Not all future doctors follow the traditional premed path. Those who decide they want to pursue a career in medicine later in school, or after graduation, may or may not have sufficient preparatory coursework in order to apply to medical school.
For those prospective medical school students, a postbaccalaureate (postbac) program can provide an opportunity for students to take required science classes after graduation, or to boost an uncompetitive GPA to help them become better prepared for admission to medical school.
Is the postbaccalaureate a good idea for you?
Postbac programs take 8 to 24 months to complete on average, depending on your background, and they vary widely in cost. Many well-known schools, such as Columbia University and University of California—San Francisco, offer strong postbac programs.
[Learn whether postbacs can help you get into med school.]
Certain institutions, including Georgetown University and Boston University, offer special master's programs in biology-related fields, in which students take classes with current medical students. These programs are typically tailored to students with sufficient science backgrounds who are looking to improve their GPAs and applications to medical school. Some institutions normally give medical school interviews to their own master's students, but there is no guarantee.
The Association of American Medical Colleges keeps a comprehensive list of postbac programs on its website. It provides information on average program length, estimated tuition, and the recent success rates of graduates obtaining slots in medical schools. The AAMC also provides school contact information, so applicants can reach out to individual institutions for the most up-to-date information.
[See if you should apply early to medical school.]
There are some benefits to pursuing a postbac:
• Mentorship: In most postbac programs, students are given an adviser who provides valuable help with career guidance and preparing competitive applications to medical schools. Some programs also help you by writing committee letters in support of your application and helping you prepare for the MCAT.
[See what potential MCAT changes mean for premed students.]
• Class interconnection: A number of postbac programs have smaller class sizes than at most universities; students that have completed postbac programs cite this as a morale-boosting advantage to pursuing these programs, as they feel more connected to their classmates. This can be particularly important to students who struggled through a traditional undergraduate program but remain committed to medicine.
As with any course of action, pursuing a postbac can have some downsides, including:
• Financial aid: There are a number of postbac programs that provide financial aid exclusively through student loans. Because students entering these programs have usually already earned a bachelor's degree and could potentially carry even more debt from medical school, these programs can easily seem financially prohibitive.
• Competition: Some postbac students, particularly in specially designed master's degree programs, report experiencing a competitive atmosphere among fellow students. Because these environments are designed for students to demonstrate their ability to achieve improved grades in academic sciences, it is likely this setting could be detrimental for some students, compared to undergraduate and medical school environments.
In general, non-degree-granting postbac programs are typically designed for applicants without a significant science background, while the master's of science programs are geared toward applicants who have the required science background but could use an academic booster shot.
Both the certificate postbac and master's of science programs are expensive endeavors; whatever you decide, it's important to know more about each type of postbaccalaureate program. Depending on your past circumstances or undergraduate experiences, and given the costs in time and money associated with these programs, it's crucial to make a decision as to whether or not they might be right for your particular situation.
Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How To Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.