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What to Know About Baccalaureate-M.D. Programs

Aspiring physicians in the U.S., unlike most of the world, must complete a bachelor's degree before entering medical school. While getting a medical degree may take longer in America, the additional time provides students the chance to mature, explore various disciplines during their college years and gain affirmation that med school is the right choice for them.

For those convinced early on that medicine is their calling, combined baccalaureate-M.D. programs offer a more certain path to medical school entry upon high school graduation. Bacc-M.D. programs are partnerships between an undergraduate institution and the medical school at the same university or at another nearby university.

High school students may apply for such programs and, if accepted, transition from college to medical school without having to apply again to med school. For those considering this path, it is important to research bacc-M.D. programs carefully.

[Read: 3 Tips for High School Students Considering Premed.]

Here are four important things to know about baccalaureate-M.D. programs:

-- Bacc-M.D. programs are uncommon.

-- Programs vary in length and format.

-- Most programs have stringent requirements.

-- Programs look for applicants with exceptional traits.

Bacc-M.D. programs are uncommon. The great majority of medical students are not part of a combined bacc-M.D. program. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, just 2.6% of all students pursuing medicine enter through this route, partly because the programs are highly competitive and the number of seats is limited.

Entering a bacc-M.D. program also means making an eight-year commitment straight out of high school. Students frequently feel that their college years could serve as an opportunity to carefully explore the medical profession before fully dedicating themselves to this path. As a result, they opt to enter medical school through the traditional route.

Approximately 40 medical schools in the country offer a baccalaureate-M.D. option. Medical schools at the University of Pittsburgh, Boston University and California Northstate University are just a few that offer such programs. The scarcity partly explains why combined programs are more competitive.

Programs vary in length and format. Baccalaureate-M.D. programs range in length from six to nine years. For example, the University of Missouri--Kansas City has a year-round curriculum that allows students to complete their undergraduate and medical degree in six years. The first two years are mostly dedicated to undergraduate coursework while the subsequent four are mainly spent completing medical school requirements.

By contrast, bacc-M.D. programs like Drexel University's have a traditional eight-year track, which involves four years of undergraduate education followed by four years of medical school.

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

Most programs have stringent requirements. Getting accepted to a baccalaureate-M.D. program requires a competitive GPA and strong standardized test scores. Most programs have minimum high school GPA requirements and a minimum score on the SAT or ACT. In addition, programs may require certain high school coursework such as biology, chemistry or physics as a prerequisite for admission.

Once an applicant is accepted, many of the programs require that the student maintain a minimum GPA and achieve above a threshold MCAT score to transition from the undergraduate years to med school.

Programs look for applicants with exceptional traits. Most students who get accepted to baccalaureate-M.D. programs have very competitive GPAs and stellar SAT or ACT scores, but those things alone don't guarantee admission.

A key trait that programs look for in a med school applicant is a demonstrated commitment to the medical profession. Applicants to bacc-M.D. programs must show through experiences in the health care setting that they have a strong understanding of what being a physician entails. They must also be able to demonstrate conviction in their application and explain how they know at such a young age that they want to be a doctor.

[Read: How to Plan College Courses to Prepare for Medical School.]

In addition, leadership and a commitment to service distinguish applicants, so high school students interested in entering such programs should consider taking on leadership roles where they can serve the community. For example, one student recently accepted to a bacc-M.D. program led a group of high school students in a volunteer tutoring initiative for children whose families had recently immigrated to the U.S.

Along with service-oriented activities, a passion for scholarly work such as research helps distinguish applicants to bacc-M.D. programs. Many high school students looking to enter such programs dedicate time in their summers to research projects at a local university.

Getting accepted to a baccalaureate-M.D. program requires a great deal of work and effort. However, it usually means not having to go through the process of submitting a medical school application once you have been accepted into a program. High school students considering a combined program should carefully examine what is involved in getting accepted and what a program entails so that they can make an informed decision.

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