A Word on BS/MD Programs

BS MD Programs, Direct Med Programs, Direct Medicine Programs

We oppose BS/MD programs — but we sure do know how to help students get into them (photo credit: Ad Meskens).

Regular readers of our college admissions blog know where we stand on the issue of BS/MD programs. Now don’t get us wrong — we’ve helped a number of students over the years earn admission to the most prestigious BS/MD program (Brown’s PLME program). But we’re not for students applying to these types of programs — we’re against them. In fact, we only help students apply to these programs after we’ve read them the riot act about why they should avoid these programs entirely. The vast majority of students who listen to our riot act listen to us and wisely choose not to apply to these programs. Maybe a student was considering applying to Boston University’s Seven-Year Liberal Arts/Medical Education Program. After listening to our riot act and working with us throughout the college admissions process, maybe that same student who was so strongly considering applying to BU’s program ended up attending Harvard. No direct medical program. Just Harvard. We write as though this student is a hypothetical student but this actually was a real student a few years ago. After he was admitted to Harvard, his father said to us, “And to think he was considering BU before! Seven year direct med program or not!”

Why We’re Against BS/MD Programs

We could sum up our opposition to BS/MD programs in one sentence. Would you rather receive brain surgery from a doctor with a Harvard University or Boston University diploma on his office wall? …Yeah, we thought so. So why would you apply to a direct medical program at a lower tier school — even if it does save you a year and the stress of taking the MCAT and applying to medical school — if you can get into a top tier school? It boggles our minds that students who can earn admission to our nation’s most elite schools would even consider such programs.

But it doesn’t end there. If you’re an Indian American applicant, now you have to present to college admissions officers that you wish to be a doctor…just like so many Indian American applicants. Your objective in the highly selective college admissions process should be to zig when others zag. Your objective should not be to present yourself in much the same way as so many of your peers do. Admissions officers are human beings. And human beings stereotype. They might think, “Another Indian American kid who wants to be a doctor. ZZZzzz.” It may hurt to hear it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Oh and just because you don’t present as wanting to be a doctor when you apply to college, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a doctor! Medicine isn’t a major. You can take the premed courses at any highly selective college irrespective of the major you choose. And the major you choose when you’re applying to college, well, that can change. In fact, that’s the beauty of a liberal arts education. BS/MD programs, which require you to declare you want to be a doctor from the outset, don’t really account for seventeen year-olds changing their career goals as often as they change their wardrobes.

But If You Do Insist on BS/MD Programs

But if you absolutely still insist on applying to these programs, we have one quick bit of advice. A piece up on “Forbes” today by Kristen Moon entitled “Getting Accepted Into A Direct Medical Program From High School: It Can Be Done!” offers some advice on optimizing your case for admission to BS/MD programs that we absolutely disagree with! In the piece, Moon writes, “The goal for BS/MD candidates should be perfect scores in the sciences. By focusing on the sciences, students avoid becoming overwhelmed with too many APs and challenging courses that are unrelated to their field. This allows them more time to explore extracurricular interests, which play a key role in admissions for direct medical programs.” No, no. If you’re looking at the top BS/MD programs, you can’t just excel in the sciences! They want to see that you excel in all subjects — not just science. A student with mediocre English and history grades and perfect science grades isn’t going to stand a chance at Brown’s PLME program.

We actually disagree with so much of what Moon writes in this piece — not the least of which is avoiding “‘easy’ AP courses.” What are “easy” AP courses? AP English Literature? AP Environmental Sciences — taken in addition to AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and AP Physics? Do tell. And is shadowing a doctor as an activity really a “wow”? Of course not! How many students can follow around a doctor? How many BS/MD applicants have parents who themselves are doctors? A college admissions officer is not going to be impressed that mom’s friend let the student follow her around all day. “Wow.” Oy vey is right.

Have a question about BS/MD programs? Let us know your questions, your concerns, and what you ate for breakfast by posting a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!


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  • KenC says:

    “Would you rather receive brain surgery from a doctor with a Harvard University or Boston University diploma on his office wall?”

    When you choose a surgeon for brain surgery, often you choose the hospital first. So, I’d choose a hospital like Mass General, in New England. If the chief neuro is from Harvard or BU, doesn’t really matter then.

    40 years ago, when my older brother was applying, he got into Johns Hopkins’ 7-yr program, and stayed a full 15yrs, getting his heart surgery residency done there as well. I suppose he could have gone to Harvard, but then he might still have ended up at Hopkins. I don’t think he has any regrets.

  • ivy dad says:

    “Would you rather receive brain surgery from a doctor with a Harvard University or Boston University diploma on his office wall? …Yeah, we thought so“.

    I usually agree with your view on things, but I m sorry, this as impractically elitist as it can get. Anybody familiar with the medical field knows that residency matters way more than which medical school one attends and prestige of undergraduate degree practically does not matter at all. So yes I would much rather get surgery from a BU grad (college or med school) who attended a stronger residency program than from a Harvard grad who attended a weaker residency program. Just look at the resident profiles at MGH for example – a huge number did not come from ivy league colleges or top 10 medical schools.

    Med school admissions is tough. Getting into a top tier college is by no means guarantee of admission to a good medical school or any medical school for that matter. I agree with you that BS/MD programs are not a good idea, but only because medical school is a huge commitment that no 16-17 yo kid is in a position to make and because i believe in the traditional 4-yr well-rounded college education offered at top colleges. The superficial reason you mention is not convincing, however.

    • Ivy Coach says:

      We never said where a physician does his or her residency doesn’t matter. But to suggest that it doesn’t matter where that physician goes to medical school doesn’t make much sense. In that case, why go to Boston University? Why not go to medical school on a tropical island outside the United States? We have a feeling you wouldn’t really want your brain operated on by a physician who didn’t go to a top medical school. It’s easy to say it. But then to go under that knife is a whole different story entirely…

      • KenC says:

        Not sure what the fascination is with BU Med. My only experience with them is playing ice hockey against their grad school team, and they were a very chippy team. I guess I wouldn’t want those players to be my neurosurgeon.

        As far as who you’d want to be your neurosurgeon, skill level might be more correlated with number of procedures done, rather than medical school attended. Of course top med schools and teaching hospitals also typically see the most cases. Still, having talked to my surgeon brother, I get the strong sense that a top surgeon needs to do alot of cases to stay a top surgeon.

  • Harish Jain says:

    I am looking for a result oriented coach with very high success record for my daughter who is rising junior in high school and interested in applying for BS/MD program.

  • sunjay shah says:

    For the right candidate who is heavily exposed to medicine and committed to being a physician, a BS/MD program has all kind of advantages. The medical school application process has become an unnecessary waste of valuable time consuming the real interests of college kids to prepare for an extremely competitive application process. Then you have a typical gap year, crazily high tuition expenses, and don’t start earning real money until you are in your thirties. If you can accelerate that process with a reasonably strong BS/MD program, you should go for it. Your 40 year old self will thank you.

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