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Biomedical Engineering Undergrad Program - Guidance to middle and high schoolers

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

Authors: Arth Sharma is a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts with a BS in biomedical engineering (BME) and a minor in chemistry. He was a premed student and will be attending the Frank H. Netter School of Medicine in Connecticut!

Aayush Sharma is a rising junior at Winston Churchill High School. He’s aiming to become a physician one day and volunteers at Shady Grove Medical Center, plays JV lacrosse, coaches autistic kids in tennis, among many other activities.

In this document, Arth and Aayush share their experiences and recommendations on what you can do in middle school and high school to become a doctor or pursue another career in STEM.

For Middle Schoolers

How to help middle schoolers start thinking and dreaming about their future in the biomedical engineering field?

Middle School is a great time to start thinking about your future in BME. Start by researching what biomedical engineers do for a living and what the requirements are for being one. This will help shape your base and will guide you on what to do to be successful. Join the science club, compete in science competitions, and consider participating in the Montgomery County Science Fair. Placing well in this competition can set you up for major success. Always ask questions in school or at home and always think about why something happens in nature. For example, if you are in science class and don’t understand something, make sure to ask for clarification on the topic. It is important to make sure you have a solid base in science so that in high school, you can strive and be as successful as possible!

What skills sets they need to develop?

Life habits and studying skills are essential to develop in middle school. Then in high school, you won’t have to struggle with turning in assignments on time and doing poorly on quizzes. For example, do homework as soon as you get home and make sure to sleep on time. This will help with avoiding procrastination and falling asleep in class! Learn what works best for you when studying for quizzes and tests. Use flashcards, websites, and textbooks to figure out what works best for you.

Why types of things they must like to cultivate their interest in a biomedical engineering field?

There are a wide variety of subjects that are used in BME. Computer science, biology, chemistry, and physics are the main subjects used in BME. Developing an interest and applying knowledge towards human health in any of these subjects will set you on a good path when pursuing a degree in this major.

What subjects they should be interested in studying to pursue their interests in a good biomedical engineering field?

Normally in middle school you don’t take courses that have the information needed for BME. However, some important courses to take in high school are AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP Physics C, AP Calculus and, if possible, Multivariable Calculus. To help prepare for these classes buy prep books, as this will give you a head start on these topics.

Starting from their middle school, what extra-curricular activities they should pick up to support their goals of getting into a good biomedical engineering undergraduate program in college?

Normally, colleges don’t see what activities are done unless they are continued in high school. Do whatever interests you, and don’t force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy as this may cause you to lose complete interest in the subject. Do math team, Science Olympiad, and Science Montgomery. Another way to get extracurriculars is to contact your counselor and see if they can help find you anything. Another way to get extracurriculars is by Googling extracurriculars to do for middle schoolers. I found a volunteering opportunity at an elementary school in Germantown through the internet! This will give you tons of insight on what to do.

For High Schoolers

What courses they should take in high school? What can they do to prepare academically?

BME is diverse field with many sub-disciplines. Really any STEM background can prepare you. If you like coding, there are biomedical imaging/visualization and biomedical instrumentation development. If you like more biology than physics and math, there are biomaterials, drug development/drug delivery, and more traditional bench research with cell cultures and microscopes. Sometimes the boundary between BME and other fields are really blurred and it falls on you to find your niche.

That being said, undergraduate programs for BME are more concerned with giving a more well-rounded education than diving into a specific discipline. A master’s degree or PhD or even getting another major or minor will give you the depth you may want. As such, with its broad curriculum, you will be taking, at minimum, courses in calculus, statistics, chemistry, physics, human biology, computer science, writing, etc.

Therefore, in high school, the best thing to do is take as many science & math AP classes as possible. Also practice coding (Python & MATLAB are good languages to learn). There are many YouTube videos and other websites and books that can aid you. Getting a head start at coding will put you ahead of many of your peers as coding tends to be a learning curve for many BME students.

How to get healthcare-related volunteer opportunities as a high school student?

Try to volunteer at local hospitals, doctor’s offices, or clinics. Most places don’t have a formal application portal, so you must call up a place and pitch your interest in the location and send over a resume. If you’re interested in pre-med, getting clinical exposure by shadowing providers or helping patients is a bonus and will be a plus on your college, and even medical school, application. You must show your excitement in the field early on in your education and not in the last year of college when applying to medical school! Medical schools respect applicants who have more long-term exposure to the field than those who volunteer for a few months at a time.

If not interested in pursuing medicine, it’s still great to volunteer, even at a nonclinical venue, like soup kitchens or a tennis pitch with special needs kids. These all will show colleges your commitment to service and push you ahead of applicants who just have high stats and no meaningful activities to talk about. Research experience is also great to have! In Montgomery County there are several healthcare agencies & companies (NIH, Astra Zeneca, etc.) to apply to. Talk to your science teacher, guidance counselor, parents, or go online to find places willing to take on high school students. When it’s time to apply you will need references, so make sure to do well in your classes!

How can they make themselves a “well qualified” candidate for a good undergraduate biomedical engineering program?

See the answers above! Additionally, getting into BME programs falls on your resume mostly. To make yourself a strong candidate, you need to show a strong background: research, volunteering (clinical/nonclinical), STEM work (like robotics, computer programming), honors (awards for sports, high grades and AP scores), and great standardized test scores.

BME, again, is a diverse major and good colleges want diverse people. Try not to box yourself into the “high-stats, no extracurricular” category. You need good grades and afterschool activities. These rules also apply when you’re in college and applying to medical school!

What extracurricular opportunities should they look for? How can they find out about these experiences?

As mentioned, look for STEM clubs to join. Ask around your high school, talk to teachers if they head a club. Try to get into honor societies like National Honors Society. Get leadership positions; good colleges want leaders! Start a club. On top of this, do something you like that’s not work-related: if you like baking, join a baking club or if you like tennis, join the tennis team! Don’t just pad you application with research, volunteering, etc.; you will get super bored and even burn out! But whatever you do, give it your 100% and not quit.

What summer programs should high school students look for? How do they approach research and acquiring positions?

Look at various places online for internships. A Google search is a great start. Ask your science teachers, and they can even have connections at different places and vouch for you if you did well in their classes. Ask relatives or friends if they know places. Honestly, a lot of places like NIH are competitive, but a connection can put you ahead!

Also, high schools can offer lab or bio classes or have interest clubs in a field. Take them to get the necessary lab skills in a field, which can then make your resume stand out. You want to show your drive and skillset when applying!

What should they consider when applying to undergraduate biomedical engineering programs?

See above answers. I will say that good colleges prefer a well-rounded individual to someone who does super well at one or two things and does nothing else. An undergraduate program is a lot more holistic than a graduate program, like a master’s degree, which tends to care more about your research background.

Is research experience necessary to get admission into a good undergrad biomedical engineering program?

It’s a great add-on. If you can find one, great! That will boost your application. If you can’t find one (only after an exhaustive search is done!) focus on other things like volunteering and clubs. You don’t want to show colleges you’re passive and loafing. Also don’t box yourself into one field: high school is not supposed to be about focusing on one subject. Be flexible in what you want: you may not find a healthcare internship you want, for example, but may find another thing that allows you to work in an engineering lab. Instead of forgoing the engineering internship and wait it out for another thing, take it!

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