Graduating with a degree from an accredited undergraduate program is an impressive accomplishment for anyone. However, for anyone who wishes to become a practicing physician, graduation from college is just a single small step in the journey. For students who were perhaps “lucky” enough to realize that they wanted to be a doctor during their first few years of their undergraduate careers, transitioning from undergrad to medical school and getting through med school requirements can often be a fairly simple transition.

Such students are often called “traditional” students and are more likely than others to find themselves enrolled in medical school classes within a year of celebrating their college graduations.

However, for many other students, the process is not so simple. Many physician-hopefuls realized their desire to practice medicine after they had already chosen other fields of study during their undergraduate careers. These students, although often just as bright and motivated as other pre-meds, typically need to make up for “lost ground” in order to successfully apply (and be accepted) to medical school.

Fortunately, there are several options for such students/applicants, depending on when within their lives they decided to pursue medicine. Specifically speaking, while some undergraduate students might find it possible to squeeze in all pre-med requirements during their last few years at school (or might find it reasonable to spend five years in college instead of the traditional four), anyone who has already graduated obviously will not be able to do so. Instead, programs such as post-baccalaureate pre-medical Programs exist to help these students.

A post-baccalaureate pre-med program typically lasts for about a year. These programs consist of focused studying on the core science classes, particularly those included in upper level biology work. Often, programs contain built-in MCAT preparatory classes in order to help students do their very best on this crucial exam, and many programs work hard to ensure that adequate mentoring programs are also available to their students as well. Other components of post-bac pre-med programs might include curriculum time set aside for completing volunteering hours or set times each week during which students get to learn basic clinical medicine skills.

However, just like medical school, these programs are also competitive. While there are definitely a growing number of such programs (perhaps as many as there are medical schools), there are also arguably a growing number of people looking to attend them each year too. Because of this, understanding what a particular post-bac pre-med program looks for in its applicants is a crucial step to enhancing your chances of being accepted by your desired program.

Competitive Undergraduate GPA’s

Like any academic program, post-bac programs are interested in knowing your academic performance up to this point in your academic career. However, unlike with many medical schools, having a relatively low GPA does not necessarily mean that you have a greatly reduced chance of being accepted. Instead, many post-bac pre-med programs understand that their students are there primarily in order to improve their non-competitive GPAs from undergrad. At the same time, being able to show academic motivation through your GPA is still of huge importance. In other words, while a few low grades during science courses (or other courses) during your freshman year in college probably will not keep you out of a post-bac program, continuing to get low grades throughout your upperclassman years as well might. Post-bac programs are more likely to admit students who have shown academic improvements than those who seem to be “stagnant C’s” throughout all of their schooling.

Additionally, when considering how your GPA might play into your chances of getting accepted at a post-bac pre-med program, it is very important to consider the average GPAs of the students already in the program. Different post-bac programs may have different focuses; while some programs seem to focus on students looking to improve their GPAs from undergrad, other programs are more directed towards students who never got the chance to take the required pre-med courses because they were studying other areas during undergrad. Research the average GPAs of students within a program that you are considering and improve your acceptance chances by applying to programs with averages like your own.

Overall Ambition

In continuation with the above theme, applicants who are considered to be both ambitious and dedicated will typically have the highest chances of getting accepted by post-bac pre-med programs. Unlike a GPA, however, ambition can be a little harder to clearly “show” to an admissions committee since it cannot be as easily measured. Still, post-bac programs are looking for applicants who show ambition through their current life choices, whether that be through volunteering to check in patients at a local free medical clinic or spending a few days a week putting in hours at a local research lab as a volunteer.

Ambition to rise above difficult circumstances is also well received by post-bac pre-med programs as well. As mentioned previously, these programs are designed with the understanding that many of their applicants are coming into the field of medicine from what could easily be considered to be disadvantaged situations. Trying to complete undergraduate science classes while working a full time job, doing college work while being responsible for a family, or just trying to navigate the rigors of school while being an older/non-traditional student are all circumstances taken into account by post-bac pre-med program admissions committees. Additionally, the AAMC states that specific post-bac pre-med programs are designed with students who are from educationally or economically disadvantaged backgrounds in mind. Therefore, students who show great ambition and who are from such backgrounds are definitely ideal candidates for these programs.

Age of Applicant

In addition to having student bodies made up of varying GPAs between different post-bac pre-med programs, the average age of students in different programs varies as well. Specifically speaking, even though the general aim of all of these pre-medicine focused post-bac programs is the same (that is, helping to get students accepted into medical schools), the actual student populations vary greatly from program to program. While some programs might have more students who come directly from undergraduate courses (and thus are around 22 or 23 years old), the majority of programs actually have average ages of students much closer to 30 years of age. Falling out of the “normal” age for a student in a particular program does not necessarily mean that you cannot be accepted to that program, but it does mean that the program is probably looking for applicants who might have a few more (or less) years of life experiences under their belts.

Total Life Experiences

In fact, many post-bac pre-med programs are extremely interested in the life experiences of their applicants. While a good part of this interest stems from general inquiries into the lives of its potential students, admissions committees are also very interested in knowing how a student’s current interest in medicine ties into his/her past life experiences. However, this does not necessarily mean that a student who chose a career in nursing prior to deciding to apply to a post-bac program has a better chance of getting accepted into the program than a theology student does; instead, it simply means that admissions committees are very interested in knowing the life experiences that led the thought processes behind an applicant’s current decision to pursue a career in medicine.

In general, the best way for a post-bac pre-med program applicant to use his/her life experiences to improve his/her chances of getting accepted into a program is to use any and all application essays to tie in past experiences with current ambitions. For instance, the student who is working in the business world but who wants to pursue a career in medicine should use his personal statement essay to clearly articulate what experiences in his current career led him to his current conclusion that a career change would be best for him. An admissions interview is the next place where a student can use his past experiences to help improve his chances of getting accepted into the program, but this second step typically only occurs if the first place of convincing (the essays) is well received.

The goal of a post-bac pre-med program is to graduate students who will then be accepted into medical schools–students who might not otherwise have ever gotten to go to medical school. While the content of the programs themselves is carefully designed to best achieve this goal, admissions committees understand that they can only really achieve their goals if they also have classes of students who best meet the character qualities of successful doctors. Such qualities include intelligence, integrity, and ambition, and all of these are often analyzed based on a student’s re-telling of his/her past life experiences.

While the overall goal of a post-bac pre-med program is somewhat similar to that of medical schools in general (that is, to graduate students who are better prepared to eventually serve in the medical field), the requirements for admissions to these programs are vastly different. Both programs are very competitive, but they definitely have different standards of acceptance. While medical schools typically are looking for applicants who have strong GPAs and high MCAT scores, post-baccalaureate pre-medical programs are more interested in discovering students who could someday have those med school requirements.