Becoming a stronger medical school applicant

Getting into medical school is very difficult — and only getting more so.

Yet, people with a passion for medicine will leave no stone unturned in their effort to get accepted. Savvy college grads are turning to Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical programs, better known as Post-Bac programs to help them become the most attractive medical school candidates they can be.

postbacc.jpgPost-Bac programs are generally of two types:  the most prevalent type is for career changers, i.e., for those who’ve majored in something other than pre-med. These grads typically have little or none of the essential biology classes that would demonstrate their ability to succeed in medical school. Thus, Post-Bacs that target career-changers provide a rigorous pre-med program to help participants do just that. Bryn Mawr, Goucher College, Columbia University and USC are just a few universities that offer career changer programs. Students who have already taken the MCAT, a pre-medical undergraduate program or have already applied to medical school are frequently ineligible for these programs.

The other type of Post-Bac program targets record enhancers. These are students who did take a full pre-med program in college or who graduated with a degree in a science-related discipline but whose grades are not strong enough to make them a competitive medical school applicant. Thus, record enhancer programs offer rigorous science curricula, giving students a second chance to show admissions committees that they can succeed in medical school. UC San Diego and UC Berkeley offer record enhancement programs.

Both kinds of programs have admission standards for applicants and application processes. Both offer MCAT preparation, the entrance test for medical school, as well as medical school application support.

Some programs accept a lot of students, using rolling admissions while others offer a tight, cohort-based learning community. Potential students should frankly assess the kind of learner they are: self-starters who prefer to go it alone or those who appreciate the esprit de corps and structure of a cohort. This becomes especially important when considering the intensity of the program. One-year programs are full-time and intensive.  Some programs are part-time and can take up to four years to complete yet enable students to work concurrently with their studies.

The success of either kind of Post-Bac program depends entirely on the success of their students, i.e., their acceptance rate into medical school. Goucher College in Baltimore cites a 99.7% acceptance rate while Columbia in New York City publishes a 90% acceptance rate.  Some programs have formal “linkages” where Post-Bac students who maintain a certain grade average and MCAT score are accepted to a given medical school immediately after completion of the program. Students accepted through these linkages are obligated to attend the medical school that has accepted them in advance. Other programs encourage a “glide year” wherein students continue to enhance their portfolios through relevant employment, community service and/or research before starting medical school the year after completing the Post-Bac.

People with the commitment, motivation, and desire to become a doctor but who need additional preparation to demonstrate their worthiness for the limited number of seats available can learn more about Post-Bac programs at the American Association of Medical Colleges website at

The UC San Diego Post-bac program application deadline is January 15, 2013. Further information about the program and an application can be found at

Author Leslie K. Bruce, JD currently serves as Director of Healthcare Leadership and Community Outreach for UC San Diego Extension where, in addition to teaching advocacy and healthcare leadership courses, she manages the Healthcare Information Technology Certificate program and was instrumental in creating the UC San Diego Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program through a partnership with the UC San Diego School of Medicine and in collaboration with the UC San Diego Division of Biological Sciences.

Prior to working at UC San Diego Extension, Bruce served as Director of Government and Community Relations for the Health Sciences at UC San Diego and at Sharp HealthCare. She began her career working for a member of the California Legislature. A compulsive activist, she serves as Chair of the Development Board for Family Health Centers of San Diego, the region’s largest family of community clinics and as Communications Chair for the Citizens Oversight Committee for Proposition S and N Funds for the San Diego Community College District.

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