What is the Deal with Postbac?

Carol Hagan, Associate Director

You may have heard other students talking about postbac, or are thinking about it yourself in a preliminary way.  It can be confusing because “postbac” is something people undertake for different reasons and in varied ways.  Here is a quick primer on postbac:

  • “Postbac” is short for post-baccalaureate and refers to classes you take after receiving your bachelor’s degree.  It is not the same thing as enrolling in a graduate program and working towards a degree like an MPH or MA.
  • Pre-health alumni take postbac classes for two reasons.  Either they need to take classes to fulfill requirements for health professions schools and/or they want to take additional courses beyond the requirements to demonstrate their academic ability and raise their GPA.
  • Postbac classes can be taken as a non-matriculated student or in a formal postbac program.  “Non-matriculated” simply means that you are not enrolled in a graduate program; you are taking classes “a la  carte” as it were.  Some alumni call this “Do it Yourself Postbac.”
  • The decision between a formal postbac program and independent classes is an individual one.  People choose a path based upon their reason for doing postbac classes, the number they may want to take, their geographic location, and budget.
  • “But don’t medical schools prefer a program at certain schools?”  Medical schools prefer to see you building a strong application and making good personal choices.  It’s important that you do very well in the classes and one institution may be better than another for that to happen.  Also, health professions schools understand that you may want to pursue your goals in a way that minimizes your expenses.  They will not question a sound financial decision.
  • You can find postbac programs in the AAMC’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Programs database.  Filter your search to find programs aimed at fulfilling the requirements (“Career Changer”) or boosting your academic credentials (“Academic Record Enhancer”).  Contact the individual programs if you have questions about your eligibility, previous coursework, or to see if they serve pre-dental and pre-veterinary students.

Knowing the basics and accessing information about postbac is a starting point.  You may have questions about which option is better for you.  Sometimes it isn’t clear.  You can always make an appointment, in person or on the phone, with a pre-health advisor through Handshake to discuss your plan.  Know that many Penn alumni have pursued postbac studies with success, taking different routes that worked with their post-graduation lives.

New Guides for MCAT Prep!

Carol Hagan, Associate Director

Introducing the New AAMC Guide: “How to Create a Study Plan for the MCAT Exam”

The AAMC has new, free resource for people planning to take the MCAT, which breaks the planning process down into detailed, manageable steps. The guide includes links to the AAMC’s MCAT information and study tools in addition to information to help you budget your time and money in the process.

One of the strengths of the guide is the emphasis it places on individualized planning and assessment. We know that Penn students prepare in many different ways, using various study tools and following unique study schedules — what works for one person is not going to work for everyone. All the same, it can be helpful to hear what others have done.

In addition to talking with your friends and mentors, you can consult “How I Prepared for the MCAT Exam” to hear others’ experiences. These personal stories portray a range of successful test takers, sharing their study plans and offering their advice to those getting underway.

The AAMC’s Aspiring Docs Website: A Reliable Online Resource for PreMed Students

Mia Carpiniello, Associate Director

If you’re thinking of applying to medical school, you may find the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Aspiring Docs website helpful. With fact sheets, Ask a Med Student videos, and Ask the Experts Q&As, this website provides detailed information on becoming a physician from multiple perspectives. Moreover, the Aspiring Docs Diaries blog and the Inspiring Stories interviews reveal the personal journeys and perspectives of individual pre-med students, medical students, residents and physicians.

So, in addition to meeting with your pre-med advisor in our office, we encourage you to check out Aspiring Docs for reliable information as you explore pursuing a career in medicine.

Overcoming Common Pre-Health Personal Statement Obstacles with Journaling

The prompt for the medical school and dental school personal statement is deceptively simple: Why do you want to be a dentist or a doctor? Yet many applicants struggle to answer the question authentically and effectively. A great deal of the consternation applicants experience results from misunderstanding the prompt. The personal statement is not a persuasive essay designed to convince the admissions committee that you really want to pursue medicine or why you will be a great dentist or doctor. It is an opportunity to share how your experiences have shaped you and to give the committee insight into what kind of student and ultimately professional you will be.

Even applicants who understand what the admissions committee is really looking for can find the personal statement difficult to write. Some people are naturally more comfortable and more skilled at introspection, and thus find reflecting about the experiences that have affirmed their desire to pursue medicine easy. However, it is fine if you are not one of those people; you will just need to devote more time and more effort towards constructing a compelling personal statement. For applicants struggling, journaling can help.

Whether you are worried that your experiences might seem too generic or you generally have trouble reflecting on them, journaling as a pre-writing exercise can make the process of writing your personal statement easier. If you are struggling to get started, spend five or ten minutes each day free writing about your experiences at Penn—coursework, clinical volunteering, research, extracurricular activities. Think about how these experiences helped you grow intellectually, emotionally, and professionally. Reflect on moments where you felt moved and motivated or confident and excited about your future profession. Ponder your personal strengths and how they have manifest themselves in your work at Penn. Describe specific experiences vividly and articulate your emotions as clearly as possible in writing. Set a timer and give yourself permission to stop after your time is up. No one will ever see this document (you do not even necessarily need to re-read it yourself to benefit from it), so allow yourself to reflect unselfconsciously. You will be amazed by how much progress you can make and how close you will be to a good topic for the personal statement, with relatively little effort and stress. Starting early and with a low-stakes and low-pressure form of writing may seem silly but for applicants intimidated by the personal statement, it is easier than attempting to craft the essay from scratch. And as always, if you need assistance, feel free to meet with your pre-health advisor by scheduling an appointment.

Advice on Writing an Effective Personal Statement for Medical/Dental School

Mia Carpiniello, Associate Director

Within the next few months, medical and dental school applicants around the country will draft, revise, and ultimately submit their personal statement to admissions committees. So, I thought it would be helpful to re-post my blog post from 2014 with tips on writing an effective personal statement for professional school. Although drafting a personal statement can feel like an intimidating and time-consuming task, please remember that this is also an exciting opportunity to convey who you are as a person, in your own voice. So, dig deep and take your time to compose an essay that accurately illustrates your personal attributes.

The personal statement can be the most daunting part of an application to professional school. What do I write about? How do I eloquently convey my thoughts? How can I possibly stay within the stated space limit? Here are 4 quick tips to help you make the most of this opportunity to share yourself with the admissions committee.

  1. Be self-reflective and introspective. What insights have you learned about yourself through a particular experience? Share one or two of your personal qualities, abilities, or characteristics by focusing on a meaningful experience you had. Do not simply restate your resume in narrative form or summarize all of your college experiences. Rather, convey something about yourself beyond your test scores, transcript, and resume. Use your personal statement to tell the admissions committee something about yourself that they cannot glean from the rest of your application, such as your compassion, determination, or meticulousness.
  2. Be concise and straightforward. Admissions officers will be reading thousands of these essays. They won’t have the patience for rhetorical flourishes. The introductory sentence and paragraph are the most important parts; use them to grab the reader’s attention and create a good first impression.
  3. Keep it positive. A personal statement is usually not the place to explain a weakness in your application, such as a low grade or test score. Save that for the secondary application (for medical school applicants) or a brief addendum.
  4. Proof-read! Again. And Again. And then have someone else read it and give you feedback. Ask that person what your personal statement says about you. Is that the impression you want to make? Finally, be sure to follow character or length limits to demonstrate that you can follow directions.

We in the pre-professional team here in Career Services are happy to help you reflect on your experiences and provide you with feedback on your draft. We also offer Personal Statement Workshops; you can find the dates and times on the Career Services calendar.