Postbaccalaureate Premedical Programs: Everything You Need to Know

Getting into medical school is difficult, especially for students who have a lower GPA or lack prerequisite credits. One option to boost their application is by enrolling in a postbaccalaureate premedical program.

However, this route can be expensive, so it’s important for students to do research and consider the following factors before applying.

What Are Postbaccalaureate Premedical Programs?

Postbaccalaureate premedical programs were created in the mid-1990s to provide a bridge for underrepresented students from undergraduate education to medical school, says Shawn Cummings, assistant dean of advising in arts and sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

“There was just still a real big gap between the population in medical school being overly dominated by, generally, Caucasian students and there not being as many minority students in medical schools as were represented in the population at large,” he says.

While some programs’ missions have shifted, others maintain that original goal of closing equity gaps. These programs are “designed to specifically support a student who wants to transition into a professional school,” says Julie Gilbert, senior specialist of education pathways and learner inclusion at the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. “Usually it will enhance their college competitiveness for admission to a medical school.”

Graduates who completed a bachelor’s degree can earn additional, nondegree prerequisite credits for various health programs in addition to medical school, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, physician assistant, accelerated nursing, dental school and veterinary school. The credit-granting programs are open to applicants from any background, not just those who graduated with a science or health-related major at the bachelor’s level.

“Students don’t have to invest in a whole second degree,” says Laura Bigaouette, associate dean of the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Med/Pre-Health Program at Fordham University in New York. “We look at previous coursework and we can waive certain courses that were done recently or with success. But they only need to take the (courses required by health professional schools) without having to spend the time and the money again to fulfill another degree.”

[READ: How to Make Sure You Fulfill Medical School Requirements for Admission.]

There are different types of postbaccalaureate premed programs. Record enhancer programs, for example, are for students who’ve completed the prerequisites — such as biology, chemistry, physics and organic chemistry — but their science GPA is not competitive. Meanwhile, career changer programs cater to those who have taken only a few science courses, or none.

Most programs offer one or the other, although some have both, Cummings says.

Some schools also offer a special master’s program in which courses count toward a student’s graduate GPA. For this type of program, students receive a master’s degree upon completion.

Postbac premed programs typically take about one to two years to complete, depending on whether a student attends full or part time, experts say.

Application Requirements for Postbac Premed Programs

Postbaccalaureate premed program requirements vary, and some are more competitive than others. Most programs ask applicants to meet a certain GPA minimum, submit a transcript and letters of reference, and complete an admissions interview.

Fordham, for instance, requires at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA. However, there is some flexibility depending on the applicants’ circumstances, Bigaouette says.

“We conduct interviews and find out what happened in their undergrad program,” she says. “Our program is very rigorous, so we want to make sure that candidates are a fit based on GPA as well as other factors around academic ability and commitment to the health field. …. A lot of people have personal challenges undergrad and that’s what hit their undergrad GPA, so we want to give those people a chance in a postbac program. And quite often, we see a significant and dramatic growth trajectory in GPA, which means a lot for medical school.”

[Read: Why It’s Still Hard to Get Into Medical School Despite a Doctor Shortage]

Admissions officers are also looking to see if an applicant has explored medicine, Cummings says.

“Have they had direct patient interaction? Have they observed doctors? Do they really know what they’re getting into? We have a lot of students apply with really strong stats,” he says. But if they have a resume “that isn’t informed by real-world experience, we are probably not going to admit them. We don’t want them to come here and start spending thousands of dollars on a trajectory that they are really not well informed about.”

Some programs have their own application, while others are part of the Post Baccalaureate Centralized Application Service. This service allows potential students to apply to more than one participating program at a time.

“It is a more expensive way to apply to postbac programs, but not all postbac programs have an alternative,” Cummings says.

Is a Postbac Premed Program the Right Fit for You?

Postbac premed programs can help students strengthen their transcript or their educational knowledge, experts say. Other potential benefits include networking opportunities, MCAT preparation support and advising to help with the medical school application process.

Additionally, while med school admission is not guaranteed, some postbac programs have direct linkage to certain medical schools. For instance, the Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland has a linkage arrangement with eight medical schools. To be eligible for consideration, students often have to uphold a certain GPA and MCAT score while in the postbac program.

[Related:How Long Is Medical School and What Is It Like?]

Postbac premed programs don’t make sense for every student, especially those with a high GPA who don’t need additional coursework, experts say.

“I sometimes have students coming to our program and the real problem is the MCAT. They’ve got a low MCAT (score), but they want to come to us to take more coursework,” Cummings says. In those cases, “you probably need a very targeted MCAT prep program as opposed to additional coursework.”

To determine whether a postbac program is a right fit, students should consider several other factors, including the program’s location — to determine the cost of living — and the total price of attendance. It’s important to research available financial aid, as it can be limited for these types of programs, experts say.

Potential applicants can use the AAMC’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Programs database to search for options that meet their academic goals. Additionally, Gilbert advises potential applicants to “ask their pre-health advisor and or the admissions officers at these medical schools for assistance and guidance on whether or not it’s the right decision for them.”

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