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Admissions in the Time of COVID-19: Part Three

PART 3: Building the Class

The final installment in our three-part series that looks at how the admissions process will need to adapt this year due to COVID-19.

Part one of our ‘Admissions in the Time of COVID-19’ series looked at how COVID-19 has disrupted the traditional markers of achievement that admissions officers have historically relied upon to make admissions decisions: testing and transcripts. Now more than ever, the qualitative aspects of a student’s application—curiosity, character, impact, resilience—things that can’t necessarily be quantified in a test score or grade—will take center stage. Does that mean that every bright, kind, high impact applicant has a chance at Harvard this application season? Not quite.

Part two of our series focused on key personal factors that admissions officers will seek as they review applications: curiosity, character, impact, and resilience. Essays, activities, recommendations, and interviews provide opportunities for students to bring their candidacies to life. This cycle, in the absence of traditional, quantitative measures, these qualitative factors will play a key role.

FACTORS THAT WILL SHAPE THE SELECTION PROCESS

In the final segment of our three-part series, let’s look at the macro forces that shape the selection process. What new factors will admissions leaders need to consider this year as they assemble the entire class? Read on to learn more.

  1. Will there be enough seats in the first-year class?

An unprecedented number of Class of 2024 students admitted to top colleges last year have deferred their enrollment for a year. A recent report in the Boston Globe, noted that 20 percent of Harvard first-year students opted to defer their admission, nearly three times the normal rate. At MIT, 8 percent of first-year students deferred, up from normally around 1 percent, according to the university. At Williams College in Western Massachusetts, 90 students took a gap year instead of the usual 25. And at Bates College in Maine, 10 percent of students have requested deferral, up from 4 percent.

Managing enrollment for the fall of 2021 is a key question that university leaders are grappling with as the new admissions cycle begins. At Harvard, for instance, the threefold requests for a gap year, translates into 340 students enrolling now with the Class of 2025. How will the university accommodate these extra students, and will it have any negative consequences for students applying in 2020/2021?

Harvard has indicated that it hopes to secure additional, overflow housing in Cambridge next year to accommodate the extra students and look for other ways to manage enrollment, rather than admitting fewer students in this admissions cycle. Anecdotally, we’re hearing similar messages from other top institutions. Some schools, such as Connecticut College, have changed their policy on students living off campus and selected seniors are now allowed to find local rental options. Plenty of schools have turned dorms into quarantine facilities, losing more beds for students, so this will be an interesting factor to watch.

Increasing an incoming class by 8, 10 or 20 percent creates pressures throughout the university beyond just housing – first year advising, first year seminars, demand for prerequisite courses in popular majors, etc. – and all require additional financial resources. It’s still too soon to tell what measures schools will take to adjust to all of these changes, but the challenges resulting from a super-sized Class of 2025 will likely impact universities for four years.

  1. How competitive will the process be?

In a normal year, the admissions process at top schools is very competitive. The extremely high entrance criteria at top tier colleges have produced a ripple effect, and now all of the top 50-100 schools have tougher admissions standards. Schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Dartmouth, and Hopkins have single digit admit rates. UC Berkeley and UCLA admitted 15 percent and 14 percent of their applicants last year, respectively. Even schools like Northwestern (9 percent acceptance rate), Georgetown (15 percent acceptance rate) and Colby (9 percent acceptance rate) are becoming extraordinarily competitive in their admissions processes. A school like Vanderbilt University had a 40 percent acceptance rate in 2005 and a 9 percent acceptance rate for the Class of 2024.

Will we see similar admit rates this 2020/2021 cycle?

Although some repercussions from the pandemic may depress the number of students from around the world who apply to top colleges because of visa issues, fear of being unwelcome in the U.S., and fear of illness, other factors—namely the move to make the SAT/ACT optional for students applying to college this fall—will likely mean more students will throw in applications to the top colleges. This will be especially evident at the universities that offer generous, need-based financial aid awards.

Schools with non-binding early action programs are very likely to see an increase in applications this fall, especially since many of these schools are test-optional for the Class of 2025. Schools that are likely to see surges in early applications include Harvard, Yale, MIT, CalTech, and Stanford. Georgetown, too, newly flexible with testing requirements, could also see an uptick, although that might be counterbalanced by a decrease in applications from international students, likely a big source of applications for the university.

The situation will likely be very different for schools that offer binding early decision programs for two reasons. First, without the opportunity to visit schools in person, many students and parents are hesitant to lock into a school now. Instead, they’re hoping to visit colleges in the spring before making a final decision. Second is the question of affordability, always a consideration for many families and because of the economic fallout from the pandemic, even more so this year. Outside of the Ivies, few colleges and universities offer significant need-based aid. Families will want to see a broader range of financial aid offers and work to get the best possible financial aid package for their students. Schools that may see downturns this early cycle include places like Dartmouth and UPenn (who had decreases in ED application volume last year), Emory, Vanderbilt, Tufts, NYU, and many of the small  liberal arts colleges.

  1. Greater reliance on early decision

As we’ve discussed before, applying to a school Early Decision can double or even triple your odds of admission in some cases. The Early Decision applicant pool is usually much smaller than the applicant pool in the regular round, which allows admissions officers to spend more time reviewing each application. What’s more, schools that offer Early Decision generally fill about half of the incoming class in the early round. As a result, your odds of admission are always higher in Early Decision than they would be in the regular round. For example, last year Columbia had an early admit rate of 14.57 percent and a Regular Decision admit rate of 5.10 percent. (For more on the early admit rates for some of the very top schools, take a look at the data we’ve collected here.)

For those schools that have binding early decision programs, it’s likely that we’ll see more students admitted through this option. Driving the greater use of early decision by colleges will be the desire to have more certainty in a time of great uncertainty. Having a larger cohort of students admitted early decision means greater control of yield, a better sense of how many students to admit in the regular process, and more control over financial aid expenditures.

  1. Demonstrated interest and yield predictions

Just as greater numbers of students and parents are expressing hesitation about commitment, admissions leaders will be looking at their yield projection models, trying to figure out who will come if offered admission. For all but the most highly-sought after schools, predictive modeling around yield goes hand in hand with the selection process.

Without traditional campus visits—or admissions officers’ annual spring and fall recruitment travels to communities around the country and around the world—demonstrated interest will be gauged through digital interactions this year.  What this means is that the vast majority of private colleges and universities (and top public universities with significant numbers of out-of-state applicants) will likely place weight on points of digital contact when evaluating your application: a virtual visit to campus; registration on their admissions pages and social media platforms; the regularity with which you open the college’s emails and take action based on those emails; an online interview (if offered – either before or after filing your application); and the depth of your contact with the admission representative who covers your area.

Demonstrated interest is going to be more important than ever this year. Colleges want to know that if they admit a student, that student will attend.

TAKING CONTROL

Applying to college is stressful even under the best of circumstances. For students applying to college this fall, anxiety levels are soaring. Despite that, you can take control of this process and ensure that YOU put your best foot forward.

Admissions officers will understand that these have been extraordinarily difficult times for high school students and they will keep that context squarely in mind as they read your application. They know that testing centers have closed without warning, leaving thousands and thousands of students in the lurch. They know that grades, classes and activities have been disrupted, that connections with peers and teachers aren’t the same virtually as they are in person.

NO FREE PASS

That’s not to say that this year’s senior class has a free pass when it comes to admissions. Now more than ever, you need to show your curiosity and intellectual engagement, your resilience and maturity, your contributions to family and community, your engagement with critical issues of our time, and your actions—large or small, global or local—to make our world a better place.

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Admissions in the Time of COVID-19: Part Two

PART 2:  Qualitative over Quantitative

Part two in a three-part series that looks at how the admissions process will need to adapt this year due to COVID-19.

Part one of our ‘Admissions in the Time of COVID-19’ series looked at how COVID-19 has disrupted the traditional markers of achievement that admissions officers have historically relied upon to make admissions decisions: testing and transcripts. Now more than ever, the qualitative aspects of a student’s application—curiosity, character, impact, resilience—things that can’t necessarily be quantified in a test score or grade—will take center stage. Does that mean that every bright, kind, high impact applicant has a chance at Harvard this application season? Not quite.

Part two of our series focuses on curiosity, character, impact, and resilience. Read on to learn where these intangible qualities are highlighted in an application and how admissions officers use them in their assessments.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

Schools that practice holistic admissions want to get to know you and look for clues into who you are: your hopes and dreams, interests, activities, accomplishments, quirks, experiences, perspectives, contributions, and impact. Each of the more qualitative aspects of the admissions application is designed to get at WHO YOU ARE BEYOND JUST YOUR SCORES AND GRADES. Typically, those more qualitative aspects include personal essays (and school-specific supplements), descriptions of your principal activities, letters of recommendation (college counselor and at least one classroom teacher), and, in some cases an admissions interview.

Today, more than ever, factors like curiosity and intellectual engagement, character and personal experiences, contribution and impact, and resilience will factor more prominently in the selective college admissions process. Admissions officers reading your file will likely “rank” or “rate” your essays, recommendations, and interviews on these key qualities and offer short summaries of highlights in their file notes.

YOUR VOICE

A quick perusal of the Common Application essay prompts and a college’s supplemental essay questions makes it easy to see what they value and what matters to their selection process. Just for fun, we assigned a theme to each supplemental essay prompt from 30 top private and public colleges and universities and put all that into a word cloud generator.

common app essay prompts & your voice

The results are clear! Colleges want to know about your academic interests and what sparks your intellectual curiosity. Admissions officers care deeply about creating a diverse community of bright and talented students from across the globe (even if you’re learning via Zoom right now) and want to know what you’ll add to the mix. They look for students who have positively impacted their schools and communities through their activities, leadership, and contributions.

When it comes right down to it, admissions officers read your main college essay (650 words) and the school-specific supplements (typically, 100 to 400 words) to figure out what kind of scholar and community member you are now and would be on their campus. This means that the story you tell about yourself must depict you as someone with strong interests, an inventive mind, and a willingness to pursue your goals.

As you tackle your supplemental essays, share your stories. Reflect on community (however you choose to define it) and how it has informed who you are today. Do your research and answer the “why” question with responses that connect you to the college or university, making it clear that you are the perfect fit.

Colleges understand that COVID-19 has deeply impacted many students and their families. Using a new short response option on the Common Application, students can share the effects of the pandemic and its related disruption to their families’ health and finances, as well as obstacles (think access to the internet, a laptop, a quiet study space) to students’ ability to pursue their education. Think twice about what you put in this space. There will be students who have suffered significantly during this time. Missing the spring track season, junior prom, or a long-awaited summer trip isn’t what they’re looking for here.

YOUR IMPACT: EXTRACURRICULAR AND COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTIONS

For many, the pandemic and ensuing shutdowns have also meant the cancelation of significant aspects of their extracurricular lives—especially those activities that have been more difficult to replicate in the virtual world. Admissions officers will understand that students may not have seamless extracurricular records as a result of the pandemic, but they will clearly favor those students who sprang into action to help their families, schools, or communities.

Despite the challenges of stay-at-home orders, enterprising students launched Zoom tutoring programs and PE classes. They taught senior citizens in their communities the ins and outs of Zoom and created pen pal programs to help those isolated from families. Enterprising students raised funds, bought their own supplies and crafted PPE for local first responders and hospital workers. They taught and cared for younger siblings while parents worked. Youth activism soared, as students responded to pressing health, social justice, and environmental issues by using their voices across all their platforms to push for needed change. Others worked or volunteered—in person or virtually—supporting their families, learning valuable skills. Student musicians, dancers, and actors created virtual Zoom performances featuring friends and classmates, often as a benefit for a community non-profit. Many students took their learning into their own hands and pursued research opportunities and college courses this summer—whether for credit or on platforms like EdX—deepening their academic interests.

Today more than ever, being a participant in a typical set of school activities just won’t cut it. Those students who spent the last five months binge-watching Netflix have missed an important opportunity to show admissions officers their values in action. It’s this evidence of impact, contribution, resilience, selflessness, and empathy that admissions officers will look for as they assess how students have spent their time outside the classroom.

LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

Just as it has with each facet of our lives, COVID-19 has also disrupted students’ relationships with their counselors and teachers and their extracurricular lives. For rising seniors, this disruption, beginning last March, has fundamentally altered their relationships with teachers and college counselors—just at the time that these relationships were most important.

College counselor and teacher recommendations have always been a critical piece of the application review process at top schools. Remember that the majority of students applying to top colleges will typically have strong grades and scores, generally being “in range” based on a school’s published test score and GPA averages. Through careful reading of these letters of recommendation, admissions officers seek qualitative information to help differentiate the truly exceptional students from the typical well-credentialed ones.

The sudden and unprecedented closing of all our nation’s schools in March forced teachers and students into a new teaching and learning paradigm—and one whose success depended on access to resources in both the school and the family. Ninth grade science teacher Liz Russillo, as quoted in Education Week, noted:

The shift to remote learning has [required] me to use innovation and creativity for the most critical assessments while highlighting the importance of the teacher-student relationship. I will never again take for granted the student showing up for class early to tell me about their weekend or the student sitting in the back of the room trying to stay under the radar because they are having a bad day. These relationships are the foundation of the classroom and just so challenging in the remote world. 

Just as in our pre-pandemic world, admissions officers read recommendations looking for tangible evidence of intellectual engagement, curiosity, contribution and impact. Today, admissions officers will first seek to understand just how much access students have had to teachers and counselors. There will be the lucky ones whose teachers and counselors made the shift to online learning and worked to stay connected with their students. Even in our Zoom world, teachers and counselors will know which students were the most engaged and made the classroom interesting and dynamic, even online, and will emphasize that in their letters. Seniors, as you head back to school—even virtually—connect with your teachers!

College counselors play a key role in helping students stand out in the admissions process. Where individual teachers focus on a student’s work in one class, the college counselor uses a wide-angle lens to help admissions officers discern the truly exceptional students from a pool of very high-achieving ones. Strong letters show, through specific anecdotes, a student’s impact and achievement, and are genuinely warm and enthusiastic.

THE ADMISSIONS INTERVIEW

Although interviews are not widely used, those colleges that offer interviews provide applicants with another opportunity to show they’ve done their homework on the college and bring their essays and activities to life. This year, you can expect those interviews to be conducted over Zoom (or similar platform).

Whether students interview with an admissions officer, alumni volunteer, or student working for admissions, impressions from the interview will be noted in the applicant’s eventual admissions file. For schools that care about demonstrated interest (that’s just about all of them these days), the interview provides perhaps one of the most direct ways for students to show admissions officers why they are the perfect fit.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Essays, activities, recommendations, and interviews provide opportunities for students to bring their candidacies to life. In this upcoming admissions cycle, you can be sure that these parts of the application will be closely read as admissions officers seek evidence of students whose curiosity, engagement, contribution, impact, and resilience are truly notable.

Having looked at each component of the admissions application, part three of our special series will look at the macro forces that shape the selection process. What new factors will admissions deans need to consider this year as they assemble the entire class?

Share your experiences with COVID-19 related school and testing challenges in the Comments. We’d like to hear what you’re experiencing and how you are adapting. We will continue to post about these issues and look forward to hearing your experiences.

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Admissions in the Time of COVID-19: Part One

PART 1:  Testing & Transcripts

Part one in a three-part series that looks at how the admissions process will need to adapt this year due to COVID-19.

The selective college admissions application review process, which is challenging and opaque even in the best of times, will need to undergo significant shifts as COVID-19 continues to impact nearly every aspect of our lives. Admissions deans and their staffs are rethinking each aspect of the review process, now that all the traditional markers of achievement —grades, scores, activities—have been disrupted by the virus. Students have lost close connections with their teachers and college counselors as schools moved to online learning last spring and continue to struggle with how to safely return to in-person learning. The economic strain on most families has been intense; the virus’ toll on our physical and mental health is well-documented. All to say, 2020 hasn’t been ideal… for anyone or any institution.

THE NEW APPLICATION REVIEW PROCESS

Grades and test scores are central to the selection process, but as colleges reassure anxious applicants and parents with more flexible requirements for this admissions season, what will actually guide the application review process in this upcoming cycle? How will admissions officers read and make sense of individual applicants and the context of their achievements? How will admission deans and directors shape the overall admitted class to best meet institutional priorities? Our three-part series examines key parts of the college selection process and how we think that process will change in light of the significant disruption we’ve all experienced. Part one looks at testing and transcripts—anchors of any selective college application process. In part two, we’ll discuss the more qualitative aspects of the review process—essays, recommendations, and activities. Finally, part three will look at how a class is put together and what, if anything, might change in the upcoming cycle.

STANDARDIZED TESTING

March, May, June, July, August. Thousands and thousands of rising seniors scheduled to take the SAT, ACT, and Subject Tests have been told that their tests are canceled. Some even arrived at testing centers to find the doors bolted with no warning. Students have scrambled to make alternate plans, pushing their testing to September, October, and November. The prospects of September testing are shaky at best, as high schools (the primary testing centers) shift to online learning as the virus continues to spread as schools reopen.

The most proactive students completed most of their testing before the pandemic shut down schools last March. But, the majority of applicants this fall have faced barriers to registering and preparing for testing.

Colleges and universities have all adapted their standardized testing requirements to this new reality with new “optional” testing policies now in place for this admissions season and some even beyond. But these new policies create a problem for admissions leaders as they exacerbate the inequalities already inherent with testing. How do you fairly use testing (or the lack of testing) in the application review process when your optional policies allow for students to submit whatever testing they were able to complete? Is testing truly optional for applicants from low income backgrounds or those who are first in their families but less so for those from better resourced families and schools? What about subject tests? Only a few top schools—Yale, MIT, and Caltech—have said unequivocally that subject tests will not be considered. Lacking clarity from colleges, students with strong scores should absolutely self-report them on their applications to all other schools.

Last May’s AP tests were adapted by the College Board and trimmed to be 45 minutes long. Some students experienced technical errors on the College Board’s side and were rescheduled to take the tests in June. Depending on the time zone, students living outside the U.S. had to take exams in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning. AP exams were definitely administered—and scored–under atypical conditions.

Although not a requirement for admissions, admissions officers, especially at the most competitive schools, will likely weigh AP scores more heavily as they are tangible data points that many students were able to obtain. Even though not all students attend schools that teach the AP curriculum, plenty of students each year self-study and take them regardless.

Admissions officers, particularly at the top colleges, are well aware that they need to take testing with a grain of salt. But nonetheless, it’s historically been an important initial yardstick when reviewing files in an applicant pool of 30,000 or 40,000 applicants since grades alone won’t be enough of a differentiator. And this year, grades and scores combined might not be either.

GRADES

Absolutely central to the selective admissions process is the assessment of a student’s transcript—a tangible record of success in a program of increasing rigor. Top colleges, in particular, pride themselves on the percentage of admitted and entering students who rank in the top 10 percent of their graduating class. (Remember—even if a high school doesn’t officially rank, there are plenty of clues embedded in transcripts, high school profiles, and counselor recommendations as to who the top students are in any class). Without a hook, it is next to impossible to be admitted with less than stellar grades.

The rapid closure of schools last March left schools scrambling to come up with how to best teach and assess students. For far too many students, the second half of the year was ungraded (students’ grades only noted as pass/fail), essentially frozen in time. Some lucky students had their schools switch to a “pitch ‘til you win” approach, meaning that students could work to raise their grades in the spring, but there was no danger of grades dropping. Some juniors were hoping for all A grades to push up their GPA but frustratingly, their schools switched to pass/fail.  All of these were completely understandable decisions given the enormity of the challenge they faced. Now, as the fall gets underway, the year will be off to a rocky start for everyone as students and schools grapple with the unique stresses of each option before them: online, hybrid, or in-person classes.

In the wake of COVID, the transcript review process is a lot more complicated. The transition to virtual learning was not a seamless one across the board and further exacerbated the equity issues admissions officers grapple with in a large and diverse pool. Schooling is another manifestation of how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities, especially communities of color and low-income ones. Students who are fortunate to be in homes and communities with reliable and fast internet connectivity, their own computer, teachers who could quickly pivot to online teaching, and a quiet place to work, could continue their learning more effectively. That wasn’t the case for students on the other side of the technological divide who will be applying to college this fall. The challenges they faced last spring— and likely this fall—are real and documented.

Put together the lack of testing and the lack of truly defined grades, now the admissions office has lost two significant metrics that have been central to the decision-making process. How will admissions officers make decisions on applicants in the absence of these critical pieces of data that have been so foundational to the selection process?

QUALITATIVE OVER QUANTITATIVE

Now more than ever, the qualitative aspects of a student’s application—curiosity, character, impact, resilience—things that can’t necessarily be quantified in a test score or grade—will take center stage. Does that mean that every bright, kind, high impact applicant has a chance at Harvard this application season? Not so fast.

Stay tuned for part two in our ‘Admissions in the Time of COVID-19’ series where we’ll focus on curiosity, character, impact, and resilience. Where are these intangible qualities highlighted in an application and how do admissions officers use them in their assessment?

Share your experiences with COVID-19 related school and testing challenges in the Comments. We’d like to hear what you’re experiencing and how you are adapting. We will continue to post about these issues and look forward to hearing your experiences.

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5 Tips for Freshman Year: It’s Time to Take Action

We are currently enrolling freshmen in our Private Counseling Program where you will work one on one with one of our premiere college admissions counselors. Work with us to craft your academic niche and learn how to go above and beyond to make sure you aren’t closing any doors on college choices.  We typically fill up by October, so call today.  

Starting high school is always a big transition, but this year feels especially daunting amidst all the uncertainty around re-opening in the midst of the global pandemic. And the shifting sands of college admissions are adding even more stress to soon to be high school students.  Standardized testing is in transition, colleges are dropping sports with no warning, incoming students are deferring their acceptances, faculty hiring is frozen, and colleges are scrambling to teach remotely and cut costs.

JUNIOR YEAR = TOO LATE

High schools rarely begin college counseling until a student’s junior year, but this is too late in our opinion.  We work with our students to organize early and maximize their choices, both in high school and as we craft their application strategy.

Because we only work with a limited number of private clients and fill up well before junior year, we want to share our top tips with our Top Tier Admissions community in the hopes that we can help lessen the stress for thousands of incoming high school freshmen who are patching together their education between Zoom and oddly timed in person classes.

5 ACTIONS TO TAKE NOW

  1.     Plan Your Four-Year Curriculum

The choices you make freshman year will have a ripple effect throughout high school, especially when it comes to rigor of course load. And, rigor matters in admissions! Think strategically about your goals for junior and senior year (for instance, AP classes or perhaps dual enrolling in college courses) and map out what prerequisites you will need to make that happen. Many schools have specific “streams” or course progressions that can be fairly inflexible. If you get off track early, it will be difficult to rebound by the time you apply to college. Not taking high level courses will impact the range of schools to which you can apply.

  1.     Design Your Standardized Testing Plan

Once you know your course line up, you can begin to identify which standardized tests you will take and when.  While colleges are score optional during the pandemic, by the time you are further along in high school that will almost certainly change.  Maximize your testing by thinking ahead.  Subject Tests, AP Tests, IB Tests, ACT or SAT: plan them all in advance.

  1.     Curate Your At-Home Classroom

If your classes are online, it may be difficult to feel as though you are fully in “school mode.” To make the mental shift to your classroom, designate a private, quiet space in your home to use as your workspace. Think about curating an intentional, professional backdrop and commit to making your classroom a “no-phone zone” to avoid distractions. Choose a study area with natural light and find comfortable seating. If possible, this should be a space other than your bedroom. Before the school day begins, switch out of your loungewear or PJs and put on professional attire to signal you are at school. Once in person school fully resumes, maintain this study space for homework if possible.

  1.     Engage in Your Community

Many of our private counseling students were featured in the national press for their initiatives during COVID to help others in unique ways.  They coupled their interests and talents with the needs of their communities and made a concrete impact.  Ask yourself what it is you can offer your immediate community. Think outside your bubble of high school and engage.  You may not be able to volunteer in person during COVID restrictions, but think outside the box and take initiative!  Pick up your pen, lend a hand, bake some cakes, fix a problem, share your talents.

  1.     Master Organization

Successful students are not all just born geniuses, rather they work hard and create a structure and are accountable for themselves. This is your chance to reinvent yourself as a scholar vs the class clown or whatever you felt your identity was in middle school. Complete tasks early and with clarity.

LAUNCH INTO FRESHMAN YEAR

While these 5 tips will launch you into high school with structure and help you become a successful student, following through will also help you prepare for college admissions.

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Fast Facts: Combined BS/MD Programs

NEWS ALERT…

Washington University in St. Louis is no longer offering their University Scholars Program in Medicine (USPM) due to budgetary restrictions.

Most students apply to medical school after they complete their undergraduate degrees. Others, who have dreamt of being a doctor their whole lives, are ready to commit to a medical program much earlier. If this sounds like you, it is worth researching the 80 or so institutions that offer a combined BS/MD program (or “direct medical program”). This competitive option allows undergraduates to proceed directly into medical school without having to go through a separate admissions process. Once accepted, students can obtain their Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree along with their MD in 7-8 years (depending on the program). Brown is the only Ivy League school to offer this “fast track” to an MD, in partnership with the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

BS/MD PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS

Requirements: The exact requirements and features of these programs vary by school. While “Combined BS/MD Programs” accept high school applicants into the college and medical school at the same time, other programs, “Early Assurance Medical School Programs,” wait to formally admit a student to the medical school until sophomore or junior year. Either way, during the undergraduate portion of the program, students are expected to fulfill the standard pre-med requirements, and are sometimes limited in terms of the majors they can select. Students must also complete their undergraduate studies successfully while maintaining a minimum GPA (at Georgetown, for instance, the minimum GPA is 3.6).

The application materials for these programs can be quite intensive and require a number of secondary essays, similar to the standard med school application process. Brown, for instance, asks three required essay questions for seniors applying to their joint-degree program:

  1. Committing to a future career as a physician while in high school requires careful consideration and self-reflection. What values and experiences have led you to believe that becoming a doctor in medicine is the right fit for you? (250 words)
  2. Most people describe a career as a physician/doctor as a “profession”, beyond a job. Describe for us what “professionalism” and “the profession of a physician/doctor” mean to you. (250 words)
  3. How do you envision the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) helping you to meet your academic personal and professional goals as a person and as a physician of the future? (500 words)

Our senior counselors can help guide you through these essays and offer proven strategies as you craft a compelling application. Click here for more information about our Essay Guidance Package.

In addition to strong essays, you will need to demonstrate significant experience in the medical field such as shadowing a doctor, research and clinical experience, or related volunteer work in addition to high AP and subject test scores (especially in the sciences).

At the Northwestern University Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME), one of the best BS/MD programs, the acceptance rate hovers around 2% (19-23 students per incoming class). The average test scores from the 2018–2019 application season were:

SAT ERW: 762

SAT Math: 792

ACT Composite: 35

SAT Chemistry: 777

SAT Math Level 2: 790

PROS & CONS OF A JOINT DEGREE PROGRAM

Pros: Why should you pursue a joint degree program? If you’re 100% sure you want a career in medicine, this joint program allows you to skip the highly stressful med school application process and guarantees you a spot at a prestigious medical school. This saves significant time and money since you won’t need to visit schools for interviews later on. Additionally, most schools that offer this program don’t require their students to take the MCAT, which alleviates a significant source of stress.

Cons: College is often a time to explore a range of academic interests and take advantage of a flexible curriculum. By committing to a medical program so early, you are limiting your ability to take a diverse array of classes or change your career path. You are also no longer able to apply to some of the best medical schools in the nation (Harvard, Stanford, etc.) since you will have already committed elsewhere.

TOP FIVE BS/MD PROGRAMS

TOP FIVE EARLY ASSURANCE PROGRAMS 

Who’s eligible? Middlebury College and Dartmouth College Students

Who’s eligible?  Georgetown undergraduates only. Must be in your fourth semester at Georgetown and completed 4 of 5 pre-med courses by the end of May (one of the four completed courses must be Organic Chemistry).

Who’s Eligible? Tufts University sophomores. Tufts also offers an early assurance program for their Maine Track program, which is focused on rural medicine. Students who are sophomores at Bates College, Bowdoin College, Colby College, and all University of Maine campuses are eligible to apply.

Who’s Eligible? Undergraduates at Amherst College, Bowdoin College, Carleton College, Colgate University, CUNY Hunter, Hamilton College, Haverford College, Middlebury College, Swarthmore College, Williams College, and Xavier University of Louisiana. Students apply in May-June following sophomore year.

Who’s Eligible? Wake Forest undergraduates only. Note: EAP acceptance is conditional upon completing the MCAT with 509 or higher prior to matriculation.