Special Master’s Programs: What You Need To Know

May 31, 2024
8 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/31/24

Have you heard about Special Master's Programs (SMPs) and their linkage to medical schools? Below, we’ll explore the top 10 programs that offer this golden opportunity. 

SMPs play a crucial role in helping aspiring medical professionals bridge the gap in medical school admissions. If you're considering pursuing a special master's program, it's crucial to understand what sets it apart from other similar master's programs. 

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore everything you need to know about SMPs, including their advantages and disadvantages, how to choose the best one and provide an overview of the top ten Special Master’s Programs with a linkage to medical school.

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What Are Special Master’s Programs (SMPs)?

So, what are Special Master’s Programs for medical school? SMPs are a unique category of graduate programs designed to prepare students for medical school by enhancing their academic profiles.

These programs offer a range of opportunities, such as boosting a low GPA, providing exposure to biomedical sciences, as well as facilitating research and clinical experiences. SMPs also allow students to explore areas such as public health or global health, which can influence the medical specialty they pursue in the future.

Usually affiliated with a specific medical school, SMPs often offer the chance for students to enroll in first-year courses alongside MD students or in separate classes. This setup allows students to experience the academic rigor of medical school and demonstrates their readiness to handle MD-level coursework.

Beyond academics, SMPs may simulate other aspects of medical school, allowing students to compare their academic performance with current MD students.

Pros of Attending an SMP

Getting into medical school can be tough, with thousands of applicants vying for limited spots. In fact, in recent years, over 62,000 people applied, but only around 36% were accepted.

The road may be even tougher for non-traditional applicants, especially those applying after taking time off from academia. One thing is clear for medical school applications: your academic performance matters. Medical schools look for students who can handle intense coursework and exams by looking out for high GPAs and MCAT scores.

But what if your academic stats don't meet the requirements? This is where SMPs come in. They offer an opportunity to improve your GPA and enhance your med school application. Some SMPs also provide MCAT test prep and other benefits like committee letters and links to affiliated med schools.

Ultimately, SMP programs are committed to helping students secure admission to top MD programs. With focused support and a chance to strengthen your academic profile, SMPs offer a pathway to fulfilling your dream of attending medical school.

Cons of Attending an SMP

Attending an SMP has some cons that you should consider. First, these programs can be expensive, and there's no guarantee that they will lead to acceptance into medical school.

Another challenge is the program's academic rigor, which can be overwhelming for some students. Also, SMPs require a significant time commitment, which might not align with your desired timeline for entering medical school. Choosing to participate in an SMP means missing out on other potential opportunities, like work or research experience.

Lastly, SMPs mainly focus on biomedical sciences, limiting exposure to other fields of interest. Before deciding whether joining an SMP is best for you, make sure to carefully weigh these factors.

How to Choose the Best Special Master’s Program

With numerous SMPs available across the United States, selecting one that aligns with your goals and aspirations can be daunting. Here are some factors you can consider when choosing a Special Master’s Program. These factors are important because choosing wrong can impact your application and medical career. 

Check for Accreditation 

The first factor to consider when choosing an SMP is accreditation. Ensure that a recognized body, like the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), accredits the program you're interested in. Accreditation ensures that the program meets specific quality standards and that medical schools will recognize your coursework. 

The LCME is an accrediting body that evaluates medical education programs in the United States. Programs accredited by LCME are more likely to provide a reputable and rigorous curriculum. 

Curriculum and Prerequisites

Examine the SMP's curriculum carefully. Look for programs offering rigorous science-based coursework, which is essential for medical school preparation. Consider whether the curriculum includes prerequisite courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and other relevant subjects. 

Also, verify if the program provides advanced-level science courses that mirror the medical school curriculum. You must have a strong foundation in these subjects to succeed in medical school.

Linkage Agreements

One of the main advantages of SMPs is their potential to offer linkage agreements with affiliated medical schools. Linkage agreements can significantly improve your chances of gaining admission to medical school. 

These agreements often require you to meet specific criteria, such as maintaining a certain GPA and MCAT score during your SMP. They may grant you an interview or direct admission to the affiliated medical school. When researching SMPs, inquire about their linkage agreements and the medical schools they’re affiliated with. 

Faculty and Research Opportunities

When you're evaluating different SMPs, it's essential to assess the faculty members. Seek out programs with experienced and dedicated professors who are actively involved in the field of medicine. These professors often offer valuable insights, mentorship, and guidance, all of which can significantly enhance your educational journey.

It's also important to investigate the research opportunities provided by the SMP. A robust research component can expand your knowledge and strengthen your candidacy for medical school. Look for programs that offer research opportunities across a range of medical disciplines, enabling you to explore your specific interests and gain valuable research experience.

Location and Cost

On average, SMPs may cost between $30,000 and $50,000 annually. This can be quite pricey for some students, so make sure to assess the program's cost, including tuition, fees, and living expenses. While SMPs can be an investment in your future, managing your financial considerations is essential.

It’s also important to consider the location of the SMP and whether it aligns with your preferences and goals. Some students may prefer programs in specific regions closer to family or medical schools of interest. 

Support and Advising

Investigate the level of support and advising offered by the SMP. Comprehensive advising services can assist you in crafting a competitive medical school application and navigating the complex admissions process. Seek programs that provide personalized advising and support tailored to your needs and goals.

Diversity and Inclusivity

A diverse and inclusive learning environment can enrich your educational experience and better prepare you for a medical career. Look for SMPs that value diversity and foster an inclusive community of students and faculty.

Application Process and Deadlines

Understanding the application process and deadlines for your chosen SMP is crucial. To maximize your chances of admission, submit your application well before the deadline. Before you start the process, carefully review the application requirements and ensure you provide all necessary documentation.

Your Personal Goals and Preferences

Ultimately, the best SMP for you is one that aligns with your personal goals, preferences, and circumstances. Consider program duration, class size, and the overall learning environment. Reflect on your career aspirations and how each program supports your path to medical school.

Who Should Attend a Special Master’s Program?

SMPs have a unique purpose and cater to specific groups of students. So, who should attend an SMP, and how can you determine if it fits you? You can consider attending SPM if you fit the description below. 

Non-Traditional Students

These individuals may have completed their undergraduate degrees in fields other than the sciences or have taken unconventional paths in their education or careers. If you have a bachelor's degree but lack the necessary prerequisite courses for medical school, an SMP can provide the academic foundation needed to pursue a medical career.

Academic Enhancers

Students who may have faced academic challenges during their undergraduate studies but are committed to a medical career can benefit greatly from SMPs. These programs offer an opportunity to demonstrate academic proficiency and readiness for medical school. Successful completion of an SMP can help mitigate past academic setbacks.

Career Changers

For individuals looking to transition into the medical field from different careers, SMPs provide a structured path to make this change. Whether you have been working in another industry for several years or are seeking a new direction, an SMP can help you gain the necessary prerequisites and experience to apply to medical school.

Applicants with a Weak Academic Record

If you have a low undergraduate GPA or MCAT score, attending an SMP can significantly improve your medical school application. SMPs are designed to demonstrate your academic capabilities, and successful performance in these programs can outweigh a less-than-ideal undergraduate record.

Pre-Med Students in Need of a Gap Year

Many pre-med students take a gap year before applying to medical school to strengthen their applications or gain additional experience. SMPs offer a structured way to use this time effectively. You can complete the required coursework, enhance your academic profile, and potentially secure a linkage to medical school during your gap years.

Students Seeking a Competitive Edge

Even if you have a strong academic record and meet medical school prerequisites, attending an SMP can give you a competitive edge. These programs often offer advanced-level science courses, research opportunities, and clinical experiences that can set you apart from other applicants.

Those Committed to a Medical Career

Above all, individuals who attend SMPs should be committed to pursuing a medical career. These programs are academically rigorous and require dedication and hard work. Successful completion of an SMP is a significant step toward achieving your goal of becoming a medical professional.

Whether you're a non-traditional student, academic enhancer, career changer, or someone needing a gap year, SMPs can provide the academic foundation, support, and opportunities to strengthen your medical school application. Before applying, carefully assess your academic background, goals, and the specific SMPs available to determine the right path for you.

Special Master’s Programs Vs. Post-Baccalaureate

Post-baccalaureate programs and SMPs share many similarities. It's crucial to grasp the differences between these similar master’s programs to choose the best path for reaching your academic and career aspirations.

Both programs cater to students with Bachelor's degrees seeking to prepare for medical school. They offer coursework that enhances applicants' competitiveness in the admissions process. However, the key distinction lies in their target audience and outcomes.

Post-bacc programs are ideal for individuals who did not complete pre-med pre-med courses during their undergraduate studies. These programs allow students to fulfill the necessary prerequisites and provide an opportunity to improve their undergraduate GPA. Post-baccs usually grant certificates of completion or no formal award at all.

On the other hand, SMPs are designed for those who have completed the prerequisite med school courses but want to further enhance their academic profile. SMPs provide a separate GPA, independent of the undergraduate GPA, and confer master's degrees upon completion.

Determining which program aligns best with your aspirations requires thoughtful consideration of your academic background and goals. If you need pre-med courses for the first time or seek to enhance your undergraduate GPA, a post-baccalaureate (post-bacc) program presents a more suitable option.

Suppose you have already completed the essential medical school prerequisites but desire a GPA boost to increase your competitiveness for medical school admission. In that case, Special Master’s Programs hold the key to achieving your objectives.

When considering post-baccalaureate programs and SMPs, take the time to explore each program's details to make an informed decision. Your academic background, career goals, and desired level of preparation for medical school will play a significant role in choosing the right option.

Pursue Post Bacc and SMP Admissions Consulting

Our Post Bacc and SMP admissions consulting services are all about boosting your chances of getting into top-tier pre-med programs across the country. We're here to fine-tune every part of your application, making sure it helps you stand out from the crowd. 

Top 10 Special Master’s Programs with Linkage to Medical School

The following schools offer a bridge between undergraduate education and medical school, enhancing students' academic readiness and increasing their chances of securing a coveted spot in medical programs.

MS in Biomedical Sciences - Rutgers University 

This program is known for its supportive learning environment and strong linkage agreements with Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. With this affiliation, qualified students in the MBS program gain conditional acceptance to the medical school. 

Goucher's personalized advising and guidance further contribute to its reputation for successfully helping students pursue their medical career aspirations. It's a program where students receive academic enrichment, mentorship, and the resources needed to excel in medical school.

MS in Medical Sciences - Boston University

Boston University’s SMP stands out for its comprehensive curriculum, which mirrors the first-year medical school experience. Students benefit from small class sizes, personalized advising, and access to BU's world-class medical facilities.

This program provides a competitive edge for aspiring medical students, especially those looking to enhance their academic credentials, improve their MCAT scores, and gain valuable research experience. With strong ties to the BU School of Medicine, this program is a solid stepping stone toward a successful medical career.

Master’s Programme in Medical Technology - Virginia Commonwealth University

The SUNY Upstate Medical University Master's Program in Medical Technology is a program that blends advanced scientific knowledge with hands-on clinical experience. It is designed for aspiring medical laboratory professionals seeking to master diagnostic laboratory testing. 

Students in this program benefit from state-of-the-art facilities, expert faculty, and a robust curriculum. They gain proficiency in performing complex diagnostic tests, interpreting results, and ensuring the quality of laboratory operations. 

This program opens doors to exciting career opportunities in clinical laboratories, research institutions, and healthcare organizations, making it a valuable choice for those pursuing medical technology careers.

SMP in Physiology and Biophysics - Georgetown University

This rigorous program is designed to prepare aspiring medical students for the challenges of medical school. Georgetown's SMP stands out due to its linkage agreement with the Georgetown University School of Medicine. Successful completion of the SMP and meeting specific academic criteria guarantees students an interview for medical school admission.

With renowned faculty, cutting-edge research opportunities, personalized attention, and comprehensive MCAT preparation, this program equips students with the skills and knowledge needed for success in the medical field. It's a prime choice for those dedicated to a career in medicine.

MS in Medical Sciences - Florida Atlantic University

Florida Atlantic University offers a highly regarded Master of Science (MS) in Medical Sciences program, providing students with a solid foundation for a medical career. With a curriculum that mirrors the first year of medical school, this program covers essential subjects like anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and more.

It also incorporates clinical experiences, research opportunities, and MCAT preparation. FAU's MS in Medical Sciences stands out for its supportive faculty and emphasis on collaborative learning. This program offers a pathway to medical school, providing aspiring physicians with a strong academic background and practical experience.

Master of Science in Medical Physiology - Case Western Reserve University

This intensive, one-year program covers topics like cell biology, human physiology, and pharmacology, providing a deep understanding of medical sciences. It also includes clinical experiences, research opportunities, and MCAT preparation.

Its focus on small class sizes, personalized attention, and faculty mentorship sets this program apart. Case Western Reserve University's MS in Medical Physiology program graduates are well-prepared to excel in medical school and future careers in healthcare.

SMP in Biomedical Sciences - Tufts University

Tufts University offers an esteemed Special Master's Program (SMP) in Biomedical Sciences to enhance students' academic profiles and increase their competitiveness for medical school admissions. This one-year program covers fundamental topics in biomedical sciences, including cell biology, genetics, and biochemistry.  

Tufts' SMP stands out because it emphasizes research, enabling students to engage in cutting-edge projects alongside experienced faculty members. Furthermore, students can access medical school resources, academic advising, and MCAT preparation, ensuring they are well-prepared for the rigorous demands of medical education.

Master's in Medical Science Program - Indiana University

This rigorous two-year curriculum delves into biomedical science coursework, equipping students with a solid foundation in subjects like physiology, pharmacology, and biochemistry. Additionally, students gain invaluable research experience through a thesis project, fostering critical thinking and scientific inquiry skills. 

With dedicated faculty support, comprehensive advising, and MCAT preparation, Indiana University SMP prepares students for the competitive world of medical admissions, making it an ideal choice for those pursuing careers in healthcare.

SMP in Physiology - University of Cincinnati

The SMP in Physiology at the University of Cincinnati is a robust program designed to help aspiring medical students enhance their academic credentials and competitiveness for medical school admission.

This one-year program offers an intensive curriculum covering key biomedical sciences subjects, including physiology, biochemistry, and anatomy. Students benefit from small class sizes, dedicated faculty mentorship, and access to a state-of-the-art research facility.

Moreover, the program guides MCAT preparation and the medical school application process. With its rigorous academics and comprehensive support, the SMP in Physiology at the University of Cincinnati is an excellent choice for individuals pursuing a medical career.

SMP in Biomedical Sciences - Drexel University

This rigorous, one-year curriculum provides an in-depth study of essential biomedical subjects like physiology, biochemistry, and cell biology. Students benefit from hands-on laboratory experience, dedicated faculty mentorship, and MCAT preparation support.

Drexel University's location in the heart of Philadelphia offers access to world-class medical facilities and research opportunities. With a strong track record of helping students gain admission to top medical schools, this program is an excellent choice for those seeking to advance their careers in the healthcare field.

Special master’s programs linked to medical school are a valuable opportunity for pre-med students. These programs on this list are a strategic choice for those committed to pursuing a medical profession.

University Program Name
Midwestern University Master of Arts in Biomedical Sciences
New York Medical College Accelerated Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences Master’s Program
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences
Saint Xavier University Master of Science in Medical Science
Southern Illinois University Carbondale Master of Biomedical Science
University of Toledo Master of Science in Biomedical Science in Medical Sciences (MSBS-MS)
University of Vermont Master of Medical Science
Via College of Osteopathic Medicine & Bluefield University Master of Arts in Biomedical Sciences (MABS)

FAQs: Special Master’s Programs

Now that you know how SMPs stack up next to similar master's programs and some programs to look into- let’s take a look at some more questions surrounding Special Master’s Programs.

1. How Hard Is It to Get Into SMP?

Admission to SMPs can be competitive. They are designed for students aiming to enhance their academic credentials before applying to professional schools like medical or dental. Successful applicants typically have strong undergraduate records, relevant coursework, and a clear commitment to their chosen field.

2. Do I Need to Take the MCAT for SMP?

While some SMPs may require the MCAT, not all of them do. The specific admission requirements vary by program. It's essential to check the admission criteria for your chosen SMP to see if the MCAT is necessary.

3. Should I Do an SMP?

SMPs benefit students looking to improve their academic qualifications for competitive professional programs. If your undergraduate record needs enhancement or you're changing career paths, an SMP can provide the necessary coursework and experience.

4. How Long Does It Take to Complete Special Master’s Programs?

SMPs typically last one to two years, depending on the program and your chosen field of study. Some are designed as one-year programs, while others offer more extensive coursework over two years.

5. How Much Does It Cost to Attend an SMP?

The cost of SMPs can vary widely depending on the institution, location, and program duration. Tuition and fees generally range from $30,000 to over $50,000 annually. It's crucial to research and budget for your specific program of interest.

6. Can I Work While Attending an SMP?

Whether you can work while attending an SMP depends on the program's structure and your ability to balance coursework and employment. Some SMPs have intensive schedules, making it challenging to hold a job simultaneously. 

However, others offer more flexibility, allowing students to work part-time or engage in research opportunities. It's essential to consider the demands of your specific SMP program and assess whether working is feasible while maintaining academic excellence.

Final Thoughts

Special MPs offer aspiring medical professionals a unique and valuable pathway. These programs provide a second chance, allowing students to strengthen their academic foundation and prove their dedication to the medical field. 

By showcasing their potential and determination, SMP graduates significantly increase their chances of admission to medical schools. With hard work, commitment, and the right program, you can make your dream of becoming a physician a reality. Best of luck on your path to medical school and beyond!

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