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What Are Post-Baccalaureate Programs? A Complete Guide

February 24, 2022
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IntroductionWhat Are Post-Baccalaureate Programs?Types of Post-Bacc ProgramsPros and Cons of Enrolling in Post-Baccalaureate ProgramsHow to Decide if You Should Enroll in a Post-Baccalaureate ProgramHow to Apply to Post-Baccalaureate ProgramsPost-Baccalaureate Program FAQsWhat Is a Post-Baccalaureate Program?: The Key to Your Future

If you’re a premed looking to enhance your medical school readiness, you may consider a post-baccalaureate program. Perhaps you’re a student with a bachelor’s degree in a non-science subject and need to complete prerequisite course requirements. Or maybe you’ve been rejected from a med school and need to strengthen your application before reapplying

If this sounds like you, then you’ve come to the right place. So, what’s a post-baccalaureate program, and how much does a post-bac program cost? 

This guide will review these programs and which ones are right for you. We’ll also weigh the pros and cons of enrolling in these programs and review application guidelines. Finally, we’ll discuss everything you should consider when enrolling in the programs that match your needs. 

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What Are Post-Baccalaureate Programs?

Post-baccalaureate programs are intended to support your transition to medical school after completing your undergraduate degree. Their purpose is to strengthen your application and help students become more competitive candidates during their gap year

Post-baccalaureate programs are typically one to two years in length. They may award a master’s degree, a certificate of completion, or no degree or certificate at all. Some programs offer undergraduate credit, while others offer graduate credit. So, if taking post-baccalaureate classes to raise your GPA, it’s crucial to enroll in a course that awards undergrad credit. 

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Types of Post-Bacc Programs

There are four main types of post-baccalaureate programs. For allopathic schools, these are: 

There are over 270 programs in the AAMC post bacc database. Be sure to browse and search the AAMC post bacc database to find the programs that match your needs and goals. 

Programs for Improving Your Academic Record

Post-baccalaureate programs for academic record enhancement are for premed students who believe their academic standing isn’t as competitive as they’d like it to be. These programs help students boost their academic statistics, such as GPAs and MCAT scores

Remember that you should enroll in a course that’s meant for undergrad coursework if you’re unsatisfied with your undergraduate academic record. 

Graduate programs will only affect your graduate GPA, not your undergraduate GPA. In the AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service), the application separates your undergraduate and graduate GPAs. 

Programs for Changing Your Career

Post-baccalaureate programs for career changers are designed to help non-traditional students become ready for medical school. Typically, these students obtained a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than the sciences and decided after completing their undergrad that they wanted to become a doctor.

Post-baccalaureate programs for career changers are meant to help students complete required prerequisite coursework. These programs also provide additional support to meet medical school requirements, such as studying for the MCAT and CASPer. Students may also receive help with their medical school applications.  

Programs for Underrepresented Groups in Medicine

Post-bacc medical programs for minority students and underrepresented groups are meant to help these groups gain acceptance into medical school. The AAMC defines underrepresented groups as the following: 

“Underrepresented in medicine means those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population.”

If you belong to an underrepresented group, then this type of post-baccalaureate program may be right for you. 

Programs for Disadvantaged Groups in Medicine

Post-baccalaureate programs for disadvantaged groups in medicine exist to help economically and educationally disadvantaged students. In broad terms, this applies to students who come from low-income families or faced societal hardship that negatively impacted their educational and professional opportunities. 

In addition to allopathic post-baccalaureate programs, there are special master’s programs and osteopathic courses:

Special Master’s Programs (SMPs)

Special Master’s Programs are for students who are interested in obtaining a graduate degree. While post-baccalaureate programs are designed for students to fill in gaps in their applications, SMPs exist to simply enhance applications. In other words, students who enroll in SMPs generally already have the medical school requirements but want to be even more competitive with a graduate degree.

Because SMPs are graduate-level coursework, they will not affect undergraduate GPAs.  

Osteopathic Programs

Osteopathic post-baccalaureate programs are affiliated with osteopathic medical schools and their DO programs. Osteopathic post-baccalaureate programs are similar to the above programs; however, their emphasis is on osteopathy and not traditional allopathy.

The AACOM (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine) has a complete list of post-baccalaureate programs at over 20 osteopathic schools. 

It’s worth mentioning that there may be an overlap between the types of post-baccalaureate programs. For example, programs for underrepresented groups may also be academic record enhancers or career changers. You will have to do your own research and look for the programs that best align with your circumstances and application enhancement goals. 


Pros and Cons of Enrolling in Post-Baccalaureate Programs

There are several pros and cons of enrolling in post-baccalaureate programs. The benefits of enrolling in these programs include the following: 

Extended Access to Pre-Health Advisors 

Pre-health advisors help you prepare for medical school and individualize their guidance based on where you are in the application process and what you still need to complete. They also help with scheduling classes, managing application timelines, and providing additional resources.

Several Post-Baccalaureate Programs Are Affiliated with Specific Medical Schools 

These are called post-baccalaureate linkage programs. While enrolling in a linkage program does not guarantee acceptance at that medical school, it is beneficial to know the ins and outs of the campus, faculty, mission, and environment.

Volunteering Opportunities

Many programs include built-in volunteering opportunities in their curriculum. This will help you gain relevant experiences that you can discuss in your medical school interview and the AMCAS work and activities section.

Networking Opportunities 

You will have extensive networking opportunities with faculty, staff, colleagues, and mentors. Because so many programs are affiliated with medical schools, renowned lecturers and professors often give presentations and make themselves available to students.

Flexible Program Structuring and Scheduling 

Programs vary in length, but you can also look into part-time or online options to accommodate your life circumstances. Just be mindful of any limitations of part-time and online programs. 

For example, if you need to improve your undergraduate GPA but a part-time or online program doesn’t factor that in, it may be best to look at full-time, on-site programs that are academic enhancers.

Improve Other Aspects of Your Medical School Application 

Post-baccalaureate programs are a great way to complete prerequisite coursework in less time (accelerated coursework). If you’re a non-traditional student or didn’t complete all required science coursework/labs, then the accelerated path may be right for you.

These programs also help you prepare for the MCAT. If you’re unhappy with your score or have not yet taken the MCAT, then post-baccalaureate programs will give you more time to study. Additionally, MCAT prep classes are often built into post-baccalaureate curricula.

While post-bacc programs have pros, they also have cons. So, let’s explore several of them. 

Cost of Attendance

Simply put, more education will mean more debt. You should carefully consider your finances and financial aid options before deciding to accrue more debt on top of your undergraduate tuition and future medical school cost of attendance.

Not Improving Your Undergraduate GPA if You Enroll in Graduate Programs

If your goal is to improve your undergraduate GPA, you must ensure that the programs you enroll in will benefit your undergraduate coursework and award undergrad credit. For example, an SMP will give you a graduate-level degree, but it will not affect your undergraduate GPA.

The Pressure to Succeed and Bolster Your Application 

Because your goal is to strengthen your candidacy for medical school, you may feel a tremendous amount of pressure to achieve the highest marks and gain the best relevant experiences. This may cause burnout before you even get to medical school, so prioritize self-care and ask for help when needed.

Several Programs Do Not Award Degrees or Certificates

If your goal is to obtain credentials, apply to the programs that meet your educational goals. For example, if you want to improve your academic credentials with a graduate degree, an SMP may be the ideal choice for you compared to a post-bacc certificate or diploma.

How to Decide if You Should Enroll in a Post-Baccalaureate Program

To decide if you should enroll in a post-baccalaureate program, consider areas of improvement for your medical school application and your circumstances:

How to Apply to Post-Baccalaureate Programs

Because there are various types of post-baccalaureate programs, both undergraduate and graduate, application requirements vary depending on the school. You will have to follow the specific program’s application requirements and recommendations.

What Are the Post-baccalaureate Application Requirements? 

The general post-bacc application requirements include:

Post-Baccalaureate Program FAQs

We have outlined several questions and answers below to understand further what a post-baccalaureate program is and how you can get into one.  

1. Where can I search for a post-baccalaureate program that meets my needs?

The AAMC’s post-baccalaureate database is a valuable tool. On the left sidebar, you can filter your search results to yield public, private, undergraduate, or graduate programs. Additionally, you can select: 

2. Are there part-time post-baccalaureate programs?

Part-time post-baccalaureate programs are less common than full-time programs, and there are pros and cons to attending part-time. You will have more time to work or address life circumstances, but you will also limit your options for enhancement. For example, part-time programs are not beneficial for improving your undergraduate GPA. 

3. Will completing a post-baccalaureate program increase my chances of acceptance to medical school?

There is a correlation between acceptance rates and successful completion of post-baccalaureate programs. Most schools report an increased acceptance rate of post-baccalaureate students, likely due to improved GPAs and MCAT scores, and more experience in relevant extracurriculars such as medical shadowing, volunteering, and research. 

4. If I have a dream medical school I’d like to attend, should I apply to its post-baccalaureate program?

There are advantages to applying to the post-baccalaureate program offered by your preferred medical school. For example, applying to their post-baccalaureate program will make you more familiar with their application process and timelines. 

Secondly, if you are accepted, you will have ample opportunities to network with instructors, professionals, and colleagues at your dream medical school. That said, you should also apply to other post-baccalaureate programs that match your needs. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket — it’s best to apply broadly. 

5. I don’t need to enhance my academic record but would like to gain research experience. Is a post-baccalaureate program right for me?

Yes! There are many post-baccalaureate programs that are thesis-based and provide research opportunities. These are known as Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Programs (PREP) and are designed for students who wish to pursue a research doctorate. This includes the PhD and the dual MD/PhD. More information can be found at the AAMC

6. How much do post-baccalaureate programs cost?

The cost of attendance varies greatly depending on the school and program length (one to two years). Some programs can cost upwards of $10,000 per term when you add up fees and other related costs. Check with the programs to which you apply, and speak with the Student Financial Services office to go over your options for financial aid. 

7. What is a post-baccalaureate program personal statement?

Most programs require a post bacc personal statement and sometimes shorter essays. The post-baccalaureate personal statement is similar to the medical school personal statement, but it requires a different approach as your objective is to be accepted into a post-baccalaureate program and not medical school. 

Your post-baccalaureate personal statement should discuss your desirable qualities and significant, relevant experiences in medicine. The main difference between this and the med school statement is that your path to medical school is not straightforward. 

In other words, you’re not simply going from undergrad to medical school. Your post-bacc personal statement should discuss your non-traditional journey and why the program is necessary for your candidacy as a future medical school applicant. 

Other essays may include the “Why us?” essay, which asks why applicants chose this program over others. For this essay, be sure to tie in your personal goals and experiences to the program’s mission. Discuss why the program is the right fit for you, but don’t regurgitate aspects of the school that the admissions committee already knows. 

When you write your application essays, the focus should be on your experiences and education. Your goal is to show the school how and why you’d be an excellent addition to their program, using specifics to tie in your experiences with the school. 

You may also have to write an academic performance essay. Although you may enroll in a post-baccalaureate program to improve your academic records, admissions committees want to see what you’ve learned from not receiving the marks you wanted. If you’re unsatisfied with your academic standing, show a growth mindset in this essay and discuss your setbacks honestly and head-on. 

Perhaps you had extenuating circumstances beyond your control, such as injury, illness, or death of a family member. Perhaps you had a rocky start at the beginning of undergrad but managed to persevere in the end. Whatever your reasons, ensure that your essay is reflective and positive and that it demonstrates what you learned and how you plan to keep improving in the future. 

What Is a Post-Baccalaureate Program?: The Key to Your Future

Post-baccalaureate programs are a great option to bolster your application before applying to medical school. If you would like to improve your GPA, gain additional relevant experiences, or prepare for the MCAT, post-baccalaureate programs can help you reach your goals.

You should consider your life circumstances and reflect on your medical school readiness. Do you see gaps in your application? Are there areas that need improvement? Have you completed all medical school requirements? These are the questions that will help you determine whether a post-baccalaureate program is right for you.

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