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A Reassuring Option

A Reassuring OptionFor undergraduates considering a career in the health sciences, applying for early assurance of admission to Tufts' professional schools can be just the right move.

Boston [09.24.09] "My whole problem," says Jennifer Gilbert, "is being interested in a lot of things."

Now a third-year student at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Gilbert faced this problem as an undergraduate at Tufts. She had come to campus with an interest in veterinary medicine, but was drawn to history as well. It turned out not to be a problem.

That's because Tufts allows its undergraduates to apply for an early assurance of admission to the university's veterinary, medical and dental schools. Gilbert chose to apply to the Cummings School as a sophomore, and was accepted. She then studied abroad through the Tufts-in-Paris program, where she fulfilled many of her history requirements, and took summer courses to fill some of her science prerequisites.

"I was very excited that I knew what I was going to be doing with my life for the next six years," says Gilbert, who interned at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., this summer. "It wasn't just, 'I'm interested in going to vet school,' it was more like, 'I'm going to vet school.' "

 

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Jennifer Gilbert

Under the early assurance programs, high school standardized test scores are evaluated since applicants are not required to take the MCATs or GREs. The only catch: students have to maintain a high GPA through their junior and senior years. The programs are non-binding, so if students are accepted as sophomores, they can still change their minds.

 

"There are a fair number of students who come to Tufts in the first place because of these programs," says Carol Baffi-Dugan, associate dean of undergraduate education and pre-professional adviser for undergraduate students at Tufts. "They read about them as high school students and are attracted to Tufts because they see them as a great opportunity."

One advantage of the early assurance programs is forgoing what Baffi-Dugan calls an "edge-of-your-seat senior year" of studying for exams, sending out applications and going on interviews at schools around the country.

A Load Off

A big draw for students seeking early assurance is the ability to spend more of their last two years of undergraduate study pursuing other academic interests and studying abroad.

Nahvid Etedali, a first-year student at the Cummings School, first heard about the early assurance option when he participated in the Adventures in Veterinary Medicine program as a high schooler. Getting early assurance, says Etedali, "took a load off my back. There's a lot you want to do senior year, especially as it gets toward the end." For him, these included rowing on the crew team and taking a class on the works of Alfred Hitchcock.

"It's very relieving to know that you're in med school after your sophomore year," says Dan Katzman, now a first-year medical student who spent the fall semester of his senior year taking classes on creative writing, South African writers and contemporary Jewish fiction.

 

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Dan Katzman

"If I was not in this program, I don't know if I would have taken time to explore some of my other interests outside of the medical field," says Katzman, who also worked as a TA in the chemistry department and served as co-coordinator of the annual Kids' Day event.
"I had a great experience at Tufts undergrad and I knew that I'd be very happy continuing my education at Tufts-doing Tufts part two, essentially."

 

''"These are highly, highly motivated students," says Rebecca Russo, director of admissions at the Cummings School. "It's not as if they're going to slack off at all. They have that relief of knowing they're going to vet school. That's huge to them."

Reaching Beyond the Hill

David Neumeyer, dean of admissions at the School of Medicine, says the early assurance program has been in place there for about 25 years. It currently includes not only Tufts undergraduates, but students at Northeastern, Boston College, Holy Cross and Brandeis, as well as four colleges in Maine-the University of Maine, Bates, Bowdoin and Colby (in conjunction with the recently launched Maine Track at the School of Medicine).

The relationships with the other schools help ensure a talented, diverse pool of applicants to the medical school, says Neumeyer. This past year, the School of Medicine accepted 11 Tufts undergraduates through early assurance from a pool of some 25 applicants. Altogether, there were 70 applicants for the program, with 27 accepted.

Similarly, the Cummings School extends the early assurance option to students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and University of Vermont.

"We value students who have a Tufts undergraduate education," says Russo, who says the school admits on average two students via early assurance each year. "We know it's a very strong foundation for professional school. The more students we can get from Tufts, the better."

That said, the more diverse the applicant pool, the better off the profession. There aren't a lot of pre-vet students at liberal arts colleges, Russo adds. "The more we can encourage pre-vets to come to Tufts and then apply for this program, the better."

The Public Health Option

Sophomores also have several options that allow them to blend their professional school work with their undergraduate studies. The public health program through the School of Medicine allows students to complete both an undergraduate degree and a master's in public health degree in five years.

Aviva Must, the Morton A. Madoff Professor of Public Health and chair of the department of public health and community medicine at the medical school, says the bachelor's/MPH program began about nine years ago, and while it was initially only an option for students majoring in community health, the school recently opened it up to all undergraduates at the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. In the past, about five students per year were accepted into the program, though this fall there are seven. Next fall, they anticipate 15.

The faculty directors of the bachelor's/MPH program-Mark Woodin of the School of Engineering, who also holds appointments at the medical school and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and Alyssa Spielberg, a lecturer who splits her time between the community health and public health programs-connect with students interested in the option.

Junior Allison Dempsey, who was accepted into the program last year, learned about it in Woodin's epidemiology course, which sparked her interest in community health.

"I can get a master's in one year and be ahead of a lot of people my age. It seems like a recipe for success," says Dempsey.

Heading into the job market with a master's degree gives these students a lead over their undergraduate peers. What's more, Must says, with the bachelor's/MPH program, students can save about a semester's worth of tuition, leaving Tufts with a master's degree that is discounted by a third.

While still undergraduates, the bachelor's/MPH students are encouraged to take two of the four classes on the Boston campus that count toward their master's degree. According to both Must and Paul Hattis, senior associate director of the MPH program, undergraduates get the benefit of taking classes alongside mid-career professionals who may also be pursuing dual degrees in fields as varied as law or nutrition.

"Having that diversity of experience and views in the classroom makes for a rich academic milieu," says Hattis.

An Intense Alternative

At the School of Dental Medicine, Tufts undergraduates have two options-applying for early assurance of admission or applying for a rigorous seven-year program in which they begin taking some classes toward their DMD on the Boston campus during their junior and senior years.

The seven-year program is not ideal for those looking to get the most out of their liberal arts experience, says Melissa Bradbury, associate director of admissions at the School of Dental Medicine. That is why the school began offering the eight-year early assurance option last year.

The early assurance program is just one component of an ongoing effort to connect with Tufts underclassmen interested in dentistry. Undergraduates can join the pre-dental society and volunteer with activities run by student groups at the dental school.

"It gives undergraduate students insights into what dentistry is all about and what the dental school is like," Bradbury says.

Moonyoung Lee, who completed the more intensive seven-year program at the School of Dental Medicine, appreciated being able to split the first year of dental school across the last two years of his undergraduate studies. At age 24, he is also entering the field earlier than many of his peers.

"The program has made me mature a little bit faster. Hopefully, that will come into play later in my career," says Lee, who is continuing on at Tufts for his residency in orthodontics.

"Our undergraduate faculty know where these kids are headed and want them to be well prepared," says Baffi-Dugan. That also has the benefit of making for an easier transition to the professional schools.

Bridging the Distance

The continuity goes beyond the books.

Sometimes, students end up continuing relationships with professors on the Boston or Grafton campus that were forged during research projects or volunteer work.

"They've met people, they've established relationships. They feel very comfortable in the setting," Baffi-Dugan explains. "I think that's a big draw."

Lee says that while the seven-year dental school program was challenging, the same "sense of community, sense of belonging" he felt as a freshman on the Medford/Somerville campus carried over to the dental school.

"The atmosphere is still like a second home," he says.

Katzman had even more reason to feel comfortable on the Boston campus, thanks to how many of his undergraduate classmates accompanied him.

"Just from doing the program, there were 10 familiar faces on day one that I was going to see through the next four years of my medical education," he says.

"These are the kinds of things that draw the university together," says Baffi-Dugan. "While we're offering students these special opportunities, it also makes us all connect more."

Story by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications

Photos by Joanie Tobin, University Photography

 

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