There’s some confusion in the general public about the difference between med school and grad school. As both typically happen after undergrad, that’s not surprising!
So is med school considered grad school?
No. In the U.S. at least, med school isn’t considered grad school. The way its set up is more like a professional school, where students get specific training for a career (physician) and receive board certification during the course of study.
But the fact that historically medicine was offered as both an undergraduate or graduate program, and still is in certain places, does complicate that answer a little!
Hopefully, this article will help explain why.
Here’s what else we’ll cover:
- The key differences between med school and grad school
- What’s easier
- If being a graduate makes you better prepared
As a medical student who went into medicine as a graduate myself, I appreciate the definitions can get a bit blurry.
Ready to better understand it all? Let’s go.
Med school vs grad school: at a glance
Let’s take a look at some of the major comparisons and differences between the two forms of schooling. I’ve summarized each in the table below.
|Medical school||Graduate school|
|Degree title||M.D.||M.A., M.S., M.F.A, MBA, PhD|
|Prerequisites||BA, BSc||BA, BSc, BBA|
|Center of study||Medical school internal to a University/college||University/college|
|Length||4 years||1.5-2 years|
Probably the biggest distinction you can make between med school and grad school (and not get confused) is when it comes to the field of study.
To become a licensed physician you must acquire a medical degree from a medical school via the study of medicine.
At a graduate school, you can study a ton of different subjects (including individual subjects that make up parts of a med school curriculum).
Here are some of the most popular graduate school subjects in the U.S. (according to CBS News):
- Business Administration and Management 22.3%
- Electrical, Electronics & Communication Engineering 2.8%
- Education Leadership & Administration 2.7%
- Business/Commerce 2.5%
- Education 2.2%
To separate out med school, the same article groups it as a “doctorate/professional degree”, along with the likes of Law, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Physical Therapy, and Osteopathic Medicine/Osteopathy (DO).
Grad school age vs med school age
One reason for the confusion over the question is that (to the general public at least), grad school students and med school students both appear older than your normal undergrad.
Although of course, I do my best to promote going back to school and changing your career at any age – see my article on studying medicine after 30 as an example – you have to take the average age of both into account.
According to research from the Council of Graduate Schools (Source), the average age of graduate students in the U.S. is 33 years old.
But according to statistics published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average age among medical students who matriculated at U.S. medical schools in the 2017-2018 school year was 24 (Source).
So although students of each might look older than undergrads aged 17-24, it’s medical students overall that are, on average, younger.
Grad school fees vs med school fees
According to FinAid.org, the average cost of a master’s degree for students is between $30,000 and $120,000 – with the cost varying depending on the university and the master’s program itself.
Comparatively, med school is more expensive.
According to the AAMC, the average cost of attendance for one year at a public medical school (including tuition, fees, and health insurance) was $34,592 for in-state students and $58,668 for out-of-state students in 2016–2017.
Factor in the fact that most medicine degrees are 4-years in length and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that med school usually requires a much larger financial investment (or loan).
Related: How Do Medical Students Pay For Living Expenses? (Crucial Money-Saving Tips)
Grad school job prospects vs med school job prospects
Although both industries look likely to be shaken up by innovation and artificial intelligence in the future, higher education tends to lead to better overall job prospects on an individual level.
A med student’s prospects are probably more definitive to measure given the broad scope of graduate degrees.
According to the U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS the job outlook for physicians between 2019-29 is at 4% (as fast as average).
But it’s also good news for grad school leavers too, as the Bureau also reports that “employment in master’s-level occupations is projected to grow by almost 17 percent from 2016 to 2026.”
What about med schools offering medicine to high school leavers?
As mentioned before, classifying a medical degree outside of grad (or undergrad) school can get a little tricky.
Although usually in America you go to medical school after first studying at the undergrad level, there are some schools that put high school leavers on accelerated medicine pathways meaning they’re on track to become doctors earlier.
Penn State’s Premedical-Medical (PMM) Program – mentioned here in my article; Best Pre-Med Schools In Pennsylvania (Costs, Extracurriculars & Admission Info) – is an example here.
As a 7-year accelerated program, it puts high school leavers into three years of undergrad study followed by four years of medical studies at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.
And there are several programs similar to this that do indeed blur the lines.
But what’s also important to mention is how medical school works in different countries.
In my own native UK, for example, medicine is always taught at the undergraduate level. Meaning doctors can usually reach the consultant (attending) level much earlier than they can in America.
Is medical school harder to get into than grad school?
Based on the data, I’d say yes; medical school is a lot harder to get into than grad school.
As this Forbes article suggests, acceptance rates are on the decline while applications are on the increase.
That trend has caused admission rates at 10 of the toughest schools to drop to 2.6 percent or less. The newly-formed Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine has an admissions rate of only 0.5 percent.
So although some graduate programs are undoubtedly competitive to enter (especially those at top-tier schools), grad school has a greater volume of programs spread across many different disciplines.
That’s something that makes getting a masters (disregarding the subject or school) easier!
What about studying? Is med school harder than grad school?
Having never studied for a master’s (or Ph.D.) I’m not exactly well placed to give my opinion here.
From a curriculum perspective, looking at something like biochemistry at the medical school level and comparing it to a graduate program, it’s correct to say that the level of detail is less in med school.
Grad-level programs go into greater depth in their field of study, usually requiring some level of unique research.
Med school covers a ton of content quickly and then moves to more clinical-based instruction.
Dealing with either, at least in regard to how easy/difficult someone finds it, is an individual thing.
Related: Is Medical School Better Than Undergrad? (Explained!)
Is it easier to get into medical school with a master’s?
Again this is school-dependent.
Top 20 schools like Harvard and Stanford are said to look favorably on students with impressive graduate backgrounds, but there’s also plenty of cases where it hasn’t counted for much either.
Most of what makes getting into med school easier comes down to amazing extracurriculars and personal statements rather than a standard masters-level degree.
Does being a graduate better prepare you for med school?
Not necessarily. Especially if your field of study is unrelated to medical sciences.
Where it may help is with your academic network; to help you score further research internships/opportunities and help bolster out your extracurriculars and letters of recommendation etc.
The academic side of things again comes down to an individual basis. Not all grad programs are made equal!
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.