Maybe your undergraduate GPA isn’t an accurate representation of your capabilities. Maybe you completed an undergraduate degree in art, psychology, or business before realizing your passion for medicine. Maybe you spent time in other careers but were inspired to make the switch to healthcare.
Regardless of the circumstances that led you to medicine, you’re on your way! You may be wondering how to boost your science GPA or fulfill all those medical school pre-requisites, like chemistry and biology, when you’ve already graduated. If that’s the case, you are the target applicant for a post-bac program. But how do you choose the right post-bac program for you?
There are two types of post-bac programs: career-changers and academic-enhancers. If you need basic science courses, like general chemistry and physics, you should look into career-changer post-bac programs. However, if you have already taken all those courses and want to increase your science GPA, while also showing medical schools you can handle rigorous courses, academic-enhancer post-bac programs may be the better option.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Post-bac
Once you’ve determined whether to apply to career-changer or academic-enhancer post-bac programs, you’ll want to narrow down which programs could be the best fit for you. You are going to be a more successful student, and therefore a more successful medical school applicant, by finding a program that’s right for you. A few factors to consider include:
Different programs run for different lengths and their course loads will vary. The career-changer program at Northwestern, for example, offers 12-month, 15-month, and 21-month tracks. The career-changer program at California State University San Marcos, alternatively, offers one two-year, five-semester track.
The length of the program you choose could influence your start date — summer versus fall semester — and the number of courses taken per semester. Regardless of the type of post-bac, the coursework is not light. You will either take challenging science courses for the first time or take graduate-level science courses to raise your science GPA.
Keep in mind, too, the mental and academic adjustments associated with such changes, your time management skills, and your support system when evaluating what course load would give you the best opportunity to be successful. When considering the right program length for you, don’t focus on rushing to the finish line. The post-bac process is a marathon, not a sprint.
Cohort or Cohort-only
No matter which program you choose, you’ll be part of a cohort: You and all the people who started the same program at the same time. Some post-bac programs will have cohort-only courses, while others will not.
In some academic-enhancer programs, you may take courses alongside medical students, while some career-changer programs offer courses alongside undergraduate students. The career-changer post-bacs at USC and Columbia, for example, will prioritize your registration to guarantee your seat in classes with undergraduate students, so lectures may range from 100-250 students.
Other career-changer programs may offer cohort-only courses, so lectures may range from 10-60 students. Some students prefer larger lectures or may find study groups more easily with this option. Others may prefer small group learning and would rather be alongside other non-traditional students only. Think about which learning environment appeals most to you and seek out those programs.
Costs and Funding
Post-bac programs can be a little challenging to finance. Some academic-enhancer programs that lead to a master’s degree will be eligible for federal student loans. Career-changer programs may be eligible for federal direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans for either the first year or both years of the program. However, these loans may need to be supplemented with private student loans or personal funds.
Many career-changer programs will result in a certificate or no degree, so you will be considered neither an undergraduate nor graduate student — leading to student loan limbo. This is something to consider when choosing your program and may lead you to prioritize in-state programs and public universities to reduce potential costs.
Similarly, consider the cost of living for the program’s location and whether you’ll be able to work while attending school full-time. Speak to the program director or student advisor for their recommendations on working while enrolled and what your schedule will be like. Some may offer night classes, which will allow to work full-time during the day. Others, like those combined with undergraduate students, will likely take place during the day and allow you to potentially work nights.
Perhaps you can attend a local program that allows you to save money by living with family or friends. Alternatively, you can connect with other students to find potential roommates to split rental costs.
Opportunities and Support
A huge part of preparing to apply to medical school is making sure you spend time doing things you’re passionate about. Research the extracurricular, healthcare, and research opportunities the program offers or whether it has connections to allow you to assist in medical research or shadow a physician.
Preparing the medical school application itself is also important. Look to see what kind of support potential programs offer, such as a student advisor. Do your research on how hands on the program director is, if student mentorships are available, and what resources are offered for applications, like committee letters. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when interviewing for programs — make sure you have all the information you need to make a thoughtful decision.
Don’t forget to consider support outside of your program, whether from friends, family or significant other. Post-bac programs are intense, and it can be a huge help to surround yourself with a mental health support system.
Post-bac programs are an amazing, structured way to prepare for medical school. But enrolling in a program is a personal and complex decision. As someone who initially made the wrong choice, it can make a difference. I picked a program that wasn’t the right fit for me and didn’t realize my true potential until I enrolled in a different program.
By simply doing your research, you’re one step closer to your medical career goals. A career in medicine often means jumping in feet first, but don’t forget to consider your needs. By putting your needs first, you will be in the best position to help as many people as possible. The choice of program can make a difference. It will be challenging, and it will be exhausting. But it will also be exciting and unbelievably rewarding. Good luck!