2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Courtesy Calgary Foothills General hospital

You don’t have to finish what you start to go into professional degree programs

By Jill Girgulis, October 11 2016 —

Winners never quit and quitters never win — that’s what they say, right? But in the context of higher education, is it fair to consider someone who changes their mind or moves on from their degree a “quitter?” Not necessarily.

When a student chooses their undergraduate major, it is likely the first time that they’ve had to make a legitimate decision about their future. For some students, undergrad is viewed as a stepping stone to a future career path, such as professional degree programs like medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine.

In order to gain insight into the decision-making processes of students accepted into professional programs prior to finishing their undergrad, I spoke with two former University of Calgary undergraduates now in professional degree programs.

Emma Jerome-Smith is a first-year veterinary medicine student at the U of C. Prior to entering the program, she was in her second to last year of a Bachelor’s of Science, majoring in zoology. The Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program at the U of C allows students who have completed a minimum of two years of undergrad to apply.

“I didn’t apply after my second year just because I didn’t feel ready,” Jerome-Smith said, “Now that I’ve started, I don’t really regret not applying [earlier] because now I have a couple physiology classes and an anatomy class that have so far really helped me through the vet classes.”

Jerome-Smith is among approximately one-third of this year’s new DVM students in Calgary who entered the program without completing an undergraduate degree.

“My fourth year was going to be mostly electives, so there was no point to finishing my degree,” she said. “I figured applying after my third year would give me a year or two to experience the interviews.”

While some students take rather convoluted academic trajectories before arriving in the program, there wasn’t much second-guessing for Jerome- Smith.

“I never really faltered on the vet plan — that was my go-to. I really didn’t have a plan B,” she said.

Jerome-Smith was fortunate to be surrounded by a support system during the application process.

“[My family] were all super on board — they were like, ‘why didn’t you apply after second-year?’,” she said.

For Alex Wong, a first-year medical student at the University of Alberta, the decision to apply during his second year of a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree at the U of C was preceded by a different choice — healthcare or engineering?

“It was actually in my grade 12 year. I was kind of on the fence between engineering or medicine,” Wong said.

He was initially hesitant about agreeing to yet another application cycle, in contrast to the direct entry nature of an engineering program. However, he eventually made his decision.

The U of A’s medical school has only 25 spots allotted for students applying without an undergraduate degree. Heading into the interviews, Wong was one of the youngest in the crowd.

“It was slightly overwhelming. I think being a younger applicant, it feels like everyone else has more life experience, is older, more mature, that kind of thing,” he said. “But it’s just a matter of practice, and really considering, if I was the interviewer, what would I want to see in the applicants? What traits would I look for in a future doctor?”

Wong saw no disadvantages for submitting his application ahead of the majority of his fellow interested students.

“My mindset behind it was that if they give you the opportunity to apply early, why not take it? I mean, even if you don’t get in, it’s a good chance just to get familiar with the process,” he said. 

And as Wong pointed out, many professional schools even encourage early-year applicants.

“A lot of people don’t know, but you do get [a Bachelor’s degree] from the U of A after two years of medical school” he said. “If you’re an early-year applicant, they still want to get you interested in research, so they make sure you have the qualifications you need if you want to pursue a Doctorate of Medicine and of Philosophy.”

Wong’s future beyond medical school still isn’t  set in stone.

“After every [presentation from a medical specialist], I’m like ‘yeah, I could do that! That sounds really nice!’” he said. “Then I go to the next one and feel the exact same thing.”

Finishing an undergraduate degree prior to pursuing a professional degree is a matter of personal choice impacted by multiple factors. If the schools allow it — and the applicant is confident in their choice to attend- — there is really no disadvantage to applying early.

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet