Postbaccalaureate programs can help you become a competitive applicant to medical school in a number of ways. If you are a career changer, you can take the prerequisite courses necessary to gain admission to medical school. Academic enhancers have several postbac options. There are programs to help you target and improve your undergraduate GPA. Many programs offer additional support in providing clinical, research and volunteer experiences that demonstrate your interest in and commitment to the healthcare field. They can also assist with MCAT preparation. These are three critical areas of the application that postbac programs for academic enhancers address.

Identifying where you need support can help you narrow down the type of postbac program that is best for you. There are single-focus programs designed to help you improve your grades and/or complete the prerequisite coursework. Dual-focus programs provide you with unique activities as well as coursework. Multi-focus programs offer support in all three areas: GPA, activities, and MCAT.

Use the criteria below to determine if a postbac program is right for you and which type of program will benefit you the most:

Low Undergraduate GPA (3.0 or lower)

If you are a career changer or have an undergraduate GPA that is below a 3.0, you may consider a single-focus postbac program that will allow you to take at least one year of a full course load of upper division science courses. These programs often have an academic advisor who will help you select classes and determine the strongest course combinations. The best programs provide learning skills testing with an educational psychologist who can provide students with solid data about their academic strengths and weaknesses. When given concrete feedback on their performance with clear guidance on improving study skills, students can advance significantly and develop stronger study habits. The main focus of these programs is improving your undergraduate GPA and preparing you to excel in med school.

If you have a low undergraduate GPA, it will not be as helpful to your application to take graduate level classes. It is best to take postbaccalaureate coursework so that you can directly improve your undergraduate GPA. On the AMCAS application, the GPA is calculated separately for your undergraduate and graduate coursework. Even if you earn a 4.0 in a graduate program, it will have no impact on your undergraduate GPA since those numbers are calculated separately. Also, medical schools are aware that many graduate programs inflate their grades. With this information taken into consideration, graduate GPA’s are not valued as highly as undergraduate GPA’s. Medical school selection committees focus on the undergraduate GPA when making admissions decisions. While a competitive graduate GPA will help your application, if you have a low undergraduate GPA, this is the number that may cause rejection. Students who already have a strong undergraduate GPA can consider completing a Special Master’s Degree Program (SMP) or a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) to bolster their application and preparation.

Low GPA and Weak Activities (3.0 or lower in combination with less than 8 activities)

Review your CV/resume. Classify each experience using the following headings:

  • Clinical experience
  • Community Service
  • Leadership
  • Research (optional for most medical schools)

If you do not have any long-term activities or have not covered the critical areas mentioned above, then dual-focus programs can help you to improve your GPA while strengthening the activities section of your application. Some of these programs have established volunteer or research tracks. You will not have to waste any time submitting applications or looking for experience in these areas once you are accepted into their program. They will help you obtain impressive experience, often while providing academic support in your coursework. Multi-tasking in a dual-focus program can prove to selection committees that you are indeed ready to take on the responsibilities of medical school.

Low GPA (3.0 or lower) and Low MCAT Score (below a 500)

If you need to improve in these areas, a multi-focus program could be your best option. They often offer a summer program or support in preparing for the MCAT. Many of these programs encourage students to focus only on academics during the school year but encourage participation in volunteer work or research during the breaks and may even offer direct connections to opportunities on their undergraduate and/or medical school campuses. They provide the most comprehensive support in all areas of the application—before and during the process of applying.

The best kept secret of postbaccalaureate programs are conditional acceptance programs. For these programs, if students earn a certain GPA by a certain date, they are given acceptance into medical school. There are two well-known programs in this area, the Georgetown GEMS Program and the Michigan State ABLE Program. You can apply directly to their programs on their website. Most conditional acceptance programs are more selective and secretive—they only admit students into their program if a student applies to their medical school. These program names are shared by word of mouth. In many cases, students are not required to retake the MCAT.

About the author

Alicia served as student advisor and director of the UC Davis School of Medicine Postbaccalaureate Program for over five years, earning the highest success rates for any program like it in the state of California. She published the first book ever written about premedical postbaccalaureate programs over a year ago, The Definitive Guide to Pre-Medical Postbaccalaureate Programs: The handbook for career changers and academic record enhancers who want a chance at medical school, and works as a consultant for assisting students applying to all of the health professions—with an 88% success rate for this past application cycle.