Routes to Medical School for the High School Student

For high school students who know they want to become doctors, applying to college may also involve thinking about when and how they want to matriculate into medical school.

Though many students now take a year or two off after college graduation before beginning their medical education, many other students are interested in becoming physicians on the shortest timeline available.

Here’s some information about two broad paths toward med school — the traditional route and combined programs — that future doctors who are still in high school may consider as they apply to college.

The Traditional Route

Despite the presence of other routes to med school, the majority of prospective med students follow a typical academic path. They matriculate at an undergraduate institution, complete their premedical requirements by junior or senior year, take the MCAT and apply to medical schools within the general application pool.

Because students who take this route aren’t enrolled in a special program, they have the flexibility to structure their schedules as they wish and to take courses beyond those geared toward their major or premed requirements. For high school students who want to become doctors but who are thinking about a nonscience major or who want a typical undergraduate academic experience, pursuing the tried-and-true traditional path toward medicine might fit best.

[Read: How to Choose a College Major If You Plan to Attend Medical School.]

Combined Programs

Unlike the traditional path toward medicine, combined programs such as baccalaureate-M.D. programs offer early but typically conditional acceptance into medical school at the time of college acceptance. Whereas students charting a typical premed course will have to face the uncertainty of the medical school admissions process, students in combined programs have the luxury of knowing that if they are able to uphold certain academic standards, they will continue on into the med school affiliated with their program.

Students considering applying to combined programs should note that most of these programs have a very limited number of spots and many qualified applicants. For example, the eight-year combined BA/BS-MD Program at the University of Colorado accommodates no more than 10 in-state students each year.

[Read: How to Become a Doctor: A Step-by Step Guide.]

Acceptance to these programs is far from guaranteed, and prospective applicants should be prepared to submit standard applications alongside their applications to combined programs during their college admissions cycle.

8-year combined programs

In eight-year combined programs, students complete four years of undergraduate study before transitioning into med school. While some of these programs stipulate that students major in STEM, others allow students to select any major since they will have a full four years to complete both their premed and major requirements.

Though students in eight-year programs do not obtain their M.D. degree quicker than students who go straight through undergrad to med school, eight-year programs allow students to avoid the expense and pressure associated with the med school application cycle.

Additionally, in some eight-year programs — such as the Pre-Professional Scholars Program in Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio — students do not have to take the MCAT, alleviating the stress associated with having to perform well on that test.

7-year combined programs

The path to becoming a fully licensed physician is lengthy, requiring an undergraduate degree, a medical degree, completion of postgraduate residency and sometimes fellowship training.

[Read: How Long Is Medical School and What Is it Like?]

For high school students motivated to jump-start their medical education, seven-year combined programs may be an attractive way to reach the finish line sooner. These programs offer many of the same perks as eight-year programs: conditional acceptance into med school, skipping the normal application process and often forgoing the MCAT.

Students in seven-year programs complete their undergraduate requirements in three years before proceeding to the standard four years of med school.

While saving a year for those dead set on medicine may make sense, students have limited academic flexibility due to the abbreviated undergraduate experience required of these programs. For example, students in the CUNY School of Medicine‘s seven-year Sophie Davis Biomedical Education Program do not have the option to major in non-STEM subjects, as they — like most students in seven-year programs — must complete both their premed and undergraduate requirements in three years.

Before applying to these types of programs, be sure to weigh your desire for medicine with your desire to have a “normal” undergraduate experience, complete with the academic opportunities that experience typically entails.

More from U.S. News

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