It must be that time of year again. Over the past couple weeks, quite a few students have asked me about pursuing the structured post bacc route. Some students have decided to put off medical school for a year, while others are still waiting on the acceptance letter to come in. Needless to say, this is time of stress and anxiety for many people and figuring out what to do during that gap year is a key contributor. The reality of the medical school application process is that there are many different roads to get to the same place and the post bacc route is one of those roads. Each year, thousands of students enroll in post bacc programs, typically with the intent of improving their chances of getting into medical school. Post bacc however is a major commitment, so what types of things should premeds consider when deciding whether or not to do a post bacc? Here are just a few things to keep in mind.
- Structure: I am often asked whether it is better to do a DIY (Do It Yourself) post bacc plan, or enroll in a structured program that does not grant a degree. This is a difficult question which I liken to whether or not someone should take an MCAT prep course. In my opinion, it comes down to how disciplined of an individual are you. Just like MCAT prep courses, post bacc programs tend to offer a certain structure that is difficult for many people to achieve on their own. Besides the classes that you take, structured programs tend to offer other resources such as counseling, seminars, and prep courses for the MCAT. These are all things you could do DIY style, however it might be a little more challenging to accomplish.
- Finances: Most post bacc programs aren’t cheap. I would say this is the biggest drawback in that it poses a very real risk. The simple fact of the matter is doing a post bacc program does not guarantee you acceptance into medical school. I have seen some students go into serious debt and come out with not much to show for it. Every student considering a post bacc should ask themselves this question, “How will I handle this debt if I do not get into medical school?” Thinking back to my premedical and medical school days, I did not have a good appreciation for the burden of loans. Now that I’m on the other side paying them back, I know they’re real. One thing to keep in mind is that whether or not you get your MD/DO, your lenders are coming for their money…with interest! The one bit of solid advice I can give you on this topic is absolutely DO NOT do a post bacc if you are not 100% confident you are willing to work harder than every other premedical student to ensure you get into medical school.
- Degree Offered: Obviously, anytime you work hard for anything, you’d like something to show for it. I did not do a post bacc, but had I, my preference would have been to enroll in a degree granting program (i.e. some post baccs offer Masters degrees). Even better, I would have preferred to enroll in a program that has guaranteed medical school admission if certain criteria are met (e.g. GPA and MCAT goal). This third point links back to the finances. Having that extra degree may not only increase your chances of getting into medical school, but also gives you an extra credential that would be useful should you take another gap year.
Gap year planning is never easy but it is essential if you are serious about becoming a doctor. I recommend that premeds who have subpar GPAs consider post bacc programs as an option, but before applying, make sure you have considered the 3 items above. Also, remember that admission officers don’t bite. As a matter of fact, we have some very friendly post bacc admission officers who are recruiting with PreMed StAR and I am sure they’d be happy to answer your questions (they know MUCH more about the process than I do). A great many of doctors have traveled this road and are now happy doing what they always dreamed of!
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