Many premeds wonder whether a Master's or a PhD help your medical school chances. Do you need a grad degree for medical school? Let's face it; each year getting into medical school is proving to be more difficult. What are you supposed to do when becoming a physician seems so close, yet so far away? How to get into medical school? You need awesome grades, MCAT score, and extracurriculars. And now you might be thinking that you need another degree altogether!! 

Before you freak out and start searching online forums like premed101 and Reddit Premed (note: spare yourself the pain, don't do it!), let BeMo help you understand whether graduate school can help with your medical school acceptance. So do you really need a graduate degree to get into medical school? Let's find out.


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Why Are You Considering Graduate School?

First things first, ask yourself why grad school. Do you want to pursue something specific? Are you having doubts about medicine? Are you unsure of whether you should pursue a Master's or a Ph.D.? Are you afraid you won’t get in? Why do you want to be a doctor? Have you been wondering "How hard is it to get into medical school?" and wondered whether a graduate degree might help your chances? Whatever the reason, answer that question. 

Grad school isn't something to be taken lightly. Getting into grad school is challenging and comes with a hefty price tag. It is an excellent idea to pursue graduate education if you are passionate about a discipline or you want to further your education, but the decision to enter grad school takes conviction and should not be thought of as a backup plan to medicine. If you are worried that your medical school application is weak, examine those weaknesses first. Maybe you need more clinical hours? Then volunteering and shadowing a physician would be a better step in the right direction, rather than applying to grad school. On the other hand, if you are worried about your grades, graduate school could help show the admissions committee that you can handle the advanced coursework. Keep in mind that each committee will evaluate your graduate GPA differently. Some might include it in the overall GPA calculation, some might not include it at all, and some may even replace your undergrad GPA with the grad school GPA. Again remember, this is specific to each school.

It is important to realize that pursuing a grad degree simply to bolster your med school application is not a good idea. Grad school is hard and expensive! You must have a better reason to pursue grad school than simply improving your admissions chances. If you need to boost your GPA or extracurriculars for medical school, enrolling in a post-bacc for medical school is a better option.

But if you decide that you want to attend graduate school before you commit to the path of medicine, let's examine how a grad degree can help you.

Wondering about the difference between undergrad experience and grad school?

Does a Graduate Degree Help Your Medical School Acceptance Chances? 

Many future and current medical school applicants are faced with the question of whether or not they “need” a graduate degree (Master’s or Ph.D.) to gain successful admission into medical school. The short answer is, no—you don’t need a Master’s degree or a Doctorate Degree to secure admission.  Admissions committees evaluate each applicant's GPA, MCAT, medical school recommendation letters, personal statement, research, volunteer experiences, and extracurricular activities. Each committee will weigh these differently, but the majority initially pay attention to your MCAT score and GPA as the most influential factors. Can graduate school help increase these statistics? Let's find out.

Med school admission committees have filters that will weed out applicants. For example, you have a 3.4 GPA and their cut-off is a 3.5, then your application will face medical school rejection. You have to get by their initial screening of you statistics to continue in the competition. As previously stated, a graduate degree GPA might offset your undergrad grades, but it depends on whether your chosen medical school considers your graduate school GPA. Each school calculates this differently and you should research their admissions processes before applying. Keep in mind that in order for your grades to count, you have to have finished the program.

Can grad school help your MCAT score? Not necessarily. The MCAT tests very basic scientific knowledge which is typically studied in introductory undergrad courses. You only need to take medical school prerequisites in order to have enough knowledge to start your MCAT prep, so graduate education is absolutely not necessary to ace the MCAT. I want to add that grad school education would not hurt your chances of getting a good MCAT score, but it's certainly not a requirement for doing well on the test.

But can graduate school help your other application components? You can definitely apply and gain acceptance to medical school with or without a graduate degree, but additional research experiences and strong letters of recommendation from your supervisors can certainly add to your candidacy. But it's worth repeating that graduate school is not an easy path, so acceptance to medical school should not be the only reason why you pursue a Master's or a PhD.

It is worth noting that some medical schools give additional ranking points to applicants with Master's or PhD. While these points cannot make up for a low GPA, low MCAT, or poor essays, they can give you a competitive edge if the rest of your application is stellar!

If you are simply looking to boost your med school acceptance chances and have no real interest in research and graduate work, our best advice would be to do as well as you can on your MCAT and get a high GPA, write a killer medical school personal statement, get as much experience shadowing and volunteering as you can, and practice with common medical school interview questions.

At the end of the day, if you think applying to graduate school is right for you then you should go for it! There are many things to be gained by having that experience. But don't do it to simply "boost" your med school application. There are many cheaper and easier ways to do this!

Can Grad School Skills Translate into Success During Medical School?

Graduate degrees develop desirable skills, primarily those centered around critical thinking and research. In my experience, these traits and skills are useful in medical school and the medical profession. Appraising evidence-based bodies of work becomes second nature. Medicine is full of discoveries, breakthroughs, and research. As a doctor, you have to be up-to-date on the newest information and gleaning important information from studies. Graduate students are adept at sifting through dense material to unearth relevant information. From being able to review and critique the evidence to summarizing findings, and applying them to discussions, having a graduate degree can be beneficial.

As you know, medical schools value strong written and oral communication skills, and these are developed during grad school. Grad students become proficient in writing and communicating scientific articles and concepts. So as you prepare for medical school applications, you will be able to write student-led medical publications, textbooks, papers, medico-social opinion pieces, articles, and commentaries.

Graduate students can pursue research projects that can lead to presenting their work at conferences, and hopefully publications. This can be a huge advantage for your medical school application! Many programs have thesis and publication requirements, so these would work well in improving your skills and application. Research projects in graduate school can give you an edge when it comes time to apply for residency. Learning research methodology and self-directed planning will give you an advantage in research-driven medical programs.

Looking for grad school application tips?

What Kind of Graduate Programs Are Best for Medical School?

Admissions committees will look favorably upon graduate training that is applicable to medicine. You may want to look into Special Master's Programs (SMP) that are geared toward medical school hopefuls. SMPs provide graduate-level coursework over 1-2 years. They are designed specifically for pre-med students and you graduate with a Master's degree. A huge advantage is that it is well-known that pre-meds that take time to pursue an SMP after undergrad are solely to strengthen their medical school application, whether it's GPA increase or gaining more research skills. Each medical school in the US (similar to Canadian schools) has their own system when assessing GPAs, but in general, if an applicant has applied with a subpar undergrad GPA, their SMP GPA will compensate for it. 

Another huge advantage of SMPs is that many of them are directly affiliated with medical schools! You would be taking classes alongside medical school students and have access to the same facilities as these students. Plus, the faculty and staff will know your name and witness your hard work and progress. If one of your SMP instructors agree to be a strong reference for you, you will have support from internal faculty, which is a huge feat!

It is highly competitive to gain admission into an SMP program and is very costly. American medical schools regard them as paralleling the scrupulous framework of medical school, more so than regular programs, such as Master's in Public Health, an MBA, etc. Should you be in a position where your medical school application needs a boost, pursuing an SMP may be a smart choice. 

If you are passionate about research, applying to MD-Ph.D. programs could be beneficial. Many institutions offer a dual MD-Ph.D. track that allows you to earn both degrees. Most start with the same 2 years of medicine and then you do 2-3 years of research and thesis writing. After completing the PhD portion, you begin your clinicals. This allows you to finish both degrees quicker than doing them separately. A Ph.D. alone can take anywhere between 5-9 years in addition to the 4 years of medical school and subsequent years of residency training, so doing a combined degree is advantageous.

Thinking of pursing MD-PhD programs? Check out our tips below:

So, Should You Pursue a Graduate Degree Before Medical School?

Graduate school could be just the thing for you. So could a post-bacc, an SMP, or even an MD-Ph.D. program. What I’m getting at here is that it is very situation dependent. If you can’t stand the idea of not going right into medicine, then don’t go to grad school. Some of you might be totally hyped by the idea of doing some research or discovering a new field; go ahead and apply to a grad degree. There is no one way to get into medical school. It’s different for everyone. Dr. Szczupak went straight into medical school and loved it. Dr. Wafa finished a Ph.D. and then went to medical school and loved it. Both of us value our experiences and how we decided to go into medicine. I even know some people who got a Master's after their MD. It is a big decision, but one that is ultimately leading you to your goals.  

FAQs

1. Do I need a graduate degree to get into medical school?

No, you do not need a graduate degree to get into medical school. Most medical schools will simply ask for an undergraduate degree or a number of completed undergrad credits. A graduate degree is totally optional.

2. Does having a graduate degree increase my chances of getting accepted into medical school?

Some medical schools give applicants with graduate degrees additional ranking points. But these points are not enough to overshadow weak application elements, such as a low GPA or MCAT. Typically, graduate degrees are not significant advantages when it comes to medical school acceptance.

3. I am not ready to pursue medicine. Should I enroll in a graduate degree?

If you are thinking of taking a gap year before medical school, you can certainly choose to attend a grad program. This experience will help you hone your research and communication skills. However, you can also choose to get a premed gap year job or use the gap year to prepare for the MCAT.

4. What kind of graduate degrees should I pursue before medical school?

If you choose to attend a graduate program before med school, you should try to enroll in a healthcare-related degree. A degree related to medicine will help you will gain useful and transferable skills.

5. Are there any grad programs that are specifically designed to help me get into medical school?

Yes. You should look into Special Master's Programs, which are often associated with medical schools. These programs are specifically designed to help you transition into from graduate studies to medical school.

6. How expensive are graduate degrees?

Grad degrees, especially PhDs (due to their lengths), can be very costly. In the United States, a year of private graduate school can cost around US$25,000. A year of public graduate school anywhere between US$5,000 to US$25,000. In Canada, these fees are slightly lower, around CAD$10,000 per year.

7. What is the application process for graduate school?

Every graduate program will have its own application process. Most programs will require an online application form, statement of purpose, transcripts, graduate school CV, reference letters, standardized test scores, and writing samples. Make sure to research application requirements of your chosen programs before you apply.

8. Can my graduate school instructors and supervisor be a reference for medical school?

Absolutely! In fact, medical schools will expect your to provide a letter from the principle investigator you worked with in grad school.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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1 Comments

Bri

Thank you!! This was so helpful!!!!!

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BeMo Academic Consulting

Thank you, Bri. We are very glad that you found this helpful!

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