Though most medical school candidates take the same prerequisite classes to gain entry to medical school, the paths that aspiring physicians can take through those courses vary. Some future doctors do not take a single premedical class until after they have their undergraduate degree; others complete the courses within an undergraduate science major.
For a small number of high school students, the path to medical school is very linear: They apply to both college and medical school simultaneously during their senior year. For students in the majority of these accelerated or eight-year programs, medical school acceptance after two, three or four years of undergraduate work is guaranteed, provided the students maintain the level of academic performance their school expects.
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Students can complete accelerated programs in six or seven years, with two or three years of undergraduate study, while eight-year programs involve the standard four undergraduate years.
High schoolers strongly considering a career as a physician and interested in a streamlined or shortened path to a medical degree should ask themselves these three questions before applying to an accelerated or eight-year program.
1. Is this an accelerated or eight-year program, and how will that affect my academics?Eight-year program participants generally follow similar academic schedules to premedical students who are not part of any program. Brown University’s Program in Liberal Medical Education, for example, encourages students to pursue any major offered by the undergraduate college alongside the traditional premedical prerequisite classes.
Some eight-year programs do not require students to take summer classes, and students may be free to pursue many of the opportunities associated with a typical undergraduate trajectory. Note, however, that every eight-year program is different – if free summers or opportunities like study abroad are important to you, speak with the school before applying.
In contrast, students in six- or seven-year accelerated programs may experience less academic flexibility and may have to compromise on the traditional features of undergraduate education. For example, individuals enrolled in California Northstate University’s 2+4 or 3+4 program are expected to complete some of their undergraduate requirements in the summer.
This may prevent you from engaging in full-time research or internships that you may have otherwise enjoyed. In addition, some accelerated programs limit students to certain undergraduate majors related to science, technology, engineering and math.
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2. How competitive is admission to this program, and am I an appropriate applicant?Most accelerated and eight-year programs have very high academic standards, as well as an expectation that you have previously been exposed to health care delivery. Though standards for individual programs differ, many ask that you submit ACT or SAT scores in the highest percentiles.
For instance, the University of South Florida’s seven-year medical program requires an overall ACT score of 32 or combined SAT Critical Reading and Math scores of 1470. Programs also require a high school GPA that reflects superior performance in challenging classes.
If you do not meet the minimum academic standards for programs of interest, you may need to reconsider and opt instead to apply to medical school following your undergraduate studies via the traditional route.
In addition, if your extracurriculars do not reflect a serious consideration of a career in medicine, it may be better to wait until after college to apply to medical school. A competitive application to accelerated and eight-year programs usually feature shadowing, volunteering or other contact with the health care system.
3. Am I committed to both the undergraduate institution and medical school? Deciding where to spend the next four years of your life is a difficult task. Deciding where to spend the next six to eight years is even more difficult.
Be sure to do extensive research on both the undergraduate colleges and the medical schools that are affiliated with your programs of interest. You may find that while one of the two schools is aligned with your interests, the other is not an ideal fit for you.
Both your undergraduate and medical school years are crucial in influencing the worldview you will carry with you into practice as a physician. Be sure that you are ready to commit to both institutions to which you are applying, since some programs require you to attend their medical school.