Admissions Abridged

How to be a Doctor in Seven Years

Who wouldn’t be completely at ease with a 25-year-old performing their open-heart surgery? Joking aside, many students and parents are attracted to accelerated undergraduate/graduate degree programs.  While some of the most common exist in the realms of medicine, engineering, and business, more and more are cropping up in fields like physical therapy, teaching, counseling, and just about any other career track where a graduate degree would be either necessary or preferred.

As you can imagine this is a rapidly growing list.  It seems like more and more employers are expecting employees to have graduate degrees and parents and students are already anxious about career options, making getting that grad degree out of the way ASAP seem like an obvious choice.  But is it always the best route for everyone?  Let’s pro/con it out.

First the pro’s.  An accelerated degree can be a money-saver.  In simple black and white attending school for five years versus six or seven is going to run you a smaller tab.  College debt is a real issue for many families and for some an accelerated degree can look like the only way a grad school is going to be financially possible. 

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I remember hearing myself while in college, “You should go get that grad degree now! If you just start working you’ll never go back.”  There is certainly something to be said about grabbing the Master’s while you’re still young, unattached, and can get it done quickly versus spreading it out over many years while juggling full-time work and other responsibilities.

Finally, there’s a prestige element involved here. Accelerated degree programs are very often more competitive (sometimes drastically so) than a traditional degree.  Many families love being able to say that their rising star has been accepted into one of these prestigious programs.

Ok, now it’s time for the con’s. Studies have shown that an overwhelming majority of students will change their major at least once during their undergraduate career.  Keeping that in mind, committing yourself at 17 to a career track might not be the best way to ensure you’ve found the one that is truly the right fit for you.

Accelerated programs also often require a heavier course load per semester to achieve both degrees so quickly.  “So what?” you say, “I’ve been taking 6 AP’s for three years now.”  True, but students sometimes feel that they miss out on the “college experience” while buried under a pile of textbooks.  As an admissions liaison for an accelerated program in medicine that required students to graduate in three years and then transition to medical school I saw many students choose to drop out of the program after junior year to be able to have a senior year and graduate with their class.

The upside for colleges offering these programs is obvious: they get you on the hook for not one but two degrees.  At the same time this also removes some choice in the process for the student.  Perhaps they would have transitioned to a different/better/more appropriate graduate school but they no longer have that option. 

Also, in some professions having a graduate degree as a first-time employee can be a detriment as you become a more expensive first-time hire, whereas if you sought the degree once employed your company might even pitch in and help you pay for it.  These issues are often so far down the road that a high schooler isn’t going to realize they exist until it’s too late.

With the scales even between the positives and negatives I’d urge families to not just be dazzled by the opportunity and prestige of an accelerated program but to really take the time to think about whether it’s truly the best choice for the student.  At the risk of contradicting myself, when in doubt, I would council a student to always apply for and even start an accelerated track if they’re on the fence.  Why?  It is infinitely easier to transition out of these accelerated tracks that to try to hop on one once school has stared.  Just be sure to leave that door open and the conversation on the table as the most important factor in student success is their happiness and interest in their chosen field.

Assuming an accelerated program is in your future, you can expect a much more rigorous admissions process.  While this will vary between schools and the programs themselves, you can absolutely guarantee more selective admissions criteria, meaning a school that was once a “target” now becomes a “reach,” impacting how you design your college search.  My advice here is to not be limited to only accelerated tracks as this will severely limit your options and to be sure to apply to some traditional programs as well as a failsafe in case the student’s mind changes in between applying and enrolling.

And be ready to prove your passion and aptitude for the field.  While in regular circumstances a college may be happy just to evaluate your overall GPA you can now expect added scrutiny around the subjects related to the program (like science and math for an engineering tack).  The school may also require extra essay supplements or even an interview during which you’ll need to prove your passion and commitment to the field, allowing them to gauge how likely you are to stick with it.  Looking for that seven-year MD?  Be sure there’s plenty of research and medically-centered activities on your resume.

This warrants repeating: as a family really think about why an accelerated program is exciting to you.  A junior or senior in high school who is unsure about their potential career path isn’t indecisive, they’re normal.  Heck, I know plenty of adults well past 17 who still have no idea what they want to do with their lives.  And that’s ok!  The goal for college should be to obtain the education, experience, and degree that will help a person not only land that first job, but help them navigate their career field (and possible further education) for years to come.  Keep an open mind and don’t hesitate to seek some career counseling!

Admissions Abridged distills news and trends from the college admissions world to provide college-bound students and their families with helpful tools to approach the application process.

Kate Balboni has earned a Master’s in School Counseling and is a certified New Jersey School Counselor.  She has served as an admissions counselor for Drew University and as a regional admissions coordinator at the University of South Carolina.  During her time in Undergraduate Admissions she has reviewed thousands of applications and student essays, conducted hundreds of student interviews, and has visited over 50 college campuses throughout the nation.  Kate is the owner of Balboni College Advising, a concierge college consulting service, providing one-on-one guidance and counseling throughout the college application process.  For more information please visit

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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