Law or Medicine in the USA: is it an option?
For many talented high school students, the prospect of studying law or medicine at the undergraduate level is a common and straightforward path. However, for those considering US universities, this route may not be as readily available or advisable. Unlike in the UK, Europe or Asia, where undergraduate programmes in law and medicine are standard, the US education system typically requires students to pursue these professions at the graduate level after completing a bachelor’s degree in a related field.
The Structure of a US Degree
In the United States, undergraduate degrees are typically broad-based, allowing students to explore various subjects before specialising in a particular field during postgraduate studies. For instance, a student interested in pursuing law may take an undergraduate major in political science, history, or pre-law during their undergraduate studies. Similarly, aspiring medical professionals typically major in biology, chemistry, or a related field before applying to medical school.
Professional School Requirements
Both law school and medical school in the US will, therefore, require applicants to already hold a bachelor’s degree before applying. Law schools typically seek applicants with strong analytical, writing, and critical thinking skills, which can be developed through various undergraduate majors. On the other hand, medical schools require specific pre-medical coursework, including biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics, in addition to extracurricular activities and clinical experience.
Accreditation and Licensing
Another factor to consider is accreditation and licensing requirements. In the UK, Europe, and Asia, undergraduate law and medical programmes are often accredited by professional bodies, allowing graduates to enter their respective fields upon completion of their degrees directly. In the US, however, graduates must pass licensing examinations (such as the Bar Exam for lawyers or the USMLE for physicians) after completing their graduate studies to practice law or medicine.
Challenges for Medicine
According to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the number of international students gaining visas to enter US medical schools is very, very low compared to domestic applicants, with only an exteremely small percentage of international applicants securing admission each year. Additionally, many US medical schools will not even consider international applications. For example, institutions such as Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explicitly state on their websites that they do not admit international students, further underscoring the limited opportunities for international applicants in certain US medical schools.
Visas and Immigration
There are additional challenges to consider regarding visa requirements. The US immigration system restricts international students seeking employment opportunities, including internships and postgraduate positions in highly regulated fields such as law and medicine.
According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), international students typically require employer sponsorship or specific visa categories, such as the H-1B visa for skilled workers, to pursue careers in the US after completing their studies. However, obtaining employer sponsorship can be competitive, especially for entry-level positions in fields like law and medicine, where domestic candidates may have a competitive advantage due to familiarity with the US legal system or healthcare practices.
Furthermore, international students must navigate complex visa application processes and adhere to strict regulatory requirements, which can present logistical and administrative challenges when pursuing careers in highly regulated professions such as law or medicine. In reality, it is improbable that an international student will be able to navigate this easily, shutting down any pathways to law or medicine in the USA. Because these qualifications may not be recognised in other countries, there could be some costly wasted years here.
In conclusion, while pursuing careers in law or medicine in the US is theoretically achievable for international students, it requires careful planning, preparation, and understanding of the visa and immigration processes involved and an awareness that the practical limitations mean this is a high-risk pathway to consider.