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Different Versions of the Common App. When Is This Appropriate?

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 10:00

Did you know that you can have different versions of the common app? Many students are not aware of this. And even if you can have different versions, why would you want to?

The different versions actually occur in two different ways and for different reasons.  The biggest reason most students might want a different version is if they find out that they made a mistake on the common application but have already sent it off to at least one college.

Made a mistake in your phone number? Your school code? Just realized that you were supposed to list your activities in order of importance? All of these items can be easily corrected and once you have done so, the new version will be sent to each college that gets your common app. These type of corrections have no limit to them.

But what if you have an error in your common app personal statement? You can still correct this essay but the number of changes is limited. You can only have 3 versions of the application where the essays are different. Once you have reached the limit of 3 essays, the final essay will be frozen.

The second possible reason for another version of your common app is if you want to personalize it for a specific college. Let me say here that this is neither wise nor advisable. There is absolutely no reason to personalize the common app for different colleges. But every year, I have at least one student ask about doing this.

Typically the college specific version of the common app has a different essay than is being used for the rest of the colleges the student is applying to. Some students believe that it is necessary to use an essay that will highlight some aspect of the student that is only applicable for that one college.

Frankly, I have never seen a situation where this is required. But if you believe that you need to have a different essay for one college, it is possible.

This comes under the category of just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it.

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Common App Additional Information. What Is This For?

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 10:00

Additional Information. What does that mean?

On the common application there is a section under writing called Additional Information. I think this section causes more confusion that any other section of the common app. So what type of information goes here?

There are two situations when I have my students put something in the additional information section. One situation is when there is something odd that needs to be explained. For example, if a student had an illness as a freshman that adversely affected their grades, a note here could be used to explained the aberrant grades.

However, even in that situation it isn’t always necessary for the student to provide an explanation. If your high school guidance counselor knows the situation and is willing to write about it in their letter of recommendation, that can be an even better way of communicating the problem since it won’t sound like an excuse.

The second situation where my students will sometimes use the additional information section is if they can’t fit everything from their resume into the list of 10 activities on the common app. This doesn’t mean that this area should be used to talk about winning the little league award in 4th grade. Only serious accomplishments should go into the additional information section.

For most students, even the very strong students that I typically work with, there is no need to put anything in that section.

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Common App Additional Information. What Is This For?

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New UF Application Essay Prompt for 2014-2015

Admission Scoop - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 15:22
The University of Florida Application for Summer/Fall 2015 Admission is available and includes a NEW essay topic:   We often hear the phrase “the good life.” In fact, the University of Florida’s common course required of all undergraduate students is titled “What is the Good Life?”. The concept of “the good life” can be interpreted […]
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Why I Don’t Recommend Engineering Majors

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 15:00

Many of the students I work with are considering majoring in some type of engineering, most commonly bio-medical engineering. The reason is typically to make sure that they have a job after college in case they don’t get into a BS/MD program.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Except it doesn’t make sense for most students.

Why? There are several problems with this way of thinking. The most significant problem is that historically engineering schools grade harder than other majors. The net result is that most engineers graduate with a lower GPA. Medical schools on the other hand want to see the highest possible GPA.

Medical schools do understand that engineering programs tend to grade much harder than other majors. But that doesn’t mean they are going to cut you any slack because you majored in an engineering field. You will still be expected to have a 3.5 or better GPA.

The second problem with a major in an engineering field is that having an undergraduate engineering degree is no guarantee of a job. For some fields, yes they may have a high need. But for other fields, the need varies dramatically depending on the economic cycle we are in.

Third, you don’t need an engineering undergraduate degree to become an engineer in most graduate fields. My favorite example is my wife’s cousin who was a physics major in college. Current job? Professor of electrical engineering at Caltech.

If you have a burning desire to become an engineer beyond just possible job prospects, and you understand that you may have to work harder in college than your non-engineering classmates, then by all means, pick an engineering major. But do so with eyes wide open and not just based on possible job prospects in the future.

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Should You Work During College?

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 08/14/2014 - 10:00

I was brought up to believe that a little hard work never hurt anyone. When I was in college, I worked in the college library. When my children turned 16 they knew that they would need to get a job. Sometimes working is about making money but sometimes it is also about learning the skills required to hold a job. And once you finish college, that will be an important skill to have. I have always told students that they should consider working a job in college, even if they don’t need the money. There have been studies in the past that have showed that students that have a job during college actually do better than those students that don’t have a job as long as they work a reasonable number of hours, generally 10 hours a week or less. A recent article in Inside Higher Ed supports this belief. Basically the article says that work study students are more likely to graduate college. Should you focus your efforts on your classes and doing well in those? Absolutely. But, if you can’t find 10 hours a week for a job while in college, you need to learn time management skills. Oh, time management skills; one of the benefits of holding a job in college. Is a job while in college for everyone? No, but for the majority of people, it might be one of the better things you do.

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Why My Students Don’t Use Essay Prompts for the Common Application

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 08/05/2014 - 10:00

Last week I told you what the common app personal statement prompts were for 2014-15. For many of you, this meant you could now start working on your personal statement. But let me tell you a secret.

I start my students working on the common app personal statement in June before senior year. And I don’t give them the prompts. Not then. Not ever.

Why? I mean, how do you write an essay if you don’t even know what the essay prompt is?

The common app personal statement essay is used by colleges to see how well you write and to hopefully, learn a little bit more about who you are. As long as you satisfy that criteria, colleges really don’t care what you write about.

Don’t believe me? Look at prompt 1 of the personal statement.

“Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. “

 Pretty broad as a topic isn’t it? Gives you a lot more options on what to write about than the prompt that asks you to write about a failure you had. Or any of the other specific prompts.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the specific prompts of the personal statement.  But they restrict your creativity. They limit you in what you think you may want to write about.

Do yourself a favor and if you want to look at a prompt, look at prompt 1 with its opportunities for you to write what you want to write about.

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Why My Students Don’t Use Essay Prompts for the Common Application

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Common Application Personal Statement Prompts 2014

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 10:00

The common application for 2014-2015 comes out tomorrow and many students have been waiting to write their personal statement. Wait no longer, here are the essay prompts for the common application personal statement:

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.  How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Now go out there and start writing.

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I Don’t Care About your A+ Grade

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 10:00

I don’t care that you got an A+ grade in one of your classes.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think it great that you did really well in one of your classes. You should be proud of yourself. But in the world of college admissions, there is no such thing as an A+.

The highest grade available on a 4.0 scale is an A. Not an A+. Why? Because an A grade says you did as well as you possibly could. You can’t do any better.  That is why the vast majority of high schools in this country do not give any grade higher than an A.

Sure, colleges will see that your transcript says that you received an A+ but they will convert that to a regular A for purposes of making admissions decisions.

If your high school has an A+ as the highest grade in a class then by all means shoot for that grade.  But understand that when colleges see that, it is a regular A.

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Average GPA’s for Admissions to California Colleges

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:00

Last week I mentioned that the required GPA for the UC San Diego Medical Scholars Program was a 4.0 or higher. If you are interested in any public college in California you will note that the average accepted GPA is very high. Most of the UC’s have an average accepted GPA over 4.0.

But what if the highest GPA in your class is a 3.97 or something below a 4.0. Does that person not stand of chance of getting into a California public college? No, that is not at all what it means.

If you missed my recent post about the difference between weighted and unweighted grades, go read it now.

In California, the public colleges, including the University of California system, the UC’s, and the California State Universities, the CSU’s, use WEIGHTED GPA’s in admissions. As a result almost all California high schools use a weighted GPA on their transcripts. Many of my students from California don’t even know what their unweighted GPA is.

Most colleges in the United States, outside of California, use unweighted grades because of the problem of comparing weighted GPA’s from one school to another.

If you are interested in applying to a California public university, use your weighted GPA to see if you will competitive. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

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Why I Don’t Understand What Your Weighted GPA Means

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:00

One of the most common, and most important, questions I ask prospective students is “what is your GPA.” But I’ll let you in on a secret. When you tell me what your weighted GPA is, I don’t know what it means.

Here’s the problem.

Last time I discussed weighted vs unweighted grades and what those terms meant.  But what I didn’t tell you is that there is no uniform method for weighting grades. Some high schools give one extra point for an AP class. Some give one point for an honors class but two points for an AP class. Some give three points for an AP class. One high school I have worked with gives six extra points for an AP class. Some only give half a point for an AP class. And some high schools don’t use weighted grades at all.

When you tell me your weighted GPA is a 4.5, that may be great given how your school weights grades. But it might be an average GPA at some other high school.

Are you started to get an idea of the problem here? When a college gets a weighted GPA in from a high school they are trying to compare it to the weighted or unweighted GPA from another high school. And with no uniformity in how the weighting is done, they don’t know if you are a great or average student.

That is why the majority of colleges in this country strip all of the weighting out of your grades and rely on the good old 4.0 system. In other words, a 4.0 is as high as your GPA can possibly be.

Now you may be worried that, while your grades are good, they are not as good as that kid that took all of the shop and phy ed classes your school offers. Have no fear. Colleges are looking at your GPA but they are also looking to see what classes you took to get that GPA. You need good grades in serious academic subjects to be a good candidate for a selective college.

If you are interested in attending a highly selective college, and your high school gives you your weighted GPA, go to your guidance counselor to see if they can also give you your unweighted GPA. That way, we can all understand what we are talking about.

 

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Weighted GPA’s vs. Unweighted GPA’s.

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 10:00

Everyone knows how important the high school grade point average, or GPA, is in determining admissions to college. The problem is that GPA’s can be calculated two different ways.

The traditional way to calculate a GPA was to give 4.0 points for an A, 3.0 points for a B, 2.0 points for a C and 1.0 point for a D. Because this didn’t allow for distinctions between grades, schools soon developed GPA’s for + and – grades. So an A- became a 3.67, a B+ a 3.3, a B- a 2.67 and so on.

This is unweighted grading and is what existed for many years. Under this system, if you receive all A’s you have a 4.0 GPA.

But with the development of the AP system, some high schools started to believe that they should reward students taking the more challenging classes. So, high schools started to give higher points for AP classes. Commonly, an A in an AP class would now be worth 5.0 points rather than the traditional 4.0. Some high schools also started to do the same thing for honors classes.

These are weighted grades. The weighting refers to the additional points, or weight, given for the AP and honors courses.

Next time I will talk about the mess that has come about because of weighted grading.

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UC San Diego’s Invitation to BS/MD Program

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 07/10/2014 - 10:00

I was talking the other day to one of my students from California who has an interest in the UC San Diego Medical Scholars Program.  The program says that only those students that are invited to apply may apply for the program.  The student was concerned that he might not get an invitation to apply.

I assured the student that this was not an issue. Many BS/MD programs have minimum grade and test score requirements before students will be considered for the program. At the Medical Scholars Program, students must have a GPA of 4.0 or higher and a minimum SAT score of 2,250 or a minimum ACT score of 34.

The UCSD Medical Scholars Program invitation will be sent to ALL students that have applied to UC San Diego undergrad and who have those grades and test scores.  In a typical year they send out over 500 invitations.

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BS/MD Programs with High GPA or MCAT Scores Required

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 07/08/2014 - 10:00

In the last two posts I have mentioned that there are some BS/MD programs that have higher than typical required grades or higher than typical MCAT scores to advance to the medical school. Today I want to identify those programs.

The University of Alabama has a 3.5 GPA requirement for math and sciences courses but a 3.6 overall GPA requirement.

The University of Connecticut has an overall GPA requirement of a 3.6 GPA.

George Washington University has an overall GPA requirement of a 3.6 GPA.

The St. Bonaventure/George Washington program also has a science and overall GPA of 3.6.

The University of Central Florida has a 3.75 science and overall GPA requirement.

Washington University in St. Louis has a 3.8 over GPA requirement and a 36 MCAT requirement.

Rosemont/Drexel has a minimum required MCAT score of 31.

The University of Pittsburgh has a GPA requirement of 3.75.

There are some wonderful programs here that I have had many students apply to. But, before applying to these programs, carefully consider the higher requirement to advance to the medical school  so that you are making an informed decision.

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Minimum College GPA to Advance to Medical School from BS/MD Program

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 10:00

Last time I talked about the minimum MCAT score required by many BS/MD programs. But you also need to be aware that many programs have a minimum college GPA that a student also must earn to advance to the medical school.

Most commonly, this is a 3.5 GPA. Many programs are also specific about the grades that must be earned. Typically the programs require that a student get no longer than a “B” grade in one of the required classes for medical school.

When I am working with students applying to medical school through the traditional approach I generally advise that they have a minimum 3.5 college GPA and higher is better. Like the minimum MCAT score, the BS/MD programs let a student have the minimum competitive GPA and still advance to the medical school. In like manner, if you have a “C” grade in a course required for medical school, admissions to a medical school will be very difficult.

My experience is that most students who work hard are able to achieve the 3.5 GPA required for most BS/MD programs.

As with the MCAT, however, there are programs that require higher GPA’s and a student needs to be aware of that before applying to one of these programs as it can make advancing to the medical school much more difficult. Washington University in St. Louis is an example of such as program. The require a student to have a 3.8 GPA to advance to the medical school from the BS/MD program.

 

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Do BS/MD Applicants Have to Worry About the MCAT

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 07/01/2014 - 10:00

When talking with students about BS/MD programs, many express a desire to avoid the MCAT. But how much does the MCAT really matter?

About 20 of the BS/MD programs don’t require the MCAT at all.  Here is a list of those BS/MD programs that don’t require the MCAT.

That means that most of the programs do require the MCAT.  However, each program handles that requirement differently. Some BS/MD programs require that students take the MCAT but don’t require any minimum score. Most of the programs that require a minimum score to advance to the medical school require a 30 on the MCAT.

When I am working with students applying to medical school through the traditional approach I always advise them that to be the most competitive they will want to have at least a 30 on the MCAT.  Higher than a 30 is preferred.

Since a 30 on the MCAT is the minimum for traditional medical school, requiring a 30 to advance to the BS/MD program is not so bad. Students in these programs do not have to worry about getting the highest possible MCAT score. They just need the minimum score.

I understand that students want to avoid the MCAT if possible. To do well on the test requires a great deal of studying. But having a minimum score of 30 allows a student to avoid the stress of getting the highest possible score. Moreover, many of the BS/MD programs that require the MCAT also provide MCAT prep as part of the program. The medical schools really do want the students admitted to these programs to succeed.

There are a few programs that require an MCAT score higher than a 30. If you are considering one of those programs, you need to be very aware of that requirement and the risk that you may not score at that higher level.

Wanting to avoid the MCAT is a legitimate reason to apply to a BS/MD program. But, the bottom line is that most BS/MD programs provide an advantage over traditional medical schools even if the MCAT is required.

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How is the PSAT Used in College Admissions?

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 06/24/2014 - 10:00

I often have students send me their PSAT scores or express concern because their scores are not high enough to qualify for National Merit consideration. I always tell them the same thing.

Don’t worry about it. The PSAT doesn’t matter.

For purposes of admissions to colleges, including the most selective colleges in the country, a student’s PSAT score mean absolutely nothing. It is never considered.

The only thing the PSAT is used for is to determine who qualifies for National Merit semi-finalist status. I can hear you already. “So, that is what is important to colleges.”  Nope.

The majority of colleges do not care if a student is a National Merit scholar or not. What colleges care about is what are your actual test scores.  SAT or ACT they don’t really care. I have seen many students with very modest PSAT scores that scored very well on the actual SAT or the ACT. Those students have almost universally done well in the college and BS/MD admissions process.

There are some colleges, particularly those that typically don’t get very many students that score well on the SAT, that offer significant financial aid packages for National Merit finalists. But the vast majority of highly selective colleges give either no extra financial aid for National Merit finalists or at most give $2,500 a year.

If you are looking for significant merit money and are willing to consider some less selective colleges, then by all means try to do well on the PSAT. Otherwise, don’t freak out about it. If you do well, great. And if you don’t do well, so what.

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Why I Don’t Work With Everyone Who Wants to Hire Me

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 10:00

The other day I mentioned that I don’t work with everyone who wants to hire me. In fact, I turn down more students than I accept. Why?

There are two basic reasons. First, there needs to be a good fit between the counselor and the student. This is one of those things that can be hard to define but I have been doing this long enough that I generally know when I will enjoy working with a student and when I might not.

Second, students need to be realistic in their expectations. No one is guaranteed admission to a BS/MD program. Now, that being said, it is not too often that I am surprised by the overall results of a particular student. I can’t say where someone might be admitted but in most cases, if I think a student is competitive for BS/MD programs, they will get in somewhere.

But some students only want a particular program. “I only want PLME” or “I only want HPME.” Some students with perfect or near perfect grades and test scores will assume that admission to an Ivy League college is something to be expected.

I have said it over and over, NO ONE is guaranteed admission to a particular college or BS/MD program. If the student does not understand that, I am not the best counselor for them.

I will also tell my students my honest opinion on their odds at a BS/MD program and some students don’t want to hear my opinion. That is their choice but if someone doesn’t want to at least hear my opinion, then they would be better off hiring someone else to work with.

I’m picky in who I work with but mainly because my main concern is helping my students to the best of my ability. As long as they understand that, and are willing to work hard to get accepted into the best BS/MD program or regular college for their needs, we will get along just fine.

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Cost vs. Value with BS/MD Packages

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 06/17/2014 - 10:00

I sometimes get a phone call and the first thing they want to know is how much do I charge. Now I am not shy about telling people what I charge to help students, but it isn’t a good question to start with.

Why? Imagine you don’t know there is any difference in various car models. You call one dealer and are told the car costs $15,000.  You call the second dealer and are told the car costs $30,000. If all cars are the same you would go with the cheaper car, right? I would.

The problem is that not all cars are the same and in like manner not all consultants are the same.  If someone calls me and wants help with a student who has learning difficulties, I will immediately refer that student to one of the counselors that I know works with students like that. I regularly refer callers out to other consultants because I know I am not the best choice for them.

If your goal is to get to medical school, either through a BS/MD program or as a traditional pre-med student, I may be a good counselor for you. Why?

Because 95% of the students I work with are focused on becoming physicians. I have been working with students who want to go to medical school for more than 14 years. I know what medical schools are looking for in deciding who to admit. For the past five years, an average of 80% of my BS/MD students have been admitted to one of the programs.

So what does this have to do with what I charge? One word…

Value.

Having worked with hundreds of BS/MD applicants I know what works in an essay and what doesn’t. I know what responses in an interview will eliminate you from consideration and which ones will make you a strong candidate. I know what the different programs are looking for in strong candidates.

You know in hiring me that you are getting a counselor experienced in BS/MD admissions. One who has worked with students just like yours many times before.

Does that mean I can guarantee admission to a BS/MD program? Of course not. But I can make sure that your student is the strongest possible candidate that they can be.

Want to know the value I can provide to your student? Give me a call and we can chat.

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Admissions Packages for BS/MD Programs

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 06/12/2014 - 10:00

At the beginning of the year I changed the BS/MD packages I was offering and I wanted to explain why and how the new packages work.  If you started to work with me under the old package you are still under that old package.

The old package provided unlimited time with me for help with admissions to as many colleges and BS/MD programs as you wished.  While that package worked great for some families it wasn’t necessary for many students who didn’t want to apply to a ton of colleges.   Students applying to 2 BS/MD programs were paying the same as those applying to 15.

At the same time the average number of BS/MD programs that students were applying to was about 5 or 6. Needless to say, the amount of work I was doing differed dramatically depending on the number of BS/MD programs being applied to.

So I decided to restructure and offer 3 packages depending on the focus of the student.

The new Silver Package provides unlimited help for up to 2 BS/MD programs and up to 6 regular colleges. This package is great for those students who aren’t sure if a BS/MD program is for them but want to see if they can get into a program as an option. The Silver Package is also good for the student who might not be competitive for most BS/MD programs but wants to at least try to get admitted to one. About 10% of my students fall into this category.

The new Gold Package provides unlimited help for up to 5 BS/MD programs and up to 10 regular colleges. This is the most popular package and for most students can accommodate a reasonable number of BS/MD programs and regular colleges. About 60% of my students are using the Gold Package.

The Platinum Package is the old package providing unlimited help for an unlimited number of BS/MD programs and an unlimited number of regular colleges. This is for the student that really wants to keep the most options open. About 30% of my students are using the Platinum Package.

I hope that the new package structure will better meet the needs of my clients. If any of you have questions about the new packages, give me a call to chat about your questions.

 

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What Does it Take to Get Into BS/DO Programs?

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 06/10/2014 - 10:00

I sometimes have students ask about admissions to BS/DO programs and what it takes to get admitted into one of these programs.

First, let’s make sure we know what we are talking about. BS/DO programs are the same as BS/MD programs except that the associated medical school grants the degree of Doctor of Osteopathy rather than the Doctor of Medicine. I discussed BS/DO programs in this past post.

BS/DO programs are good for several different types of students. Some students like the holistic approach to medicine that BS/DO programs typically take and therefore prefer applying to them rather than the typical MD programs. The other type of student that is a good match for a BS/DO program is the student that is strong but not quite strong enough for a BS/MD program or that has something unusual in their background.

For the student that is not as strong as the typical BS/MD candidate, I still like to see a 3.5 unweighted or better GPA and test scores in the 2,000 plus range to be competitive for a BS/DO program. These programs are a little more forgiving if a student does not have any research experience and are sometimes willing to consider the student with a more limited volunteering background. However, having some research experience and a strong volunteering background will still help in admissions to the BS/DO programs.

The other type of student that may find a BS/DO program a better option is the student with an unusual background. This might be the student that has skipped one or more grades in school and is young for their grade or the student that has attended multiple high schools.

Like BS/MD programs there is no guarantee of acceptance even with strong grades and test scores, but you will have somewhat better odds for admissions with a BS/DO program.

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What Does it Take to Get Into BS/DO Programs?

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