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Choosing between a Post-Baccalaureate Pre-medical program (post-bacc) and a Pre-Medical Master’s Degree?


You’re here because you’re looking to get into medical school through a post-bacc program.
We’re here to help you find one. As you’re probably aware, there are two main options for students who aren’t going to matriculate (be accepted to and enroll in) a medical program straight out of their undergraduate program. They include the post-baccalaureate pre-medical program (post-bacc), and the pre-medical master’s degree (sometimes referred to as a “special master’s degree”).
Both of these types of program are academically competitive and intense, and both require you to have a burning passion to become a physician. We outline the main differences below.

Post-bacc certificates

Post-bacc certificates are non-degree programs which offer recent graduates or career changers the opportunity to take or re-take core pre-health courses to strengthen their medical school applications. Post-baccs are typically one to two years in length and consist of 16-20 semester credit hours of coursework—about 4-6 different classes.
These classes include lab sciences and mathematics. Depending on the school, you may take these classes within the general undergraduate population or within a specific post-bacc cohort. In programs with a post-bacc cohort structure, classes tend to be smaller. In addition, course content may be tailored for a clinical focus, and some certificate programs emphasize a specific medical specialty (e.g. a neuroscience post-bacc certificate).

Who Post-Bacc Certificates Are For

Post-bacc certificates can be suitable for four different types of student:

  • Students who decided late in their undergrad careers they wanted to be doctors and couldn’t complete all the science prerequisites in time.
  • Students whose grades didn’t get them accepted to the medical programs of their choice, or who didn’t perform to their potential because of an extenuating circumstance such as military deployment, serious illness, or a family or personal crisis.
  • Graduates who have decided to pursue medicine, or career changers Students from historically disadvantaged or underrepresented backgrounds.

To apply to a post-bacc, you’ll need to hold a bachelor’s in any field and meet certain academic standards—competitive standards, we want to note. These aren’t remedial programs.


Benefits of post-bacc certificates include:

  • A shortened timeline (vs. the master’s degree path)
  • Broader range of accepted majors
  • Extra benefits, including MCAT prep, access to research opportunities, or clinical shadowing.
  • “Linkages” to partnered medical schools, meaning prioritized consideration for acceptance (Note, this isn’t a guarantee you’ll get in, though it can increase your chances.)
  • Specialized advisors for health pre-profession students.
  • Flexible schedules or partially online coursework for people who need to keep working while they study (although this is rare).

Potential Drawbacks

  • Post-baccs award certificates, not degrees, so your financial aid options are limited to personal loans—no grants are available.
  • If your GPA is already quite high, re-taking your undergraduate courses and doing slightly better may not help strengthen your application very much.

Pre-Medical Master’s Degree Programs

Pre-medical (or “special”) master’s degree programs are designed to help students who want to enter the most competitive medical schools. They focus entirely on clinical coursework, research, and patient contact. Usually, schools offer thesis or non-thesis options. If you are more interested in medical research as a career, the thesis option is encouraged. If you are dead set on being a practicing physician, the non-thesis program is your best bet.
Pre-medical master’s programs take one to two years (thesis programs tend to be on the longer side of this range). Non-thesis programs, such as the Master of Science in Biomedical and Health Science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, can last as little as 11 months.i
You will take around 30-40 credits of coursework (10-15 courses). This often includes upper-level courses in immunology, biology, anatomy, and other subjects, plus some clinical experience and research. These are actual medical school-level courses and are extremely intensive.
Note that the specific degree names for these master’s programs vary from school to school. Some possibilities include:

  • Master of Science in Medical Studies
  • Master of Science in Health Studies
  • Master of Science in Pre-Medical Health

Who Pre-Medical Master’s Programs Are For

Pre-medical master’s programs are for students who achieved competitive GPAs as undergraduates but failed to be accepted to their top choice medical program(s). Typically, if your undergraduate GPA was 3.3 or higher, you may want to consider a master’s instead of a certificate. Completing a post-bacc to boost your GPA from 3.3 to 3.7 in the courses you have already taken may not look as impressive to med schools as completing a year or more of intensive graduate studies—provided, of course, you earn a solid GPA in the master’s.
Completing a pre-med master’s is also further evidence to med school admissions committees that you are dedicated to the profession and capable of academic success at a high level.


  • Introduction to the reality of medical school-level studies and topics.
  • Clinical and research experience (frequently available)
  • Federal and state grant eligibility

Potential Drawbacks

  • Only appropriate for students who have the necessary undergraduate science prerequisites; not appropriate for other majors.
  • Often longer and more expensive than post-baccs.
  • Often viewed as “make-or-break” by medical schools: be sure you work your hardest to excel, as your undergraduate achievement may count much less once you complete a master’s.

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