How Competitive of a BS/MD Candidate Are You?


By: Ryan Kelly

These 4 Questions Separate the Good from the Great.

If you’re considering a BS/MD program, then you’re already taking the application process more seriously than the average high school senior. But let’s be honest: despite your outward confidence in your chosen path, you’re likely having some doubts.     

You might already be familiar with the drawbacks (and benefits!) of BS/MD programs, but it never hurts to brush up: What's Wrong With Guaranteed Acceptance to Medical School? 3 Surprising Downsides to BS/MD Programs

Besides these surprising downsides, there are more obvious problems, like the brutal competition you’ll face when applying. It’s not enough to have good grades and test scores (because everyone at these programs will). It’s not enough to have outstanding extracurriculars, coveted volunteer positions, and months of shadowing.

For more advice on how to standout as a BS/MD candidate, check out our take on Cal Newport’s “Zen Valedictorian”.

What separates the merely good candidates from the great can be subtle. But in our experience working with students applying to BS/MD programs, the following questions will separate the wheat from the chaff:


Question #1: Whose dream is it to apply to BS/MD programs?

Whose idea was it to apply to BS/MD programs? Yours? Highly unlikely. More often, it’s a parent, teacher, counselor, or doctor who brings this option to your attention. And that’s a good thing. It means people who have your best interest at heart believe that you could make an excellent doctor someday.

But just because other people think you should do something doesn’t mean you should. No matter how much they’re paying for your college education, your parents cannot give you the resolve and passion for medicine. And perhaps more practically, your parents cannot convince the admissions committee of a BS/MD program that you should be let in.

What the best BS/MD students do:

  • Shadow doctors to see what their lives really look like and decide whether this career is really a fit

  • Talk to every doctor they can find to see what they do and don’t like about medicine

  • Have honest conversations with their parents about whether they really want to become a doctor and what to do if they decide not to go through with it


Question #2: “Have you seen the darker side of medicine?”

Doctors are viewed - both by Hollywood and by many in the BS/MD applicant pool - as heroes. They save people’s lives in emergency situations. They research new breakthroughs in order to help all of humanity. They lead communities and advocate for change.

But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns in this career. Sure, there’s the prestige, the admiration, the satisfaction of helping others on a daily basis. But tell me, Sunshine: what do you know about the other side of the coin?

Are you prepared to wipe feces, insert catheters, clean bedpans, and remove warts from people’s feet? Have you seen people plugged into tubes? Heard a heart flatline? Seen a fractured bone jutting from the skin?  

How would you feel about turning away desperate, homeless patients due to lack of funds? Have you seen families crying for a loved one they’ll never get back? Ready to sacrifice time with your children, spouse, friends, and favorite hobbies?

The best applicants to BS/MD programs openly acknowledge the difficulties of being a physician, write about them in their application essays, and even talk about them in their interviews. They know that being a doctor can be a gross, exhausting, and thankless job. Not all of the time, of course, but often enough to consider whether they’re ready for the challenge.


Question #3: Are you mature enough to handle a BS/MD program?

It’s not as hard as you think to gauge your own maturity. Here, let us help you.

  • Have you ever worked a paid job for at least a summer?

  • Have you ever volunteered your time because you believed so passionately in the cause (not just because volunteering looks good on a resume)?

  • Are you self-sufficient? Do you do your own laundry, cook your own meals, and clean up after yourself?

  • Have you engaged with people much different than yourself? Children with learning disabilities? Elderly people with Alzheimer’s? People with mental health problems?

  • Are you comfortable talking with adults, like teachers or friends’ parents?

If you answered yes to these questions, or at least most of them, then you’re probably ready to handle challenges and make big decisions for yourself.

If not, don’t feel bad! If 40 is the new 30, and 30 is the new 20, then 17 or 18 is practically kindergarten. There’s no need to rush if you’re still maturing, growing, and finding your way.            


Question #4: Do you sound mature enough to get into a BS/MD program?

This is similar to #3, but different in some important ways.

Ever since the 90s Valley Girl, teens have been known to sound, like, totally stupid or whatever?

You’re not stupid, of course. But you’re stereotyped by admissions committees as being naive, untrained, and narrowed by your limited life experiences.

So, you don’t wanna, like, give off the wrong vibes or whatever?

Exactly. You need to prove to them that you’re capable of a higher level of communication, insight, and critical thinking. You’ll need to exude confidence and determination while also remaining realistic and self-aware.

BS/MD programs want someone with a thirst for learning and new experiences, who constantly reflects on the ethical and scientific practices of medicine. They want the kind of student who asks teachers questions outside of class. The kind of student who takes initiative on independent projects or improves his or her community by filling in some important need.

So ask yourself: are you this student? Or at least, can you sound like this student?

Find out where you stand by downloading our interactive worksheet and reading essays from other BS/MD candidates!