10%... 10%... 6%... 3.6%... 3%!
These are the acceptance rates for the incredibly competitive accelerated/guaranteed medical programs.
Seven-year programs seem to be the new Ivies these days, considering how highly they are regarded by some students (especially those in my school, which is centered on medicine). I, personally, don’t share in the hype, although I do understand it.
But just a quick disclaimer before I get into the meat of this one: I am by no means discouraging or looking down on 7 year programs. I am just detailing why I don’t like them. Everyone has a different opinion and different priorities and different outlooks on life, and I don’t want anyone who likes these programs to take this post personally, because this is just how I feel about them.
And remember, my cons could be your pros - consider your personal situation before making any decision.
With that aside, let me explain what exactly a 7 (or 8) year combined MD program is.
Certain undergraduate universities throughout the country have partnered up with medical schools to offer a unique experience for highly motivated and outstanding high school students. They do this through combined BA/MD or BS/MD degrees. (BA = Bachelor of Arts, BS = Bachelor of Science, MD = medical degree.) You apply to these programs in your senior year of high school and, if selected, have an automatic and guaranteed spot in the medical school affiliated with the program. You first apply to the regular undergraduate program of the university and can then choose to enter a very competitive pool of individuals vying for extremely limited spaces in the actual combined medical program. If you are not accepted into the med program, you will then still be eligible to go to that university for normal undergraduate studies.
In the case of 7 year programs, you are going through an accelerated curriculum. In the “normal” pathway to medical school (I say “normal” cause it’s the generally expected route, but there are literally a million ways to become a doctor), you go through 4 years of undergrad, take the MCATS, apply to medical school, and (assuming you get in) complete 4 years of medical school before receiving an MD. In a 7 year program, one year is shaved off of your undergrad studies (through streamlined coursework, high school transfer credits, or summer credits). You then go to the affiliated medical school for the last 4 years of the program, making your pathway 3 + 4, instead of 4 + 4. These types of programs are known as accelerated med programs and there are a bunch of them throughout the country. New Jersey alone has a bunch (like TCNJ-NJMS) and Pennsylvania and New York have even more.
In contrast, 8 year programs feature a standard 4 + 4 route, which means you generally don’t have to give anything up in terms of your undergraduate experience. The only way they differ from the “normal” pathway is that you have guaranteed acceptance to the affiliated medical school, like in 7 year programs. You still receive your degrees at the normal times, but do not have the pressure of the “what-if-I-don’t-get-in” associated with applying to medical school normally. 8 year programs are also pretty widespread, and most schools with 7 year programs also have an 8 year option.
Both of these programs, because they offer guaranteed acceptance straight out of high school, only require you to achieve a minimum score on the MCATS taken in college, which is a major reason students go for these med programs. In fact, some don’t even have minimum requirements - you’re guaranteed regardless. However, a lot of programs do have a minimum GPA requirement that you have to maintain during undergrad to be eligible for the program (which can often be the most difficult part of the program).
Probably the best part of 7 year programs is that there’s always the choice of forgoing the program and your guaranteed acceptance. If by the end of your undergrad years you think you have a good enough GPA and MCAT scores to apply to and be competitive in other medical schools, you can do so. But for that, most (if not all) programs rescind your guaranteed acceptance, which introduces the risk associated with applying to med school and sorta kills the main point of the med program in the first place.
*Note* Not all the programs out there are combined BS(BA)/MD programs. If you think you are not competitive enough to apply to these programs, I encourage checking out combined BS(BA)/DO programs, which are basically the same. A DO is a Doctor of Osteopathy, with all the same responsibilities and scope of practice as an MD, but with a greater focus in holistic, or total body, medicine. DO programs are generally less competitive but get you to the same goal of becoming a doctor.
Now that all the information is out of the way, here are the reasons why I, personally, don’t like and am not considering 7- or 8-year med programs when I apply to schools this winter.
Here’s my entire feeling on the matter in one sentence - I’m not 100% about becoming a doctor, want to keep my options open, and don’t think that one less year will help or hurt me in any way.
1. The idea of applying to medical school when you’re 17
This and reason number 2 make up maybe 90% of my view against accelerated med programs. Now, this reason doesn’t really apply to everyone, and if I was reading this at age 14 I would think it didn’t apply to me at all either. Basically, I’m not sure enough if I want to go into medicine to make this decision in my senior year of high school.
When I started high school, I was like I-cannot-imagine-being-anything-other-than-a-doctor-how-dare-you-even-suggest-some-other-career. It was doctor or bust. But now that I am decidedly more educated, especially in the different fields medicine has to offer, I’m not sure if I’ll like medicine when I start to get into it. Of course, I’m not saying I won’t like it, just that there’s a doubt now. With a med program, I’ll feel like I’m so constrained to just this one career path that I won’t get the opportunity to explore more and explore further, beyond the cookie cutter pre-med. Just by being in this program I’ll feel like I’m obligated to become a doctor, and suggesting something else, even to myself, is like failing at the program, defeating the purpose of even applying in the first place.
Another part of this reason is that I don’t know how medical schools expect to choose teenagers (!) that will one day become good doctors, or even doctors at all. You literally know nothing about this kid’s future, yet you are gambling a med school spot on the hope that they end up where they wanted to in high school. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it’s one of the major reasons it’s so competitive to get in.
A massive 80% of undergraduate students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, changes their major at least once— with that high a likelihood of students wanting to switch career paths in the midst of their university educations, it is clear that not everyone that says they want to be a doctor is actually suited to be a doctor, and until they truly experience college education, it is unlikely they can fully comprehend what it really takes, with the rare exception. This is further evidenced by the vast number of freshmen who enter college as “Premed” in comparison to the much, much more minuscule number that actually apply, of whom less than half, per national average, will be admitted into medical school. This drop off differs based on school, but UC Berkeley is most notorious for this— with less than 10% of incoming premeds actually applying to medical school by their senior year.
Of course, if you realize you don’t want to do medicine anymore, it is possible to drop out of the program, and transfer somewhere else, or pursue another degree, or anything like that. But… there’s always a catch. Which brings me to my next point.
2. Having to settle with the undergraduate university
Now, the universities that offer med programs are not exactly what I would consider top schools. Not to say anything about people that go there, but for me personally one of the things I look for in a future uni is its prestige - in many way, high rankings are a direct translation and reflection of several other significant factors. And where I am currently in my overall high school standings/abilities/all that, I have faith in myself that I can get into better undergrad schools than those that offer the 7 year med programs. Let’s use the Temple 7 year med program as an example. Temple is a good school, and a not bad medical school (for most, any medical school is a good enough one). But I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that if I were to just apply to Temple undergrad, there would be a very high chance of me getting in. Now, I know this is a little twisted way of thinking about it, but this is generally my rule: if I wouldn’t go there for undergrad if the program didn’t exist, there’s no point in applying for the program. This pretty much crosses off all the programs I can think of, Temple, Drexel, TCNJ, etc., ‘cause I would not go to their respective undergrads if given the choice between those and others, like Rutgers.
Just based on me, I would not want to go to an undergrad environment where I feel like I’m only there because I’m waiting out the next three years, that I’m giving up challenges and reputation earlier on just for the idea of guaranteed acceptance. And this might be a little arrogant, but I do believe I have a good chance of getting into these med schools without guaranteed acceptance. Of course, I could be completely wrong and end up with a terrible GPA and MCAT score out of my first 4 years, but I choose to think I won’t.
Circling back to my first reason, if I realize the whole med school thing isn’t for me, I also don’t want to end up in a school or with a degree that will not help me in the future. (For example, if I decide to go to a 7 year program in TCNJ over undergrad in Johns Hopkins and drop out of the program, I’ll forever be wondering how much more a degree from JHU would’ve been worth than one from TCNJ). I don’t want to be limited in my choices, but if I realize too late, I’ll already be down that BS in Bio path, and from a university that I didn’t even think was worth it. There’s just a lot of risk in there, most likely exacerbated by my ridiculous pride of not settling for anything less than the best.
There are some universities that I would be willing to go to (aka are more competitive) that have med programs (but these med programs in turn are ridiculously competitive). The first that comes to mind being Brown University (the only program I am even thinking of applying to). There are also a bunch of others where you apply for guaranteed acceptance in your sophomore year, like in Northwestern for its affiliated med school, and Rutgers for Robert Wood Johnson Med School. If I end up going to Rutgers (a very high probability (there’s another post on this subject)) I’ll probably go for the RWJMS thing.
3. The missing year of undergrad
One of the biggest reasons students choose to go to 7 year med programs is the accelerated aspect; they have the resources and are forced to complete a regular undergraduate curriculum in three years instead of four. This might be a pro for many people, but I see it as more of a con. My own doctor graduated from a 7 year BS/MD program and the first thing she said to me when I asked her about the experience was “I really wish I had that extra year.”
To me, one year is chump change in the long run of becoming a doctor, where you are not going to be established or earning real money for another decade plus. In that one year you can do anything – take random interesting classes, study abroad, join a medical brigade, do a minor, so many more things (disclaimer: you can still do these things in a 7 year, it’s just that there’s less time to). And because you have to complete a lot of premed content in 75% of the time, some programs don’t even let you pick your classes until later on in college – something I am really looking forward to. That one year gives you lebensraum, breathing room, in case you’re in danger of going under. Although I’m not super interested in studying abroad, I am interested in maintaining my sanity and not giving up my summers, which knowing me, might be compromised in an accelerated program.
Of course, there’s always the exception to the rule: one of my friends going to a 7 year program has accumulated enough credits (through APs and dual enrollment) that she will finish the curriculum in 2 ½ years, and can study abroad for a semester. But of course, exceptions are just that – don’t count on everything going your way.
Another thing my doctor mentioned she disliked about the program was the fact that she was a 25 year old in med school, the youngest in her class. Now, that may not seem that young, but when everyone around you is ten years older, it can completely change your experience.
Remember, it only gets harder after undergrad, and you don’t want to increase your chance of burning out or losing interest just for one extra year.
*Note* If you haven’t already realized, this doesn’t apply to 8 year programs, which is one reason they are more appealing and often times less competitive – so check out all your options before you make an informed decision.
4. It might be a little masochistic, but I like the pressure
Now, I'm not saying I yearn for a constant near death feeling in order to perform well, but I like being under the pressure of no guarantees, if I decide to go into med school. For many, getting rid of the pressure is freeing, and I totally understand, but if I wasn't under the constant pressure to do well, to be the best, and all that jazz, I would not be half as far as I am today. I know myself (and I know I'm pretty lazy if left to my own devices) and it would be significantly harder to find motivation under no stress. And then I would feel like I'm short changing myself, not applying myself as much as a I can, as much as I would be if I still had the risk and pressure looming over me.
There’s a bunch of other small, relatively irrelevant reasons why I wouldn’t go to a 7 or 8 year med program, but once again, I’m reminding you that these are my reasons, and there are plenty of pros out there for people who are looking into these type of med programs. Before you make this decision (or any decision) make sure you are fully informed, and have thought about how your decision will affect your future (for better or for worse). Talk to people who’ve been through it, who decided not to, everyone. But hopefully my feelings on the matter gave you some insight that you can relate to. If you have any other reasons for or against, make sure to add them in the comments - the more information and personal stories out there the better.
Thanks for reading!