There are a number of reasons why someone finds a post-bacc pre-medical program is an unappealing choice. Post-bacc programs are time- and energy-intensive, and can be quite expensive. If your financial resources are limited or you’re supporting a family, it’s not super easy to just drop everything, likely move to a new city, and throw yourself into school full time. Or perhaps you’re still on active duty and are hoping to knock out your courses now. No matter your situation, you’re in luck because there are still great options available to you.

You’ll still have to have taken General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biology, and Physics—two semesters worth of each. It’s also quite useful to have taken some math (statistics and/or pre-calc at least), English composition, and Psychology/Sociology.

You still have to study for and take the MCAT. The MCAT is rightfully feared and will make or break your medical school application. This is NOT a test that you can blow off until the last minute and is definitely not, like the GRE, a test that you can power through on common sense alone. To do well you need to have the discipline to take your coursework seriously and be willing to dedicate the extra time and effort needed to study on top of your other coursework and possibly your active duty service. Most people will require at least a few months to fully prepare.

Figure out how much time and money you have on your hands to get this done. The amount of energy you can commit to completing your coursework depends on your own unique personal and family situation. Be honest with yourself—how much do you, realistically, feel that you can handle? Can you take two or three courses at a time and dedicate enough time and energy to do well? Or maybe you’re working full time already and one course at a time is more than enough. It may seem tempting to take on the maximum course load because you want to be able to apply to med school as soon as humanly possible, but remember that this isn’t a race. Also keep in mind that you need to maintain a very high GPA, particularly in your science coursework, to remain competitive.

One option is to enroll in classes at a local university or community college. This is probably the most basic yet simplest and most cost-effective option.

If you’re still on active duty, pay a visit to your on-post/base education center. If you have some time before you ETS, you can and should take advantage of your post’s locally affiliated college or university—think Troy University at Ft. Benning, Central Texas College at Ft. Hood, and University of Maryland University College basically everywhere. One of the best perks of military-affiliated schools is that they are quite flexible with scheduling and provide abundant resources for students with unpredictable lives and schedules.

Consider taking classes online. Obviously you can’t get everything done this way—many of the pre-requisites have sizeable lab components that must be completed in person. However, depending on where you’re enrolled some classes may be split between online lectures and in-person labs. This is a fantastic way to cut down the amount of time you spend traveling to and from class while keeping your schedule more flexible. Some classes, like English or Psychology, can be completed exclusively online.

The most important thing to consider when it comes to coursework is that you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you treat them like boxes that simply need to be checked off before you can move on to medical school applications. The material you learn in these courses is covered by the MCAT—which can be the deciding factor in your admissions packet—and creates the base of scientific knowledge you take with you when you actually start med school. Medical school professors don’t waste time trying to teach you things you should have learned at the undergraduate level—they assume you already have them down pat and structure their lectures accordingly. MS1 begins at a pace almost no one is prepared for, and the surprising thing to most students is that the pace only accelerates from there through MS3. You absolutely must have a strong base of scientific understanding and a handle on your study skills, as this is not the time or place to expect remedial training.

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