be like for a doctor, qualities that make an excellent doctor, and why you want to be a doctor and would excel in the medical field. You should also be well-informed about the school and the BS/MD program you’re applying to.
How can I prepare for applying to a BS/MD program in high school?
If it’s early in your high school career, prepare to apply to a BS/MD program by doing some or all of the following:
- Take a rigorous schedule, especially in math and science, and maintain a high GPA.
- Be sure to take Calculus, at least two years of laboratory science, and AP Chemistry.
- Develop a strong relationship with a science teacher who can write you a glowing letter of recommendation.
- Earn high SAT scores.
- Get involved in extracurricular activities or programs related to science, mathematics, and/or medicine.
- Attend a summer program with a pre-med focus and/or a research-intensive summer program.
- If possible, volunteer at a local hospital and shadow a doctor. Start thinking about the important question, “Why medicine?”
- Seek out both leadership and teamwork opportunities. And remember that these opportunities aren’t just to pad your resume—work on truly developing these skills as much as possible.
- Many of the most competitive BS/MD candidates have been published in medical journals or demonstrated exceptional research aptitude. Look for opportunities to stand out with similarly prestigious achievements.
If you don’t have much time left before applying to college, focus on your essays and interview. Research the medical profession, the program you’re applying to, and the types of questions you’re likely to be asked.
Think about the experiences and personal qualities you have that make you an excellent candidate for med school and the medical profession. Ask yourself why you’d love to be a doctor. Learn specifics about the school—opportunities, courses, and unique aspects of the BS/MD program that you’re excited about.
Then, make sure these experiences and qualities shine through in every aspect of your essays and interview. Remember that these components of your application also call for a personal touch. Be yourself and show that you’re enthusiastic, compassionate, personable, and an excellent communicator.
Final Thoughts: Everything You Need to Know About BS/MD Programs
Getting into a BS/MD program isn’t easy, and the program itself is challenging. But for high school students who are committed to a career in medicine, these programs offer many benefits and advantages.
You don’t have to apply to medical schools, which is an expensive, stressful, and time-consuming process. You’ll have extra time to network and form connections, plus extra exposure to medical and research settings.
Throughout high school, prepare to be a competitive BS/MD candidate by focusing on math, science, research, and medicine. Demonstrate your passion and talent in these areas. In addition, it’s important to show excellent academic aptitude through your GPA and test scores.
If you’re certain that being a doctor is right for you, applying to a BS/MD program is a great way to simplify your path to a medical career.