If, like me, you have a non-traditional background and either have not completed the necessary academic pre-requisites for med school application or – also like me – your pre-requisites are outdated, then one option is a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program (also known simply as “post-bacc programs” or “post-baccs”).
I’d like to state up front that there is no “right” or “wrong” path to completing your application prerequisites – post-bacc programs are simply one option. I happened to go the post-bacc route, and I have a lot of thoughts and opinions about them that I hope to discuss in a series of blog posts. For now, this page serves simply to inform.
A post-bacc program, at the most basic level, is a formal program run by an accredited college or university that is designed to help its students fulfill the application requirements for medical school. There are numerous different programs, all of which differ slightly in structure and purpose. Programs range from one to three years, full- or part-time, and may have their students take classes as a designated cohort or intermixed with other undergraduates.
The most rigorous programs are multi-faceted. They offer the necessary number of credit hours in prerequisite courses (i.e. general and organic chemistry, biology, and physics), as well as formal exam prep for the MCAT. Moreover, they offer intensive support and advisory services while students are actively applying to medical school (think application and essay review, practice interviews, committee letters and letters of recommendation, etc). The most bare bones programs may only offer the required coursework in a structured setting and leave MCAT prep and the actual application process up to you. Some programs are designed more narrowly for students who have valid pre-requisites completed but need to re-take these courses to raise their GPA.
One of the biggest draws of post-bacc programs is the opportunity to participate in “linkages” to some medical schools. A “linkage” means that a post-bacc program has established a partnership agreement with a particular medical school by which students may apply to that medical school while enrolled as a post-bacc. This means that the medical school might accept that student before he or she has completed pre-requisite coursework and the MCAT, and that the student will be enrolled the following academic year. Students who choose not to participate in linkage programs, or whose programs don’t offer linkages, will finish their post-bacc program and then take a “glide year,” or gap year. During a glide year post-bacc graduates apply to as many schools as they want, and begin their enrollment the following academic year at earliest.
The catch, very similar to many early acceptance programs, is usually that the student may only apply to one linkage program and may not apply to any more medical schools if they are selected for admission. They must also maintain a certain GPA throughout the remainder of their post-bacc program and score above a certain threshold on the MCAT. Some linkage schools, however, waive the MCAT requirement for accepted students, making the prospect of linking to these schools all the more attractive!
As an example, when I went to Goucher to do my post-bacc we had the option to link to one of nine different schools: University of Chicago, Brown, George Washington University, Weill Cornell, Hofstra, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, and University of Pittsburgh. Again, we were only allowed to choose one to apply for linkage, and I chose GW. I did my application and interviews in the fall semester of my twelve month post-bacc program and GW accepted me in December. I still had to complete the spring semester and maintain a 3.5 GPA, and when I took the MCAT in May I had to score at least a 30 (I took the older version). My classmates who did not choose to link to one of these schools graduated the post-bacc program and applied to any and all medical schools they wanted to over the following year (the “glide year”).
There are several pros and cons to doing a post-bacc program. The alternative depends on your individual background and what coursework you have completed. Many non-traditional applicants choose to enroll themselves in the necessary prerequisites at a four-year or community college and complete those classes on their own, at a pace that suits them and their lifestyle. They also study independently for the MCAT and take it when they feel ready. Again–and I cannot stress this enough–there is no right or wrong answer when deciding how you want to apply to medical school.
One of the major downsides to a post-bacc program is cost. Many programs are run by private institutions and the price tag for a one-year program can run upwards of $30,000-$40,000. As full-time programs are quite rigorous and intensive, outside employment is not always an option to draw extra income. There are many ways to foot the bill, but it should certainly take some careful consideration; for example, G.I. Bill benefits can be used, but keep in mind that medical school itself is a separate four-year program. Another point–which I had to discover the hard way–is that most post-bacc programs are not full-length degree programs (they are often classified as “certificate programs”) and do not necessarily qualify for full coverage by federal student loans. In the end, I paid for my post-bacc with a combination of federal financial aid and a private loan–this was certainly not ideal, and there are many things, financially, I’d have done differently knowing what I know now. (But everything has clearly worked out for the best…I’m in my final year of medical school, aren’t I?)
Possibly the biggest upside to post-bacc programs is the amount of support and guidance you get as both a student and applicant to medical school. No matter how familiar you may be with the medical school application process, it is lengthy and can be overwhelming. Many of the more “hands-on” programs begin by scheduling all of your classes for you, so there’s no doubt that you’re taking the right pre-requisites. Throughout the application process, advisors are available to help write your essays, edit your resume, and prep you for interviews…at Goucher we were basically forbidden from submitting the AMCAS until every inch of our applications had been checked, rechecked, and checked and edited some more. It was more than worth it, to me, to know from the beginning that the program was holding my hand through the entire process and that all I needed to worry about on my own time was studying for my classes.
One important caveat, however: as I mentioned above, some programs offer more resources than others. If you are considering a post-bacc program, ask yourself how much guidance and support you think you’d like to have from your ideal program and make sure you know what resources are available in the programs to which you apply. That sort of question is absolutely fair game during an interview when they ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” After all, there are a number of post-bacc programs that will schedule coursework but do little else to help you.
One final bit of information that can be extremely helpful is the “placement rate” of the programs. This refers to the percentage of graduates who actually go on to be accepted into medical school. More reputable programs, obviously, have very high placement rates (Goucher’s placement rate is 99.5% for the last 15 years, and Bryn Mawr’s is 98%). Be wary of programs that have low placement rates or those who do not publish placement rates at all!
A full directory of post-bacc pre-medical programs can be found HERE on the AAMC website. If you think a post-bacc might be a good option for you, take some time to browse through and seek information for specific programs and see what they have to offer.
There are a ton of other points I think are worth discussing at length, but there isn’t a lot of room left here. I am hoping to finish a blog series on post-bacc programs in the near future in order to cover a range of topics that I think will be useful. Stay tuned!
And, as always, PLEASE feel free to leave a comment here or contact us directly with any questions or suggestions!