Still, even though the prospect of spending more years in school might not seem appealing to the majority of people, the number of hopeful students applying to post-baccalaureate pre-medical programs each year seems to be increasing. While the number of such post-bac pre-med programs is also arguably increasing too, getting accepted into these programs is definitely still an impressive feat. Therefore, building a competitive application for your desired post-bac pre-med program is a solid step towards earning your MD.

If you’ve chosen to apply for a post-bac premed program in order to enhance your chance of being a stronger medical school applicant, there is a pretty good chance that you are pretty sure of your goal to become a physician. You are so sure, in fact, that you have chosen to spend an additional year of your life enrolled in school–a pretty impressive fact, considering how medical school alone is already another four years of school after you have completed an undergraduate degree. When considering how to best build a competitive application for a post-bac pre-med program, it is essential to recognize the differences between different such programs. For instance, while Columbia University’s program (the oldest and largest program of its kind within the United States) is said to be designed to meet the pre-med educational requirements of students seeking to enter the medical field who have not taken any (or who have barely taken any) of the core pre-med science courses, other post-bac pre-med programs might have a very different student population in mind.

Specifically speaking, the AAMC’s post-bac pre-med program listings directs applicants to specify whether they are looking for a program with a special focus for “career changers,” “academic record enhancers,” “groups underrepresented in medicine,” or “economically or educationally disadvantaged students.” An “other” category is also an option for anyone who feels that they do not meet any of the more common categories of post-bac pre-med program applicants. Although the layout of these programs might all be relatively comparable, your chances of getting accepted into each program might not be equally spread out.

Because of this, when choosing a post-bac pre-med program to apply to, take the first step of building a “competitive application” by choosing to apply to those programs that best match with your individual needs. In other words, even though you might be considered to be an excellent applicant for one school’s post-bac pre-med program, another school with a different focus might see you as less than ideal. Make the best use of your time and money by applying to schools that are most likely to accept students from your personal background. While there is definitely still a chance that you will be accepted at schools that have programs created for students of other backgrounds in mind, it is generally considered to be the wisest and most practical plan to apply to schools that you have the best chances of being accepted at.

In addition to correctly choosing schools that match with your needs as a post-bac pre-med student, be sure that you do not underestimate the competitiveness of these programs. It is a well-known fact that getting accepted into medical schools is an impressive feat, and students typically spend a good deal of time agonizing over the specifics of their applications because of this. However, applying to a post-bac pre-med program should not be taken any more lightly. Carefully deciding on the specifics on your application can help improve your chances of getting accepted over the other many applicants.

With that in mind, one of the strongest ways you can build a competitive application is to have solid experiences within the field of science. If you are still enrolled in your undergraduate university, then this can be relatively easily accomplished through completing a summer REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program, and if you do not want to spend an entire summer working on a research project, then there is also a decent chance that you can hop onto a research project on your campus through a professor/mentor at your own university during the school year instead.

If, however, you have already graduated, then you will most likely discover that finding a way to get experience in the science or medical field may be a bit more difficult. Obviously having a job within the science or medical field is the simplest way to accomplish this, but there is a good chance that you may not be fortunate enough to have an opportunity like that. Instead, offering your time as a volunteer may be your best way to gain experience within research or medicine. If you happen to live close enough to a research hospital, then there is a good chance that they have programs set up for anyone looking to volunteer in a lab. Additionally, volunteering your time in local free clinics is a solid way to build up your application as well. Even though you most likely will only be checking in patients or helping out with other seemingly menial duties, your time spent there is still a way to shine a little brighter in your application.

No matter where you go, however, it is key that your relationships with those over you are positive ones. While this is always a good rule to abide by in life (that is, treating those over you with respect and working in such a way as to gain their respect as well), it is particularly important to keep in mind as you work to build your post-bac pre-med application. Most programs require you to submit recommendations from past employers, professors, or others in leadership in your life as a part of your application. If you attend an undergraduate school that has class sizes in the hundreds, then there is a good chance that you do not know your professor personally. This can be a problem during your application building process, as generalized recommendation letters are more likely to be skimmed over than letters that can praise specifics about you as an individual. Do yourself a favor by intentionally building quality relationships, and you will be more likely to be written about in a positive, specific light.

Just like just about every program requiring you to submit letters of recommendation from those who are presumed to know you well, so is every program likely to require you to submit at least one (and often more) essay(s) on why it is that you want to attend a post-bac pre-med program. Even if writing essays is not your strength, this essay is actually the part of your application that can be the best tool for helping others to see that you are an excellent candidate for their program. Its purpose should not be to just answer whatever question stem that has been assigned to it; instead, this essay is your way to present yourself as a memorable and commendable candidate to any post-bac pre-med program.

The word count on it is a limit to how much information you can include, and because of this is it important that all statements made within your essay(s) are intentional and work to point to why you are an excellent candidate. Do you have a special story of what led you to decided to change careers and pursue a career in medicine? Have there been any particular challenges that you have had to overcome in order to get to where you are? Whatever your story is, include it succinctly within your essay(s). Additionally, if there is anything within your application that could lead an admissions committee to view you as a less than ideal candidate, then the essay(s) is the best place to address anything you believe could be concerning to them as well. These issues can typically be easily addressed during a face-to-face interview, but you will most likely need to convince them that you are even worth the time of an interview through your essay(s) first.

Finally, perhaps the most important item to keep in mind while compiling your competitive post-bac pre-med application is that you really do need to create an argument for why an admissions committee should choose you to be accepted into their program. You know that you want to be accepted. You know that you will be an excellent doctor someday. You know that you have what it takes to treat patients with excellence and empathy. You know these things about yourself, and the overall goal of your post-bac pre-med application should be to help an admissions committee to know these truths too.

It is with this mindset that your most competitive application can be created. Therefore, leaving in “filler” materials within your application that are included just for the single purpose of “having something there” is not ideal; while it is important that your application include information that will help you stand out as a candidate, having to include anything that does not specifically serve this purpose is really not your best option. Ideally, your application should consist of intentional entries; from the writers of your recommendation letters to the activities you mention within your personal statements, everything within your application should be pointing to the fact that you will make an excellent physician someday–a physician about which a post-bac pre-med program would be proud to be able to say, “He attended our program first before attending medical school.”