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Why are Colleges Getting So Competitive?

College Admissions Partners - 15 hours 16 min ago

There are fewer students applying to college now than there were 5 years ago. Does that surprise you?

University of Pittsburgh

How can it be that colleges are getting so much more competitive now than in the past when there are fewer students applying to college? Because the number of applications that some students are submitting has been increasing significantly. And most of these additional applications are being sent to just a handful of colleges.

The reality is that for the vast majority of colleges, they are no more selective now than they have been in the past.  In fact, most colleges accept most of the students that apply to them.

Is there anything you can do about this increased selectivity to a small number of colleges? No, I’m afraid not. But what you can do is broaden your idea of what is a good school. Don’t assume that because a college rejects most of the people that apply that it is a better college than one that accepts most of those that apply.

In deciding where to apply don’t worry about artificial rankings or the number of students that are rejected by a college. Neither tells you whether a particular college might be a good choice for you and your needs.

And that is all that should really matter to you.

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Is it Safe to Attend Dartmouth College?

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 10:00

Dartmouth College is a popular choice for many of my students to apply to. It is a good school academically. However, Dartmouth has always had a reputation as a party school. The movie Animal House was based in part on stories of fraternity life at Dartmouth.

Dartmouth College

But, it appears that things have been getting out of hand at Dartmouth. The President of Dartmouth, who is also an alumnus of Dartmouth, has called for an end to the high-risk and harmful behavior that has been occurring on campus.

Specifically there are concerns being raised about sexual assaults on campus, high-risk drinking and the lack of inclusion of minorities into campus life. In fact, Dartmouth is under federal investigation for its handling of sexual misconduct claims.

InsideHigherEd has an article on this issue reflecting on the history of those who have tried to change the climate at Dartmouth in the past.

I hope that the new President is able to clean up these problems. But the story goes beyond Dartmouth. Things like this occur everyday on campuses around the country. Just because a college has a good academic reputation doesn’t mean that there are no problems on campus.

It is your duty, in investigating colleges to apply to and attend, to get to understand what daily life is like for students on a campus. Read the school newspaper if you are on campus. Many colleges will even put them online if you can’t get to campus. Look at the crime statistics being reported by a college. Colleges are required to report these under the Clery Act. Actually talk to current students and ask them what concerns there are on campus.

Going to college is about getting an education. But you want to be safe at the same time. Do your homework and keep yourself safe.

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Is it Safe to Attend Dartmouth College?

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Are BS/MD Programs Getting More Difficult to Get Into?

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 10:00

Every year it seems that getting into college is more difficult.

BS/MD Programs are hard work

The past few years, the number of colleges that each student applies to has increased greatly. Although there are actually fewer students applying to college in general compared to 5 years ago, the number of applications has actually increased at the most selective colleges. This has artificially made it more difficult to gain admission each year.

With a number of colleges now having admit rates less than 10%, my students have been calling up asking if BS/MD programs are also getting more difficult to get into.

The answer generally is no.

BS/MD programs have admit rates ranging from 1% to 8% so they are already the most competitive college programs in the country.  If you have the qualifications to apply to one of these programs,  your chances are about the same as it was last year or 5 years ago. The reason is that while there are very few spots available for BS/MD programs, it does not appear that the number of applicants each year has changed much.

Moreover, what programs are looking for in deciding who to admit has really not changed. I will be putting up a post soon about the colleges where my current class of students were admitted to but the bottom line is that it is not significantly different from prior years.

If you are considering a BS/MD program you already know that it’s is going to be incredible competitive. Don’t worry about it since worrying won’t help anyway. Instead, make sure you are the strongest possible candidate by doing everything necessary to show you are a great candidate for these programs.

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Are BS/MD Programs Getting More Difficult to Get Into?

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ACT or SAT. Does It Matter Anymore?

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 10:00

ACT or SAT

When students start preparing for college admissions tests, one of the first issues is what is the best test. The ACT or SAT? Does it really matter any more which test you take?

The quick answer is NO, it doesn’t make any difference.  Virtually every college in the country will accept either the SAT or ACT. They really do not care what test you take.

However, which test you take can make the difference between getting accepted and rejected at many colleges.  How can those two statements both be true?  While colleges don’t care which test you take, you should care which test you take because you only want to take the test you do the best on.

Some students do better taking the SAT and some do better taking the ACT. Your job is to figure out which test is the best for you and then focus your effort on getting the best score possible for that test.  I have talked before about how to figure out which test is right for you.

Ready to start preparing for the test? Start by figuring out the right test for you.

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Parent Over Involvement Hurts Chances for Admissions

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 10:00

Parents, this post is for you. I know you love your kids and want the best for them. You want everything for them that you didn’t have. Good for you.

But, being too involved in the college admissions process, and with BS/MD programs in particular, hurts your student. It doesn’t help.

I have worked with several families over the years where there has been parent over involvement. Now let me make this clear. I regularly have parents that listen in on every phone conversation and participate in every skype call. That is not the problem.

The problem is when the parent starts writing the essays. The problem is when the parent is the only contact person a college has ever heard from. The problem is when the parent is choosing which colleges to apply to, not the student.

All colleges are concerned about the maturity of the students they are admitting. The students maturity is a big factor in BS/MD admissions. Having the occasional phone call  from parents on procedural issues like scheduling a visit is no problem.

But parents calling and asking a BS/MD program details about their admissions, calling and asking them about interviews and what is covered is a BIG red flag for most BS/MD programs.  Almost always this is a parent that is too involved and when the admissions people suspect this, the chances for admissions can disappear almost over night.

Once in a while these students will get in but in my experience their chances of admissions is less than the student who personally handles all, or most,  of the contact with admissions.

Don’t be that mom or dad that says in April when there are no BS/MD admissions coming through, what did my kid do wrong. It may have nothing to do with your kid, it may have to do with you.

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Does Grade Inflation Help Getting Into Medical School?

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 04/03/2014 - 10:00

While there are a number of factors used to determine who to admit to medical school, the two biggest are the GPA and the MCAT scores. So if a high GPA is good to have does that mean that going to a college with high grade inflation will make you more competitive for medical school?

The answer is no.

Let’s take two well known colleges as an example. Harvard is the poster child for grade inflation. The most commonly given grade at Harvard is a perfect A. The average GPA is something like a 3.8.  Princeton on the other hand used to have grade inflation like Harvard. But a few years ago they changed their grading policy to be more in line with reality and overnight the average GPA dropped to about a 3.3.  Are Princeton students dumber than Harvard students? Of course not.

But more importantly, does Harvard have the best success rate in the country for medical school admissions. No. There are many colleges that historically place more of their students that apply into a medical school than Harvard.

Conversely, did the acceptance rates into medical school drop when Princeton realigned their grading? By all appearances the answer to that is also, no.

The admissions officers at any medical school, law school or graduate program are not stupid. They know that different colleges have different average GPAs that have nothing to do with how talented the students are. That factor is taken into account when deciding on who to accept.

It is true that generally, the higher your GPA the stronger candidate you will be for medical school. But it also depends on the average GPA is of the college you attend.

 

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Questions to Ask College Students While Visiting the College

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 03/27/2014 - 10:00

You are getting ready to go visit colleges. You have already scheduled a tour and information session. But you just read my post that says you should talk to some actual students while you are visiting the college. What do you ask them?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. How difficult is it to get an appointment with a professor?
  2. If you are not doing well in a course are the professors willing to talk to you about how you can improve?
  3. How would you rate the teaching skills of your professors?
  4. What was your favorite class your first year? Why?
  5. What was the biggest class you took your first year?
  6. What was the smallest?
  7. Were you able to get enough individual attention in the larger classes?
  8. How easy is it to get into the classes you want?
  9. How much time do you spend doing homework each night?
  10. How many papers and tests do you have in a semester?
  11. What did you do last weekend? Do most students stay on campus during the weekends?
  12. What is the most important social event of the year?
  13. What type of individual would not be comfortable at this school?
  14. How do you like the food?
  15. Do you and your friends feel safe on campus?
  16. What are the residence halls like?
  17. Do the students take an active part in the discussion in class?
  18. What other colleges did you apply to?
  19. Why did you decide to attend this college?

This isn’t meant to be an all encompassing list of questions but hopefully it will get you started. And enjoy your visit.

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Do College Tour Guides Really Tell You What a College is Like?

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 03/25/2014 - 10:00

Last time we talked about when to tour colleges and in the past I have talked about why touring a college is a good idea. But today’s post is a cautionary tale.

Imagine that you are on a tour at Prestigious U. And you are told that students love each other and that no one worries about GPA’s. You start to smile because you are happy that it is not competitive once you get there. That simple statement clinches it that this is the college for you.

But what if the tour guide was lying to you? Well, maybe lying is too strong a word. Misleading you? No, lying was the right word.

In reality the students are very competitive with each other. Does that change your thoughts on that campus? Would it make you question everything the tour guide is saying?

Unfortunately, this is not a theoretical exercise. A current Princeton student wrote an article about tour guides at Princeton and disclosed a few things that Princeton doesn’t really want you to know.   Things such as students do care very much about their grades, there are bad dorms on campus and all of that research that students do doesn’t actually occur.

Make no mistake about it. This isn’t just about Princeton. Princeton is a great school for many students and I often have students considering it. But college tour guides are employed by the admissions department. And the vast majority are following a very careful script to best reflect their college.

We all want to show our best side. That is natural and there is nothing wrong with it. However, as a prospective student you need to be aware of this slant and not take everything that the tour guide tells you as absolute truth. If you tour enough colleges you will also find that some tour guides are more open to telling it like it is than others.

Take the tour. Listen to the tour guide and what they have to say. But after the tour stop and talk to some students not employed by the admissions department and ask them some questions about their college. This will likely give you a more accurate view of life at that particular college.

Next week I’ll talk about some questions to ask students on campus.

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When is the Best Time to Visit a College?

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 10:00

I have talked before about visiting colleges.  But when is the best time to visit a college?

There are two basic options.

Before Applying

The advantage of visiting a college before applying is to figure out if the college is a good choice for you. You can read all of the reviews and guide books on a particular college but until you actually get on the campus you can’t be sure if it is a good fit for you.

Only when you have a chance to talk to students and professors can you really know whether you would enjoy spending four years at the college. If you are able to visit before applying you can narrow down the colleges you are applying to by possibly eliminating those that were not a good fit for you.

Summer is a popular time to visit because you have time off and your parents will often take time off as well.  However, because you ideally want the chance to talk with current students and professors, visiting in the summer is not the best option. The spring of junior year is often the best time to visit.

After Applying

Visiting a college after you have been admitted is also a great time to visit because now you are looking at the reality of attending a particular college. Many colleges will hold admitted student days when all admitted students are invited to come visit the campus. The purpose of these visits is to encourage students that this college is a best option for them.

If you attend during admitted student days you can also see who your potentially future class mates will be. Do they look like a group of people that you would like to spend four years with?

The best option, if money is no object, is to visit both before applying and after being accepted. That will give you the best feel for which colleges to apply to and then actually attend. But if you have to make a choice, I lean toward the college visit before applying.

It takes a lot of time and effort to apply to different colleges.  If you can narrow the list of colleges you are applying to down a few colleges you will make less work for yourself.

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Small Schools are Among the Best for STEM Majors

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 03/18/2014 - 10:00

I have often talked about the strength of small liberal arts colleges in the sciences and how they often do a better job than bigger universities in preparing students for graduate and professional schools in the sciences. A new study is further confirmation of this fact.

The study, entitled “Strengthening the STEM Pipeline: The Contributions of Small and Mid-Sized Independent Colleges” found that students in smaller colleges are more likely to complete a STEM degree in four years and more likely to attend graduate school than students attending larger colleges.

In almost every math and science field the smaller colleges were producing a disproportionate number of STEM grads and PhD’s in these fields.

Smaller colleges are not the best option for everyone, but if you are considering getting a degree in a STEM field or considering a PhD or professional degree in the sciences, don’t discount the smaller colleges. You might be making a huge mistake.

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There are No Safety BS/MD Programs

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 03/13/2014 - 10:00

Last week I talked about the fact that there are no easy BS/MD programs. Today I want to talk about a related concept. What BS/MD programs are a safety for a really strong student.

I was asked this question 3 times in the past two weeks by new clients as we discussed possible BS/MD options. All three students are very strong academically and all three have good volunteering and research backgrounds.  Despite the strong background of each of these students, there is no BS/MD program that is a safety.

There are two basic reasons that no BS/MD program is a safety. First, with acceptance rates that run between 1 and 8% of the applicants, there is no one that is guaranteed acceptance. Think of it this way.  Is Princeton a safety because its 7.29% acceptance rate is higher than Harvard’s 5.79%?  Or course not. When dealing with acceptance rates below 30%, no school is a safety.

The second reason that no BS/MD program is a safety is because while grades and test scores are important, those items alone will never get you admitted. There is much more that goes into the decision of who to admit to a BS/MD program. Moreover, grades and test scores are not an indicator of how easy a BS/MD program is for a particular student.

I regularly have students not get accepted into programs like Penn State and UMKC which statistically have somewhat lower average grades and test scores. Yet these same students are admitted to programs like Rice/Baylor, Brown PLME and Northwestern HPME all of which have much higher average grades and test scores.  There can be all sorts of reasons for decisions like this but as a student you need to understand that this happens all of the time.

This post is not meant to discourage you at all. But it is meant to help you understand the reality of admissions to these super competitive programs.

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Why is Creativity a Good Thing for College Admissions?

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 10:00

You’re smart. You’re involved. People like you. You are a shoo in for a good college, right?

Sure. But the people who get into GREAT colleges almost always have something else. You know what it is? Creativity.


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One definition of creativity is the ability to view something in a different way. Great researchers have creativity to come up with novel solutions to old problems. Great physicians have creativity in dealing with their patients medical problems in a way that will most help their patient.

Time to be honest. I have never considered myself particularly creative. And I have envied people who had artistic creativity because I always thought that was what creativity was all about. You had to be an artist or a musician to be truly creative.

But I was wrong. Creativity involves much more than music and art. Creativity is the willingness to try new things. New ways of doing things that you have done a thousand times before.   I have learned as I have gotten older that I have a great deal of creativity. The thing about creativity is that you have to be willing to try and fail. And that is hard.  I don’t like to fail. You don’t like to fail. No one likes to fail.

But to truly be creative you must learn to try something new and risk failure.  Will you fail sometimes? Absolutely. And when you do you need to pick your self up and start again.

This is a life lesson that it has taken me years to learn but it also is a lesson you need to understand when applying to a highly selective college. Sometimes you will have that spark that a particular college is looking for and you get admitted. Great. But sometimes, the college you are applying to doesn’t appreciate your particular spark and you don’t get in. Or maybe you are one of those students that are very smart but just like every other student who is applying.

None of us is creative all of the time. None of us will succeed at everything we try.

But to not try new things; not to view new ways of thinking about something is truly failure. How are you going to develop your creativity? How are you going to become the student that the college says they have to have because you think outside the box?

These are not easy questions. But as young adults who want to attend a highly selective college, these are questions you must ask yourself every day.

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What are the Easy BS/MD Programs?

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 03/06/2014 - 10:00

I was looking through some websites the other day and came across the question of what are some easy BS/MD programs.

The answer to that question is very simple. There are no “easy” BS/MD programs.

I understand why people want to find an easy BS/MD program. It would allow them to get all of the benefits of a BS/MD program even if they didn’t have the strongest grades or test scores. And if you look at the minimum requirements for some of the BS/MD programs they don’t look bad at all.

The University of New Mexico’s program has no specific GPA requirement and requires an ACT math score of 22 and a reading score of 18.  Easy, right. Well, first off, realize that this program is for New Mexico residents only. Second, the average GPA of enrolled students is a 4.18 and the average ACT score is 29.  And even if you are from New Mexico and have the grades and test scores, they are only going to be interested in you if you have a commitment to staying in New Mexico and practicing to improve the health care of patients in that state.

How about Howard University? They only require a 3.5 GPA and a 26 ACT. But the average accepted student has a 3.7 GPA and a 31 ACT. Moreover, Howard is a historically black university with a mission of educating African American students. Will they consider a non African American applicant? Sure. But you are not their primary demographic.

The other problem with looking at minimum numbers for admissions is that just because you exceed those numbers doesn’t mean that they are going to accept you or even interview you. Last week I mentioned one of my strongest students from last year that didn’t get an interview at UMKC often considered one of the easy programs. A number of my academically weaker students got interviews at UMKC. So why not the super strong student?

I can’t say for sure but I regularly see very strong students not getting interviews at the so called easy programs and I strongly suspect it is because the BS/MD program doesn’t think the super strong student will attend, even if admitted.

And some of the state programs are much easier to gain admission to if you are from that state than if you are from out of state.

Are there some programs that historically accept students with lower average grades and test scores? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that this program will be easier for any particular student.

If your grades and test scores are at or above the minimum scores required for a program, and you think it would be a good fit for you, consider applying. But never make the mistake of thinking admissions is going to be easy.

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New SAT for 2016

College Admissions Partners - Wed, 03/05/2014 - 19:55

The new SAT which begins in 2016 will be back to a 1,600 scoring method with the essay optional. This is the way the SAT was before the 2005 revision.

Moreover, they are eliminating the penalty for wrong answers.

The full scope of what the new SAT looks like will be available from the College Board on April 16, 2014.

In the meantime, here is a New York Times article describing in some more detail the announcement by the College Board about the new SAT.

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College Board Joining with Khan Academy for SAT Prep

College Admissions Partners - Wed, 03/05/2014 - 19:31

The College Board has just announced that they are partnering with Khan Academy to provide FREE test prep to all students taking the SAT. They are joining forces right away to prepare students for the current SAT but the focus is on preparation for the new SAT that is coming out in 2016.

Khan Academy has been providing free test prep for a number of years and have been one of the better test prep companies particularly since they offer help without cost. I think this is great news particularly for those students who in the past have not been able to afford quality test prep and were not aware of the Khan Academy.

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Why Turning Down an Ivy League College May Make Sense

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 03/04/2014 - 10:00

Now, just so we are clear, the eight colleges of the Ivy League are some great schools. This is not meant to bash those colleges.

However, not all colleges are appropriate for all students even if you can get in.  That is true for all colleges including the big name ones that people often aspire to.

So why might you want to turn down an Ivy League school? Maybe it doesn’t have the program you want. I regularly have BS/MD students turn down Ivy League colleges because the student was admitted into a BS/MD program.

Maybe you don’t want to be a small fish in a big pond. You may have been “the” student in your high school but at an Ivy League college, you will be one of thousands of top students.

Maybe you have done some more research and have decided that the social atmosphere at an Ivy League college is not the best fit for you.

Maybe you can go to another college for free or almost free instead of having to pay a large sum of money to attend an Ivy League college.

Do your research and figure out what colleges are best for you. And if one of them is an Ivy League school, great. But don’t let the allure of “prestige” make the decision for you. You’re better than that. 

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Why You Didn’t Get an Interview for a BS/MD Program

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 02/27/2014 - 10:00

This time of year the requests for interviews are coming from all of the BS/MD programs. While most of my students are getting multiple interviews, rarely do they get asked to interview at every program they have applied to. And the question is always, why didn’t that program want to interview me?

There are all sorts of reasons that a BS/MD program might not interview a particular student. Maybe you were too strong academically and they didn’t think you would come if interviewed and admitted. Maybe they have too many students already from your state or high school. Maybe they need more girls since most of their applicants have been from boys. Maybe they already have enough research intensive applicants and want more students with a strong volunteering background. Maybe your recommendation’s didn’t mention your leadership. Maybe they didn’t like your essay. Maybe they…..

Let me give you a little story here. Last year one of my strongest students had a 4.0 unweighted GPA, one of the top high schools in the country, 2,400 SAT, all 800′s on SAT subject tests, ISEF finalist for two years and super strong volunteering. She got a number of interviews but did not get interviews at all of the programs she applied to including some of the “easy” programs. If it can happen to this student, it can happen to you.

We are talking here about programs that admit less than 10% of their applicants, and in some cases 1% of their applicants, and every application they see is fabulous. You will never know why you didn’t get an interview at a particular program because the only people that know are those on the admissions committee that year.

Don’t worry about those programs that, for whatever reason, didn’t think you were a good fit for them. Instead, focus on those programs that want to talk with you further. You can’t do anything about those programs that decided not to interview you so move on with your life and get ready to do your best at the programs you are interviewing at.

Harsh but the truth sometimes hurts.

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Common App Essay Topics for 2015

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 02/25/2014 - 10:00

The folks at the Common Application have indicated that they are keeping the personal statement essay prompts for 2015 the same as they used for 2014.

For those of you juniors who want to get a head start on your common app personal statement, here are the essay prompts:

1. 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.

2. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

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BS/MD Programs That Don’t Require the MCAT

College Admissions Partners - Tue, 02/18/2014 - 10:00

If people have specific criteria for what they are looking for in a BS/MD program the most common criteria is typically that the program not require the MCAT.  So the obvious question is, what BS/MD programs don’t require the MCAT?

Here is the list:

University of California San Diego

George Washington University

St. Bonaventure University/George Washington University School of Medicine

Northwestern University

Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education/Various medical colleges

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute/Albany Medical College

Siena College/Albany Medical College

Union College/Albany Medical College

University of Rochester

East Carolina University

Case Western Reserve University

University of Toledo

University of the Sciences in Philadelphia/Commonwealth Medical College

University of Pittsburgh (unless applying for merit scholarships or MD/PhD program)

Brown University

Baylor Univeristy/Baylor College of Medicine

Rice University/Baylor College of Medicine (unless interested in MD/PhD program)

Texas Tech University

University of Texas Dallas/University of Texas Southwestern

Virginia Commonwealth University

Although these BS/MD programs do not require the MCAT, there are many other BS/MD programs that, while they require the MCAT, do not require a particularly high minimum MCAT score to advance to the medical school.

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BS/MD Programs That Require SAT Subject Tests

College Admissions Partners - Thu, 02/13/2014 - 10:00

Students will typically ask me what SAT Subject Tests to take and I will advise them on that topic. But remember that not all of the BS/MD programs require Subject Tests. So which BS/MD programs do require SAT Subject Tests?

Here is a list of the BS/MD programs that require SAT Subject Tests:

George Washington University

St. Bonaventure University/George Washington University

Florida Atlantic University recommends SAT Subject Tests

University of Miami

Northwestern University

Boston University

Stevens Institute of Technology/Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences

Rensselaer Polytechnic/Albany Medical College

University of Rochester strongly encourages SAT Subject Tests

Drexel/Drexel University College of Medicine recommends SAT Subject Tests

Lehigh/Drexel University College of Medicine highly recommends Subject Tests

Brown University

Rice/Baylor Medical College

That’s it. Some of the other programs will consider SAT Subject Tests if submitted but do not require or even recommend them.

I do typical recommend that if possible a student does take several of the SAT Subject Tests so that they can consider these listed programs as options. But not having SAT Subject Tests still allows you to apply to most of the available BS/MD programs.

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BS/MD Programs That Require SAT Subject Tests

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