With strict admissions standards for M.D. and D.O. programs, attaining a high undergraduate GPA and MCAT score is critical for medical school applicants. While some students meet these academic expectations on their first attempt, others find that their overall undergraduate grade average, MCAT score or grades in core courses may not be competitive enough to earn a spot in a med school class.
For these students, remedying weak spots may be necessary before they apply to medical school.
There are many routes available to strengthen an academic record for medical school admissions, such as retaking the MCAT or taking additional science, technology, engineering or math classes without seeking a degree.
Another popular option for medical school hopefuls with less-impressive academic records is to enroll in a formal postbaccalaureate program. These programs often offer a master’s degree in a field related to science or medicine, and they accept potential medical students who have completed their undergraduate degrees and basic premed coursework.
If you have determined that you need to address academic weaknesses in your medical school application and are thinking about enrolling in a postbaccalaureate program, consider these four myths before making your final decision.
Myth 1: Postbaccalaureate Premed Programs Maintain Low Admissions Standards, With Minimal Competition for Seats
Many postbaccalaureate premed programs wish to accept students who exhibit the academic prowess necessary to gain admittance to medical school. They are therefore discriminating about which applicants they select for their cohorts.
For instance, Georgetown University‘s Special Master’s Program in Physiology boasted an average MCAT score of 510 and an average undergraduate GPA of 3.3. The program advises students who have scored less than 510 on the MCAT to retake the test to increase their chances of being accepted into the master’s program.
Similarly, the highly selective Drexel Pathway to Medical School program at Drexel University receives between 500 and 700 applications for just 40 seats per year.
While there are less-competitive postbaccalaureate premed programs available, those that claim the highest medical school admittance rates have more applicants than available spots — and competition for those spots is serious.
Myth 2: Postbaccalaureate Premed Programs Guarantee Admission to Medical School
The chances of med school admission may be higher with evidence of academic strength in your postbaccalaureate premed program, but you should not confuse an opportunity to complete a postbac with an automatic guarantee that you will become a doctor.
Georgetown, for example, offers interviews with its med school to roughly 50% of its postbaccalaureate program attendees, and about 15% are typically accepted. Still, the program’s students have an overall 85% admission rate into a med school, with 50% of postbac students accepted into a med school during the 10-month postbac itself.
The Special Master’s Program in Physiology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine reports that 96% of its students in the 2017-2018 class gained admittance to a medical or dental school. However, similar to students in the Georgetown program, only 56% of the class received an acceptance letter during their postbac.
In short, completing a postbaccalaureate premed program improves your admissions chances, but it is still up to you to perform to the high academic standards necessary to gain an acceptance to med school.
Myth 3: Medical Schools View Applicants from Postbaccalaureate Premed Programs Unfavorably
Perhaps now more so than in the past, medical schools see applicants who enter with diverse paths toward medicine. Nontraditional students, or those who have taken time between their undergraduate years and matriculation into med school, make up a significant portion of med school students.
According to a survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges of nearly 15,600 matriculating med students in 2019 — representing 71.2% of that year’s matriculants — 51.8% were between the ages of 23 and 25, a trend of continued increase. Meanwhile, 7% of matriculants completed a “non-degree post baccalaureate program to strengthen academic skills,” an increase from 6.6% in 2015.
Myth 4: All Postbaccalaureate Premed Programs Offer Similar Types of Coursework
While all reputable postbaccalaureate premed programs can increase your chances of being accepted into medical or dental school, the types of courses offered by these programs vary.
Regardless of whether you intend to complete a postbac that offers a degree or certificate, or if you enter one that simply allows you to take additional courses, pay attention to the academic areas of concentration in your chosen program. For example, students who struggled in undergraduate chemistry courses might be drawn to a program that offers advanced courses in biochemistry or that culminates in a master’s in pharmacology, such as those offered at Georgetown and the Tulane University School of Medicine.
Accounting for areas of weakness when choosing your postbac program can help strengthen your academic record in preparation for med school. Be sure to look into the differences between postbac programs before picking one that fits your needs.
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Update 01/12/21: This article has been updated with new information.