Find a Postbaccalaureate Premed Program That Fits You

Delece Smith-Barrow

For many aspiring doctors, it's almost impossible to go to medical school without doing some postcollege course work. Maybe they failed biology or organic chemistry in undergrad, or they didn't take any science classes at all, thinking they would attend law school.

Postbaccalaureate programs give students in these situations another chance at getting into medical school. They usually fall into one of two categories: for people who have not taken the standard science classes required for medical schools, or who have taken those classes but did not perform well in them. In most programs students spend one or two years taking science classes and, in some cases, MCAT preparation courses.

Medical school experts say these programs, which can cost upwards of $30,000, vary widely and students should be aware of their distinct qualities when deciding on which to pursue.

Charles Tullius, who was once on the admissions committee at Jefferson Medical College, says there are dozens of postbaccalaureate programs.

"There's basically as many postbac programs as there are medical schools," says Tullius, who coaches students as they apply to medical school through his business, Pre Med Assistance.

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The program's structure is one aspect of a postbaccalaureate program experts say students should consider. Some schools allow students to attend part time or pick and choose which classes they want to take, while others offer a very firm curriculum.

At Goucher College in Maryland, each year about 32 students go through its full-time, tightly organized postbaccalaureate program for people making a career change. They start in June, taking chemistry for an intense eight weeks.

"We sometimes joke and call it a boot camp," says Betsy Merideth, director of the school's postbaccalaureate premedical program.

Students also take other science classes, such as physics, as well as an MCAT prep course. On Tuesdays they get a break from classes to volunteer in the medical field. They can also expect a special event each week catering to aspiring doctors, such as having a physician come in to discuss his career.

Merideth encourages students considering a postbaccalaureate programs to ask: "What programming do they offer?" and "Do they invite speakers to come talk?"

She also suggests students inquire about what kind of support a postbaccalaureate program offers as students apply for medical school, a process that can last several months after completing the program.

"How many advisees each adviser has is an important question," says Merideth.

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Strong advising can be especially helpful for students who didn't have that kind of guidance in college, says Alma Martinez, director of the postbaccalaureate program at University of California--San Francisco.

"Maybe they've attended very large undergraduate universities. They haven't had the kind of counseling or personal advising that they should have had or could have had," she says. "That, I think, is also a good strong point for people to look at."

One way prospective candidates can find this out is by speaking with current or former postbaccalaureate students, she says. They can ask how much support they got from the program and how effective it was.

Prospective students can also gauge how strong a program and its advisers are by knowing how successful students are in matriculating to medical school, says Tullius. He says they can ask an admissions staff member, "Where do they go when they get accepted?"

Postbaccalaureate programs that have linkages with medical schools can be especially helpful for getting into medical school, experts say. Linkage agreements typically help students "link" between a postbaccalaureate program and a medical school - if they obtain a certain grade point average and MCAT score while in the postbaccalaureate program.

But even with linkage programs, there are other factors to weigh, says Tullius.

If the program is linked with a medical school in a city where students don't want to live, students should think twice about attending that postbaccalaureate program, he says. Also, it's important to ask how many students are able to take advantage of the linkage.

"If they have a linkage program and only one student went to it, well that's not helpful," he says.

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On top of all of the hard numbers - the number of students accepted, science classes offers and available advisers, to name a few - students should make sure the program's culture appeals to them, experts say.

The age of its students can make a difference, says Tullius. "Some of these places, the average age is 28. If you're 22 and it's not a good fit, then it might not be for you," he says.

At UCSF students often have to work as a team, which can be a change for students used to learning by themselves. "We really stress a cooperative group of students," Martinez says, noting that this kind of classroom environment can help students motivate each other.

While every program is different, experts agree that they all require students to work hard.

"It's a brutal year of studying," Tullius says. "It's the first step in a lot of sacrifices."

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