To the incoming freshman who wants to graduate early,
I know the appeal that graduating early carries. Just a year ago, I was you. Before the fall semester had even begun, I had my major picked out. While planning out my four-year college plan, I noticed that I was way ahead of the game. I was coming into college with far more AP credits than the average student. I got to skip out of pretty much all of the general, introductory classes that other freshmen pursuing STEM-related majors were taking, including biology, chemistry, calculus, statistics, psychology, and English. I had next to nothing to put in for my senior year of college. Was an extra year worth it? Paying tuition for another year if I would already have fulfilled my 120 credits and my major/minor requirements? I decided that it wasn't.
So, I started telling everybody I would graduate in three or possibly three and a half years. Why? Because I could.
And the truth is, I still can. It's totally possible. According to my plan, I would take a gap year after graduating in which I'd be doing research or internships to gain more experience, and then apply to med school. It sounds great, doesn't it? The only problem is, graduating in three years will undoubtedly put you at a disadvantage against your four-year counterparts applying to medical school. If you are under the impression that finishing a year in advance while maintaining a high GPA (even a 4.0), doing research, and cramming for the MCATs will impress med schools, I would ask you to reconsider.
By no means am I suggesting you should completely eliminate that option, but take the following points into consideration before having your heart set on it.
What's wrong with graduating in three years?
I know that right now, it seems like getting to put an early graduation date on your diploma sounds amazing, but it will fall short compared to the student double majoring, researching 15 hours a week, working jobs, and squeezing in a study abroad semester while maintaining his/her academic prowess. I mean, what really are you showing to med schools? That you were eager to get out early? Your success at med school is completely dependent on your rigor, patience, and intensity... all of which would be showcased better if you stick it out another year in college.
After all, when it's time to apply, the numbers don't matter. Getting to say three instead of four isn't nearly as captivating as being able to articulate your experience in an extracurricular activity, as an e-board member of your favorite organization, your time spent researching, or your summer abroad. And building such experiences take time. Time, that would be sacrificed if you graduate too early. Because even if you have outstanding academic scores, your college application process for undergraduate colleges have been enough proof that it isn't all about the grades.
If I finish my major and minor early, why sit around an extra year?
As a freshman just entering into the world of college, I was naive and unaware. For the longest time, I thought that everyone took one major and one minor. I was wrong. It's a typical path, but not the only one. In a college with thousands of students, it's impractical to think that everyone is following the same route. In fact, in a country with over 50,000 applicants to medical schools each year, that's totally bogus. As I meeting new people every day, I was learning about the unique paths they had taken to get to where they are now and what they planned to do in the future.
I've met international students who have studied in medical programs abroad before transferring to college here. I've met students double (even triple) majoring and double minoring. I've met students pursuing their master's degree before going to medical school. I've seen students with more clinical and hands-on experience than I ever had. All that just goes to show the diverse experiences making up the applicant pool.
My biggest advice would be to consider your options. If you've really exhausted what you can do at college, then by all means, graduate early. However, that is rare. There's so much to do at college. Consider taking on another major, converting your minor into a major, taking classes in new subject areas, study abroad programs, student organizations, and whatever else you can think of.
Is graduating early difficult?
Well, it's possible. But as you near the end of your freshman year, you'll start to realize the number of things you need to have before medical school.
You need good grades. Chances are that squeezing your course requirements into three years can affect your grades and lower your GPA. No matter what, you shouldn't stress yourself out. If you give yourself four years, you give yourself more flexibility. A common story for many college students is the hit their grades took during their freshman year of college. The transition from high school to college isn't always easy depending on the circumstances. Regardless, if you can show med schools an upward trajectory in your grades, then the dip becomes less significant. Of course, that improvement is a lot harder to achieve in three years instead of four.
You need research. Not just a year or two of hurried research, but a stable and established time in a lab to really grasp the project and build a relationship with your professors. You need clinical and shadowing experience which requires time. You need extracurricular activities and leadership experience.
You need diverse coursework. Challenge yourself to take classes outside your interests and do not limit yourself to solely science classes. Balance your humanities and STEM courseload. On that note, you don't necessarily have to major in a science major to be on the pre-med track. You can major in anything, ranging from literature to business analytics.
Lastly, you need good MCAT scores. Medical schools are more competitive now than ever, and cramming your preparation for the MCATs while juggling your courses, research, your extracurriculars, and your social life (if it even exists during that time), isn't the way to go.
How can I just finish early so I can go to med school?
It's intimidating to see the enormous path that lies ahead of you on your journey to getting your MD and specialization. The whole process takes nearly 10 or more years to complete, so is saving one year really making a difference?
College is the time of your life that you won't get back again. Use it to explore your interests and build lifelong memories. Don't sacrifice your social life and wellbeing to finish college early. Medical school will probably already strain your social life, so why start early in undergrad? A lot of the time, students want to graduate early to take a gap year. They usually plan to do cool things in that year. Why do that in a separate year when you can do that in college? The best piece of advice my advisor gave me was that med schools want to see that you can handle a rigorous workload. If you can handle research, clubs, shadowing, and still excel academically, you're definitely going to stand out.
Once again, these are only a few points to consider. If these concerns do not outweigh your reasons to graduate early, then by all means, go for it. As long as college isn't a huge financial burden for you and your family, I would recommend enjoying college in its entirety of four years.
Your fellow pre-med student