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What Is a Pre-Med Post-Bacc Program?

A pre-medical post-baccalaureate (“pre-med post-bacc”) is a certificate or specially focused master’s degree program designed to prepare students who hold a bachelor’s degree for entry to medical school.

There are more than 200 pre-med post-bacc programs in the United States. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), 16% of new medical school students in 2017 reported having participated in a non-degree pre-med post-bacc program.i

What Are the Goals of Post-Bacc Programs?

Formal post-bacc programs often position their offerings for a specific type of student:

  • Academic Record Enhancers – Designed for students who took pre-med courses as undergrads, but who need to raise their grades to achieve medical school acceptance or qualify for acceptance to more prestigious programs. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), academic record enhancement programs are more likely to have a formal course progression.
  • Career Changers – These programs focus on students coming from other career fields who did not take pre-medical courses during their bachelor’s degree. Because each student in a career changer program will have a different academic background, these post-baccs often feature personalized course programming for each student.
  • Diversity – A few post-baccs focus on increasing the number of medical students from underrepresented backgrounds, including women, ethnic minorities, and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Surveys by the AAMC have found that post-bacc programs with a diversity mission often require applicants to demonstrate a commitment to working with underserved populations. Some include service learning in their programming.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Post-Bacc Programs?

The benefits of pursuing a post-bacc program include:

  • A chance to become more competitive as a medical school applicant by raising your GPA or gaining more clinical or research experience
  • The opportunity to pursue medical school linkages—preferential admissions consideration—in post-bacc programs that have them
  • In special master’s programs, you may cover some medical school course content which will better prepare you to succeed in a medical program
  • The opportunity for specialized admissions advising, MCAT coaching, and other close personal support

The costs of a post-bacc program are largely, well, costs. Post-bacc programs will generally cost as much as a year of college. Federal financial aid options for post-bacc programs are more limited—no grants in virtually every case, and you may only be able to qualify for loans for 12 months—and the intensive, full-time nature of most post-baccs means you are unlikely to be able to work, even part-time, while studying. Cost of living is a factor as well as the program sticker price.

What Kinds of Pre-Med Post-Baccs Are There?

Most programs available fall into two categories:

Post-Baccalaureate Certificates

Post-bacc certificates are one- or two-year programs which cover upper-level laboratory and health science courses. These programs do not grant you a degree. You can find post-bacc certificates that focus on preparing students for specific medical specialties or for medical research.

Some post-bacc certificate programs are classified as undergraduate programs, while others are classed as graduate programs. If you are primarily interested in a post-bacc because you want to improve your undergraduate GPA or undergraduate science GPA, you should choose a post-bacc that is classified as an undergraduate program. This is because your GPA for a graduate certificate will not be averaged into your undergraduate GPA.

If you had a high undergrad GPA but need to make up prerequisites, you can choose from either an undergraduate post-bacc certificate or graduate post-bacc certificate.

Special Master’s Degree Programs

Special master’s degree programs serve a similar purpose to post-bacc certificates, but they differ in that they are degree-granting programs and that they often include advanced coursework which can cover some first-year medical school material. In addition, special master’s programs often build in more hands-on research and clinical experience than post-bacc certificates. They typically last 12 to 24 months, and sometimes slightly longer.

Special master’s degree programs are often the best choice for students who didn’t take much pre-medical coursework as undergraduates but had otherwise high GPAs. They’re also suitable for older students who have been working in another field and want to make the change to medicine.

Just make sure you check with the school offering the post-bacc about any undergraduate prerequisite courses you may have to take before your master’s program—statistics or lab science prerequisites are common for special master’s programs.

How Do I Know Which Post-Bacc is Right for Me?

There are many factors that help determine whether a post-bacc certificate or a special master’s degree is the best option for you. Read our article on the subject for more detailed guidance.

How Much Can a Post-Bacc Cost?

The cost of your post-bacc will vary depending on which school you attend and whether you pursue a certificate or a special master’s degree. In general, post-bacc certificates are shorter programs which involve fewer credits. The “sticker price” on post-bacc certificates will usually be lower than a special master’s program, but you can generally expect to pay about as much as you would pay to attend a year of college at that school.

Special master’s degree programs are longer and therefore more expensive. Our article on financing your post-bacc can be a useful starting point for exploration. Always contact the schools you are interested in for complete details about financial aid options.

Is There Financial Aid Available for Post-Bacc Programs?

Yes. However, financial aid for post-baccs, especially for certificate programs, is a little more complicated than for a regular bachelor’s degree. Undergraduate certificate programs are not eligible to offer students federal grant aid. In addition, due to federal regulations, you may only be able to receive federal loan funding for 12 months of your program. If your certificate program lasts longer than that, you may have to find other sources of funding, such as private loans.

If the certificate is classified as a graduate certificate, you should be able to apply for federal graduate loans. However, there are no federal grants available for pre-med graduate students.

Military students (veterans, reservists, guardsmen, and certain military family members) may be able to use education benefits, such as GI Bill® funds, to cover the costs of a post-bacc. The financial aid staff at your post-bacc program should be able to help you determine what military aid may be available.

Always talk to a school’s financial aid department before you apply for a post-bacc certificate and take the time to understand what you may already owe from your previous degree—there are limits on how much federal aid you can owe at any one time. Remember that there are also many types of private aid available, including scholarships and grants. See our article about financing your post-bacc for more information and resources.

How Do I Tell if a Post-Bacc is Reputable?

To find out whether a post-bacc is worthwhile, there are a number of factors to consider.

  • Is the college or university regionally accredited? Regional accreditation matters, because medical schools may not consider credentials or grades earned at non-accredited institutions valid. You can easily check whether a school is accredited at the U.S. Department of Education’s
  • Are there existing medical school linkages? Post-baccs that participate in medical school linkages are able to offer post-bacc completers preferential consideration to their medical school partners. Linkages can therefore be seen as votes of confidence in the quality of a post-bacc program by medical schools. While it isn’t necessary for a program to have dozens of linkages, a few from strong medical schools are often a mark of quality, because they indicate that a medical school which enters into a linkage trusts the quality of applicants who have completed that post-bacc program.
  • Does the school publicize its medical school acceptance rates for students? Schools that don’t should raise red flags with you, and it’s always worth double-checking the figures for schools that do.
  • Is the school ranked by PostBaccProgramGuide? Our rankings consider cost, medical school acceptance rates, and other factors—they’re a great place to start your research into post-bacc programs.

The reason you’re pursuing a post-bacc is so you can get accepted to medical school. Make sure you’re confident that the post-bacc you choose will help you do that.

What Can I Expect When Applying to a Post-Bacc Program?

First, it’s important to remember that post-bacc programs are not remedial programs! They are highly competitive and rigorous. You will be expected to put your all into your application, just as you would for a medical school application. In general, post-bacc admissions committees will want to see:

  • Either a high or salvageable undergraduate GPA
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Extracurriculars that demonstrate a commitment to pursuing medicine as a career, such as shadowing or volunteering (see our article for more information on clinical experience for pre-meds)
  • Some science background, although for career-changer programs this may not be as necessary
  • An interview or essay in which you explain why medicine matters to you

We go in to more detail about the post-bacc application process in our article “What to Expect When Applying to a Post-Bacc”.

Do Medical School “Linkages” Guarantee Me Medical School Admission?

As mentioned above, many post-bacc programs have “linkages” with medical schools. This means that students who attain certain grades and MCAT scores during the course of their post-bacc program can receive preferential consideration of their applications to schools with linkage agreements. It does not guarantee admission, though it does give you a potential edge with the admissions committees. In a linkage program, you may have unique opportunities to tour the campus of the linked school, meet students and talk to faculty while you are still in your post-bacc.

It’s important to note there are potential downsides to pursuing a linkage. Many schools will require you to only make an application to one linked school during your post-bacc year. This means that while other students will probably apply to multiple schools in the course of a year, you will only apply to one school, making it that much more important for you to succeed.

Additionally, linkages often require you to commit to accepting an offer if you are accepted to the linked school. Make absolutely certain that the linkage program is the right school for your goals before you commit to a linkage.

For more information about this please see our articles “Top 5 Myths about Post-Bacc Programs” and “Post-Bacc Medical School Linkages: What Are They and How Do They Work?”.

What Happens After I Graduate from a Post-Bacc Program?

Most students who successfully complete a pre-medical post-bacc go on to enroll in medical schools. However, the courses you take during a post-bacc can equip you to move on to many other health science careers, too. For instance, some post-bacc graduates choose to become physician’s assistants, occupational therapists, medical research technicians, and more.

Read our student Q&A with Columbia post-bacc graduate Uri to find out about one alternate career path after completing your post-bacc.
Read our student Q&As with Angélica (M.S. in Medical Sciences, Ponce Health University) and Leo (Georgetown Special Master’s program) to learn more about the path from post-bacc to medical school.


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