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Do I Need a Record-Enhancing Post-Bacc Program?


Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, college students and recent graduates preparing to enter medical school over the last three years have experienced more disruption to their educations than any cohort since the Vietnam War. If you are preparing to graduate in the next year or two, and your GPA isn’t as strong as you think it should be, you may be wondering: should I hold off on applying to medical school and do a post-bacc program first?

Record-enhancing post-bacc programs for pre-med students have existed since at least the 1940s, and a small group of new medical students each year report having completed one—of the 22,666 students who matriculated into medical school in 2021, 1,586 of them (7 per cent) told the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) that they had spent time between undergrad and medical school in a post-bacc certificate program to improve their academic skills.

That’s not surprising: the median undergraduate GPA for medical school matriculants in 2021 was 3.81 out of 4.0. Read on to learn how a post-bacc for record enhancers can help you become more competitive when you do apply to medical school.

If You Have an Overall GPA Around or Below 3.0

If you really struggled to complete your undergraduate studies, the door to a medical career is not closed to you, even if you’re on track to earn an underwhelming GPA of, say, 2.8. However, you will need to spend additional time working to prove you have the academic credentials to succeed in medical school—at least two more years.

First, find a post-bacc certificate program to re-take your upper-level science courses. These programs offer you the opportunity to tackle organic chemistry and other topics in a smaller-class environment with tailored advising and support. The GPA you earn in these courses will be averaged into your undergraduate GPA. Be prepared for the reality that, even if you ace the courses, you may only improve your GPA into the mid-3.0 range.

However, completing a program like this demonstrates to medical school admissions committees that you are determined to pursue a career in medicine. It also establishes a trend of academic improvement. To find this type of program, search our database for post-bacc certificate programs with a minimum required GPA of around 2.5.

Next, you will want to complete a special master’s degree program. These programs usually mirror the first year of medical school. They offer you a chance to show you have what it takes to do well in a rigorous, graduate-level curriculum. They also provide more support and advising for you—for instance, you may discover that you are more interested in medical research than clinical practice.

The GPA from a special master’s program does not impact your undergraduate GPA, but it gives you more evidence of an upward trend to present to medical schools when you apply. Special master’s degree programs tend to be more competitive, with minimum GPA requirements of at least 3.0, which is why finishing a post-bacc certificate first is an important step for people with lower undergrad GPAs.

The time it takes to complete both these programs could be as little as two years or as many as four years, depending on the program and whether you attend full- or part-time. But if you are really determined to pursue a medical career, they can be worth the extra effort and expense.

If You Have a Science GPA Around or Below 3.0

If your overall GPA is in the mid-3.0 range, but your lowest scores were in important science classes, you will want to pursue a post-bacc certificate program specifically aimed at record-enhancers. Again, these programs take one to two years to complete. In addition to re-taking science courses with more support, you can also take advantage of opportunities for more targeted MCAT prep, clinical experience or shadowing opportunities, and other pre-health profession advising.

The GPA you earn in this program will be averaged into your overall GPA. Even though it may only provide a boost of a few tenths of a point, it could mean the difference between a 3.45 and a 3.75—one that will matter to medical schools. To find a program for people like you, search our database for a more competitive post-bacc certificate program with a minimum required GPA in line with yours.

If Your Overall or Science GPA Is Between 3.2–3.5

If your overall GPA and science GPA are in the low-to-mid 3.0 range, you could pursue either a post-bacc certificate or a special master’s program. We recommend the latter. The reasoning here is that instead of re-taking science courses and improving your GPA by a few tenths of a point to show medical schools that you could be competitive in a medical program, you can instead take medical school-level classes to demonstrate that you are competitive. Plus, you’ll still benefit from the additional advising, MCAT prep, and extracurricular opportunities special master’s programs tend to provide. You may even be able to take advantage of a linkage with a medical school that interests you.

Special master’s programs take one to two years to complete, and you should find several that welcome applicants with GPAs in your range. Also note that we are seeing a trend in special master’s programs for more flexible delivery. More programs are blending online and on-campus class time (and a few are fully online) making them more accessible for students who need to work.

Gap Years Are Normal

Finally, don’t be worried if you need to take a year or more improving your record before you start applying to medical schools. 68.5 per cent of students who entered medical school in 2021 told the AAMC that they’d taken at least one gap year between undergrad and medical school. By taking extra time to enhance your academic record, you aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary—you’re demonstrating your commitment to a career in medicine.

Find the right post-bacc program for you in our database, or compare them by viewing our pre-med post-bacc program rankings.

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