Pros and Cons of Getting a Master’s Degree Before Med School

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Updated: February 23, 2024, Reading time: 14 minutes

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How difficult is it to get into medical school? Well, medical schools are the most demanding schools to break into. Despite having some of the most competitive and bright candidates, medical school acceptance chances are still relatively low.

You’ve probably heard harrowing tales about deserving candidates whose medical school applications got denied on their first, second, or even third attempt.

Getting a Master's Degree Before Med School - fact

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Could it be the GPA or MCAT requirements? Could it be the lack of extracurricular activities? Regardless of the reason, it’s common to consider whether having a master’s degree would increase your chances of admission.

Whether or not it’s worth earning a master’s degree before getting into medical school is a common question asked by hopeful practitioners in the field. Would it be easier if they had a master’s degree on top of a high undergraduate GPA? The answer is not that easy.

Pursuing a master’s degree in any healthcare-related field offers pros and cons. It’s a pro for those who want to become physicians and pursue research. On the other hand, it’s a con for someone who wants to work in the field faster.

Before enrolling in any master’s program, carefully weigh the upsides and drawbacks of getting a master’s degree before med school. Will this benefit you on a personal level? Does this align with your goals? More importantly, do you have the means to pursue a special master’s program?

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Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

What Are Special Master’s Programs?

What Are Special Master's Programs

Special master’s programs are used to pursue prerequisite courses. Students take a year of studying various science classes, frequently with medical students, too. 

Success in an SMP can show that you can handle the workload of a medical school. Because most SMP programs have connections to medical schools, they can be used as stepping stones for medical school admissions.

Many schools offer SMP programs; therefore, you must carefully consider your options before enrolling in one. Consider the following factors before selecting a special master’s program:

The Pros

The Networking Opportunities

Networking is very valuable. In fact, this method fills 85% of all positions, making it an essential skill for anyone looking to grow in their industry. After all, if you’re working in the medical field, it’s often “who knows you.”

Medical students who pursue master’s degree programs in any healthcare or science-related field are exposed to various networking opportunities. Graduate school will teach you the fundamentals of your field and help you hone the necessary networking skills and form new relationships that will last a lifetime.

Additionally, you’ll be surrounded by dozens of like-minded individuals, including your classmates, teachers, and alumni.

The people and professionals you meet in grad school can help you with the medical school application process. You’ll have a pool of medical professionals and peers from whom you can ask to write recommendation letters on your behalf. 

You Gain Research Experience

Research experience is a mandatory prerequisite for many med school applications, depending on the institution and the program; however, the research experience may vary substantially. Every type of research in a scientific field will give you priceless experience and transferable skills for your time in medical school.

Pre-med master’s degree programs affiliated with medical facilities offer students invaluable research opportunities.

You Will Have Clinical Opportunities

Great doctors are not determined by their high GPAs and MCAT scores. Great doctors are determined by their skills in engaging with patients, giving outstanding patient care, working with the medical staff, and advancing society. This is why many medical schools highly value clinical and research experiences.

SMPs and other master’s degrees that lead to medical school emphasize giving students clinical opportunities.

Students with prior clinical experience demonstrate their willingness to advance their medical education and dedication to the medical industry. Having experience in a clinical setting at a young age will help your medical school application stand out from the competition and improve your chances of getting accepted.

Students who participate actively in patient interaction and deliver superior health care benefit greatly from clinical experience in medical school.

Offer Built-in Volunteer Opportunities

SMPs and master’s degrees leading to medical school offer opportunities to help you build your AMCAS job and activities section, which will serve you with great purpose. Pre-med graduate degrees often include community service in their curricula, while others allocate time for students to look for volunteer opportunities independently.

For their students, some organizations set aside days to volunteer. This introduces prospective medical students to employment and service options outside the school’s curriculum.

The Cons

It May Not Always Be Practical

Cost is one of the first things to consider while determining if you should enroll in graduate schools before medical school. 

Attending medical school is expensive, regardless of whether you sign up for an SMP. Your enormous student loan load will only grow if you enroll in a master’s program. 

After completing a master’s degree, most students aim to enroll immediately in medical school. This will require you to take on more unsubsidized federal, state, or private loans without even having the chance to deduct loans from your undergraduate study. This will only increase loan interest, ultimately resulting in huge debt. 

The average tuition cost of SMPs at private universities is $56,000, while it’s $25,000 at public institutions. Remember that the cost of living or income loss is not included in the program fees.

You Delay Your Medical Career

Graduate school will delay your medical career. Without pursuing a master’s degree, it’ll take you up to 15 years of studies to become a doctor. A master’s degree will set you back for another 2-3 years, depending on the program’s curriculum.

Now, is this worth the delay? That depends. But for many, it’s not.

Resume Booster Trap

A common myth says that a master’s degree will significantly enhance a medical student’s resume. While a graduate degree adds extra points, there are less time-consuming alternatives to a master’s degree that can raise a candidate’s chance for medical school admission.

You’d have better chances of persuading medical school admissions committees of your commitment to the field if you could independently find clinical, volunteer, and networking opportunities rather than solely rely on a graduate school. 

Best Specialized Master’s Degree Programs to Get Into Medical School

Best Specialized Master's Degree Programs to Get Into Medical School

Again, a master’s degree is not necessary to get into medical school. Moreover, there are various ways to enter medical school, which will be discussed shortly after this section. 

If you’re eager to pursue a pre-med master’s degree, here are the best majors for you:

Master of Science in Bioethics

MSc in Bioethics is one of the best majors that help students prepare for medical school. This degree program covers biotechnology, medical science, medical practice, and healthcare policy.

Through rigorous coursework and the intent to help students pursue medical school, the curriculum of these programs develops the student’s analytical abilities and theoretical information necessary to comprehend the complicated challenges of medical practice.

Students build a moral and professional foundation that will support their future jobs. Also, they acquire experience working in labs, shadowing physicians, and going through fictitious medical admissions interviews.

Master of Biomedical Science

The Master of Biomedical Science is a one-year degree program that aims to provide you with a strong foundation in biomedicine, medical informatics, and translational science. It also ensures that you know the difficulties presented by domestic and global health disparities. 

MBS degrees usually last up to a year. Graduates can seek professions in biomedicine or continue to medical school.

Master of Science in Medical Science

The MSc in Medical Science is designed for pre-med students who want to study human anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and neuroscience. In addition to learning about the various paths in medical schools, students will also gain practical experience in community health centers.

Students may be able to use some of their master’s degree credits to skip some of the first-year classes in medical school if they choose to continue to that program.

Master of Science in Nutrition

MSc in Nutrition degrees are typically two-year degrees that give students in-depth knowledge about human nutrition. The MSNS program develops students’ knowledge and abilities in cultural competence and nutrition science to prepare them for employment in nutrition and related sectors or medical school. 

Because of the flexibility of these programs, students can select electives that best suit their interests in a profession, graduate school, and research. The majority of programs demand a research element. 

Master of Science in Biotechnology

MSc in Biotechnology has one of the most accelerated programs structured to help pre-med students explore topics in biomedical sciences, work in labs, and design experiments. Pre-medicine courses may give students a chance to conduct their own independent research projects and take part in MCAT training sessions.

Master of Science in Physiology

Some MSc in Physiology programs are specifically designed for students taking a gap year from submitting their med school applications. Students enrolled in this specialized master’s degree program must complete graduate-level coursework covering topics in ethics, human physiology, human anatomy, neurology, and genetics. 

Given the breadth of physiology, graduates can pursue education in various health-related fields, such as medicine (MD) and medical research.

How to Get Into Medical School

How to Get Into Medical School

Know The Requirements

As previously mentioned, there are various ways to get into medical school. There’s no need to major in pre-medicine or a science-related degree or obtain a specialized master’s degree to get extra points. Some doctors graduated with a bachelor’s degree related to medicine. 

The only reason why many pre-med students major in STEM is because these degrees offer the required prerequisites, such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and physics. If music is your major, you will need to take additional courses to meet the requirements for medical school.

However, it would be best if you kept a few things in mind. First, ensure you’re on track to earning an accredited undergraduate degree. Second, you need to complete the prerequisites required for medical school.

Most medical schools require 15 credit hours of biology with six upper-division credits, eight credits of organic chemistry, eight credits of physics, three credits of biochemistry, and three credits in psychology.

Regardless of what undergraduate degree you have graduated from, you’ll still participate in various engaging extracurricular activities outside of undergraduate studies to learn more about medicine and related areas. 

Know The Pathways To Medical School

Traditionally, applicants to medical school must complete four years of undergraduate study before enrolling in the program. Nevertheless, it’s not your only choice. 

Let’s say your undergraduate degree lacks the required prerequisite courses for medical school; you can complete those credits using community college credits. Most medical schools will be okay with it as long as the bachelor’s degree and credit hours are obtained from accredited colleges and universities. Your MCAT score has more weight.

If you want a faster route to medical education, you can pursue BS/MD degree programs, often called “direct medical programs.” These degree programs, however, will not give you time for a gap year.

Students can receive a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree before going straight into a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree without the need to apply to medical school separately.

Despite having historically low admission rates—typically between 1 and 10 percent—BS/MD schools might be excellent choices for college applicants determined to pursue a career in medicine without taking a gap year.

Start planning early

While GPAs and MCAT scores are highly valuable, medical schools also prefer applicants to have various experiences. Applicants with practical experience demonstrate different intelligence, commitment, and interest levels. 

It will also help if you participate in research (any research in any field), volunteer work, part-time employment, and shadowing. Although these activities are not academic requirements, they look fantastic on your resume when you apply to medical schools.

While it may seem impossible to complete all these tasks while attending college, the secret is planning ahead. Will you begin employment or volunteerism in your first year? Or will you use the year to establish a solid study routine? What activities may you engage in over the summer to lessen your workload during the academic year? You can get planning advice from your pre-med advisor.

Do interesting research

Doing biomedical research serves two purposes: to improve your chances at medical school admissions and to help you decide if you’re fit for medical education. Getting to know your instructors and asking them if they have any open positions for undergraduates in their labs are some of the fastest ways to get involved in research. 

You can explore campus jobs open to undergrads posted on several institutions’ websites throughout the semester. A range of professions offers opportunities and research experience. Ensure you have adequate time in your schedule if you decide to volunteer.

Volunteer at a medical facility

Another way to prove yourself worthy of admission is to show the medical admissions committee that you can care for patients empathetically. Volunteering at a medical facility, even locally, will help you enhance your college resume.

Nursing homes, animal shelters, soup kitchens, and crisis centers are a few non-hospital facilities you can gain experience from. 

Don’t choose your volunteer position primarily on how it will appear on your application. Choose a volunteer opportunity where you will be passionate about the impact you are having.

Check again to see whether your volunteer site offers clinical hours if it’s not a medical facility and if you need them. If you love the experience, you’ll get more out of it, and it will show when you write about it in your application essays.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions - Pros and Cons of Getting a Master's Degree Before Med School in 2023

Does a graduate degree help your chances of acceptance to medical school? 

Since medical schools usually do not require applicants to obtain a master’s degree, they mostly consider your undergraduate GPA. This further means that your graduate school GPA won’t matter much when getting into medical school.

With a few exceptions, such as Special Master’s Programs, having outstanding grades in graduate school won’t help your candidacy.

Can grad school help your MCAT score?

Grad school may help you obtain higher MCAT scores; however, this is not a requirement whatsoever to pass the test. 

How many hours of clinical are necessary for grad school?

Medical schools do not necessarily have set requirements for clinical practice hours. However, it is ideal to accumulate high-caliber experience that can advance your technical expertise.

What is the difference between post-baccalaureate programs and special master’s programs?

Post-baccalaureate programs are primarily intended for non-traditional or non-science majors who want to finish the pre-medical school requirements.

SMPs, on the other hand, are designed for students who have completed the required courses but still need to improve their academic standing by taking one or more years of graduate-level science courses.

Who is the ideal SMP candidate?

The ideal SMP candidate is someone who wishes to demonstrate academic growth but already has significant work/activities experience. Spending a year in a special master’s program is not the best choice if your work/activities score is average or below average.

It’s also vital that you can continue obtaining experience in vital fields like service and medicine. SMP students still have to outbid applicants who work a year-long shift in a hospital, clinic, school, shelter, etc.

The application process and requirements for SMP programs significantly differ from school to school. Contacting your intended school is the best way to know the specific requirements. However, most SPM programs require stellar application letters and a 3.0 GPA. But then again, some programs may or may not have a GPA cutoff.

Are graduate school instructors allowed to write letters of recommendation for their students?

No rule prohibits graduate school professors from writing LORs for their students. In fact, this is highly encouraged. Because professors spend a lot of time with their students, colleges believe they can give an honest assessment of a student’s character.

Key Takeaways

Master’s and SPMs are not required to get into medical school, and they cannot guarantee entry to one. They do, however, help students prepare for medical school.

If you really want to become more competitive in med school applications, it would be best to spend more time working in clinical settings, teaching, or helping underserved populations rather than pursuing a specialized master’s program.

We’re certain of one thing—your search for more information on picking the best graduate degree or school landed you here. Let our experts help guide your through the decision making process with thoughtful content written by experts.