Given the shear number of options, deciding if a post-baccalaureate program is right for you can be even more complicated than choosing which medical school to attend. There are two types of decisions – how to decide where to apply and how to decide which program to attend. Let’s start with a 4 key questions:
Have you taken any pre-med classes?
How long ago did you take the classes? If they are more than a few years old, you should likely repeat them, take a higher-level class in the same subject, or pursue a special masters program. Medical school admissions committees seem more particular about the age of the science classes as opposed to the English and Math requirements. Each program has its own policy, which tends to change with variations in the admissions committee members. Some medical school admissions committees want courses two years old or less, while others will extend out to five years. It’s usually better to be safe and fulfill the requirements with fresh classes.
Life is simpler in some ways because you will have to take all of the medical school prerequisites.
How quickly do you want to apply to medical school?
If you are in a hurry, you can complete all pre-med courses in one year in an intensive, full-time program. If not, many programs allow you to complete the courses over two to three years.
Do you hope to work while taking classes?
Many programs offer night programs specifically for students who have employment commitments. If you are willing to go to school full-time, there are many options for you as well.
How much can you pay for a post-bac program?
Intensive and/or private school post-baccalaureate programs can run $40,000 per year. Public school options may be more affordable. But entering the medical profession is anything but cheap, and this starts with an investment in post-bac programs.
Once you’ve reviewed your needs and desires when it comes to personal pre-med course history, desired time line, full-time vs. part-time, and cost, it is time to evaluate the actual post-baccalaureate options. Colleges and universities have realized the potential moneymaking strategy of offering post-bac coursework and new programs pop up each year. The increasing supply of programs increases your chance of finding a program that is a great fit. You have five main types of post-bac programs to choose from:
Full-time, Intensive Programs for Career-Changers
These programs are ideal for non-traditional pre-meds who have not taken pre-med classes, wish to complete the courses quickly in a structured environment, and can afford taking time off work. Such programs tend to be very well respected and have competitive admissions processes. Further, schools with these types of post-bacs usually offer special linkage programs or performance-based guaranteed interviews to certain medical schools, which can aid in the medical school admissions process for stellar students.
Numerous colleges and universities offer part-time programs for post-bacs who want to work or pursue other interests. Part-time programs can involve day or night classes. These programs also tend to be geared toward career-changers. However, some grade-enhancing programs (see below) also offer part-time coursework.
Grade-enhancing post-baccalaureate programs target target students who have already taken the pre-med classes and did not perform as well as they hoped academically. These programs either repeat the usual pre-med classes or provide higher-level science classes to increase a pre-med’s GPA. Though some grade-enhancing programs offer a masters level degree, they most often provide undergraduate certificates in a science field.
Special Master’s Program (SMP)
SMPs are known as the most rigorous type of grade-enhancing program. They usually mirror the first year medical school coursework, as opposed to re-taking pre-med classes or higher-level basic science classes. Doing well in a SMP program bodes well for medical school admissions when it comes to academics. But, unfortunately, many SMPs grade on a strict curve and think nothing of handing out GPAs in the low 3s. SMPs can be a double-edged sword – they are often considered the best way to prove your ability to handle the academic rigors of medical school but doing poorly at a SMP program can sink your chances of medical school admission.
Do it yourself
No rule exists stating you have to complete the medical school prerequisites in a formal program. Sometimes it’s easier to create your own program by attending undergraduate, graduate, or extension classes at your local college or university. Community college or online courses may seem attractive, but, right or wrong, many medical schools look down upon such classes. Though certain exceptional, non-traditional pre-meds have gained acceptance to medical school after taking all pre-med courses at a community college, it is not an easy path or one I readily suggest.
MAKING THE DECISION
So, which of these programs are you leaning toward? It’s common to consider programs in a few of the categories listed above. Once you have determined what type(s) of program(s) you’d most like to pursue, I suggest turning to the American Association of Medical College’s online database to start making your program list: services.aamc.org/postbac. Though the database does not breakdown the post-bac programs as I have above, it does offer the useful ability to sort by special program focus, state, public/private, undergraduate/graduate, and institution. Perform some general searches first to get a feel for how the database works, and then narrow down your queries to start compiling a list of potential programs.
These characteristics will both help you determine where to apply and which program to attend. Of course, some of this data cannot be gleaned from a database. Fortunately, the admissions committee members of many post-bac programs are more than happy to speak to prospective students. Don’t be shy! Set up a meeting with a member of the admissions committee and feel free to ask direct questions. You may also speak with students in the program and sit in on classes. There is no better way to decide which program is right for you than making an in-person visit.
By the end of this process, you should easily be able to find post-bac programs that fit your needs. I suggest most post-bac applicants should apply to at least 10 programs given how competitive they are becoming. This is especially true of top career-changer and SMP programs. And when you are lucky enough to receive multiple-acceptances, you can return to your comprehensive spreadsheet to decide where to matriculate. But, in the end, deciding which post-bac program to attend will likely come down to a gut feeling of where you will have the highest chance of excelling.