I want my post-bac, post-bac, post-bac….

Your roommate says she isn’t applying to dental school this year, she’s going to “do post-bac.”  Your mother says you should talk to your cousin because he “did post-bac” after working for a couple of years.  Or, you know you want to “do post-bac,” but don’t know where to start with your planning.  What IS post-bac?  A dance?  A yoga practice?

Baby back ribs -- not post-bac. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sacasea

“Post-bac” is short for post-baccalaureate and it refers to academic coursework undertaken after completing your undergraduate degree.  More school?!  Why would a person do this?  There are two reasons if someone is planning to go to medical, dental or veterinary school:  either he wants to improve his GPA and academic profile before applying or she didn’t complete the required coursework as an undergrad.

For example, Perry Pre-med completed his requirements and feels his GPA is not where he would like it to be before applying to medical school.  Perry might decide to take post-baccalaureate classes in the sciences to raise his cumulative undergraduate GPA.  Perry could either enroll in a post-bac “academic record enhancer” program (awkwardly named, but accurate in that he wants to give his transcript an appealing makeover) or take upper level science courses at a college or university as a non-matriculated student (meaning he is enrolled, taking courses for a grade, but not working towards a degree).  Alternatively, Perry might consider a “special master’s program” (SMP) in which he takes first-year medical school courses to demonstrate his academic readiness for medical school.  An SMP will not affect his undergraduate GPA, but it will demonstrate his ability to handle the work in medical school if he does well.  A master’s in public health is not likely to help Perry with his goal of gaining admission to medical school as the graduate courses will not affect his cumulative undergraduate GPA, nor will they show his ability in basic science courses.

Paulina Pre-dental, on the other hand, did not take any of the required coursework as an undergraduate.  Before she applies to dental school she can complete her coursework through a post-bac “career changer” program (even if she doesn’t have a career to change) or as a non-matriculated student.

So, how will Perry and Paulina decide whether to do a program or not?  If Perry wants to do a post-bac program, how will he choose one?  And who cares about Perry and Paulina?  What about YOU?

If you are deciding between a program and taking classes on your own, you may want to come in and speak with a pre-health adviser about your options.  We have worked with graduates who have taken both routes with success (and both routes without success…post-bac work doesn’t guarantee admission to graduate school, which is a good reason to consider it thoroughly before beginning).  Here are some important points to consider regarding post-bac:

  • Post-bac programs are numerous and varied.  Most of them can be found in the AAMC’s searchable database.  You will need to be proactive and research the programs.   Read the websites and call admissions offices with your questions.
  • Programs offer more and less flexibility in terms of the pace of your coursework and the time of day classes are offered.  If you are working at the same time, this could be important.
  • Some programs are specifically for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or groups underrepresented in medicine.  The University of California Post-bac Consortium is one such program.
  • What, if any, support is given to students enrolled in the post-bac program in terms of advising, committee letters, MCAT preparation, or research and clinical opportunities?
  • What is the cost of enrolling in a post-bac program vs. taking courses as a non-matriculated student?
  • What is the minimum GPA for admission to a program and are there other requirements and deadlines you need to know?
  • Does the post-bac program offer linkage with specific medical schools?  Linkage means that you can apply to the medical school before you have completed all of the coursework in the post-bac program.  Applicants admitted to medical school via linkage are strong applicants, nominated by their program, so you cannot assume that if the post-bac program offers linkage that you will be admitted that way.
  • If you have completed some of the requirements for medical school, but not all, are you a good fit for a post-bac program?  You will need to call them and find out and you may be better served picking up the courses on your own.

Choosing a post-baccalaureate path can be a difficult process as there may not be a “right” or “best” way to proceed.  Researching and considering all of your options is a great idea and your pre-health advisors are happy to meet with you to discuss your plans.

Author: Carol Hagan

Carol Hagan is a pre-health and pre-grad advisor in Career Services. She has a Ph.D. in art history from Penn and did her undergraduate work at Wesleyan University.

1 thought on “I want my post-bac, post-bac, post-bac….”

Comments are closed.