For people seeking to enroll in a post baccalaureate premedical program—whether a “career changer” or “record enhancing” program—it can often be confusing to figure out where to apply. The Association of American Medical Colleges maintains a database of postbac programs and it is a good resource for prospective students to use to get basic information about various programs. The database is searchable using different parameters (location, type, etc.) and is useful. However, the database gives no qualitative information which might help applicants sort out their options. How does an applicant figure out which are the best postbac premed programs? Bear in mind, as well, that what might be “best” for one applicant might not be the same for another; each applicant might have different criteria as to what they seek in a program.
Unfortunately, there are no post bac premedical program rankings which might help prospective students navigate the best postbac premed programs. Instead, applicants have to do the homework on their own to figure out which postbac premed programs—in their eyes, at least—hold the most sway and are most appealing. Here are some elements to consider when weighing programs:
1. What’s the student: advisor ratio? This helps you figure out how accessible the advisors will be and how much guidance you may get in the medical school application process.
2. What’s the program’s success rate in getting students admitted to medical school? Obviously you want to go to medical school otherwise you wouldn’t be considering a post-bac program. Will enrolling in a particular program increase your chance of being admitted to medical school? Look at the percentage of enrollees who are admitted to medical school and also ask good questions of the program administrators: what does that statistic actually include? ALL students who initially enroll in the program or only those who complete it?
3. What’s the program’s attrition rate? If a large number of students start the program but then leave that’s obviously not a good sign. Either the program is not doing an adequate job screening individuals (which means they may be setting them up for failure) or the environment or classes may be inhospitable. Do your due diligence and ask about the attrition rate.
4. How large is the program? Do you want to be in a small group of students or do you prefer a larger cohort? The size of the program often dictates its atmosphere. It is sometimes—but not always—related to class size. Will the class size make it difficult to get letters of recommendation from faculty?
5. Are classes with undergraduates or separate and dedicated to post-bac students? Some students prefer to have postbac-only classes while others may prefer to be with undergraduates. Understand what each program you’re considering offers in terms of class format. Are classes graded on a curve or do all students have the possibility of receiving As if they perform up to par? Understand the grading scheme of the programs you’re considering.
6. How do the programs help their students prepare for the MCAT and is it an integral part of the program and included as part of tuition? You clearly want to do well on the MCAT and doing so is also in the program’s best interest; ask how students prepare for the MCAT and also what median MCAT scores are for graduates of the program. Does the program provide preparation? If so, in what format? Talk to students who have completed the program (after an acceptance, the program should be willing to let you speak with former students) to ask about the MCAT preparation and if it was good.
7. Are clinical or research experiences built into the program? Does the program make an effort to complement classroom work with actual experiences in medicine? A thoughtful and comprehensive program will do its utmost to ensure that students are maximally prepared for a career in medicine.
8. What’s the caliber of the medical schools where the majority of students from the program enroll? Look carefully at the list of medical schools where graduates go; it gives useful information beyond simply the percentage of those who get in. Programs should provide a list of recent acceptances.
9. What’s the satisfaction level amongst students currently enrolled and amongst alumni of the program? This is a key element in weighing one program against another. If you visit and hear unreservedly positive comments it’s a good sign that the program is well run and is providing high caliber classes and advising. Be sure to talk to graduates of the program and ask about the support/advising they received during the medical school application process.
10. How is the caliber of the advising? Is advising readily accessible and good? Remember that you’re not only paying for classes but also for advising AFTER you complete the program, when you apply to medical school. Ask students about the caliber of the advising.
11. Does the program have “linkages” with various medical schools? If so, what percentage of students apply to/get accepted to these programs? Be sure you know the criteria for admission (often a minimum undergraduate GPA is required) to a linkage school so that you don’t falsely think you’re eligible when you may not be.
As the former director of two different postbaccalaureate premedical programs—at Johns Hopkins and Goucher—I have a wealth of knowledge regarding postbac programs and post baccalaureate premedical education. If you want help or guidance on your journey please feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting