How can I find out more about postbac programs?
We suggest that you read the articles in the sidebar of this website, and then investigate individual programs by starting with the searchable database maintained by the Association of American Medical Colleges: apps.aamc.org/postbac
How long does a typical postbac program take to complete?
The length of postbac programs varies. Many can be completed in one to two years, which may include summer study. In terms of sequencing of courses, two semesters of General Chemistry are taken prior to Organic Chemistry. Biochemistry may be included within an Organic Chemistry sequence or taken after one to two semesters of Organic Chemistry. Postbacs may also take some math courses depending on previous experience and the math prerequisites required for the Physics sequence.
What are the differences between a structured and an unstructured postbac program? Do some postbac programs allow both kinds of students?
A structured program usually has an admission process to review and select its students, and admission may be quite competitive. A structured program has prescribed curricular scenarios that a student can undertake with varying degrees of flexibility; it may offer a certificate, and a defined cohort or community of students who receive regular advising. A structured program usually provides assistance with all the elements of the medical school application process and provides a letter of evaluation or committee letter. Some offer MCAT preparations as part of the program.
An unstructured program will be flexible, with little or no admissions screening, allowing all or most of those who are interested to enroll. Some schools may have both types of programs at their institutions simultaneously. Both types of programs typically have advisors to help enrolled students.
What is the difference between a “career changer” and an “enhancement” postbac program?
Generally the target population of these two programs differs. A “career changer” program is geared to students who have completed little or no premed/prehealth science requirements whereas an “enhancement” program targets students who have done those science requirements but need to redo some or do additional science courses to strengthen their science GPAs.
What can a Postbac program offer and what can I expect?
What is "linkage"?
Some postbac programs--generally, career-changers--have agreements with certain medical schools that provide the opportunity for postbacs to matriculate directly after completing the postbac program, thus avoiding the application year. These arrangements are similar to Early Decision, as the postbac applies to one medical school halfway through their postbac year. After submitting an AMCAS application, the postbac may be interviewed and offered a provisional acceptance that is contingent upon achieving a specified final GPA and/or MCAT score.
Postbac programs vary in the array of medical schools with whom they have linkage agreements. Some medical schools may have a limited number of spots reserved for postbac linkage applicants, and will often specify minimum GPAs and/or standardized score benchmarks in order for postbacs to be eligible to apply. Postbac programs may have their own criteria for advancing a prospective linkage applicant, as well.
Can I expect a postbac program to provide volunteer or service activities for me?
Generally a structured program and some unstructured programs assist students in locating health- care related volunteer, service and shadowing opportunities. However, most postbac programs will expect you to have already obtained some of this experience before admission to demonstrate that you are making an informed choice in pursuing a health profession.
Do postbac programs help students in the application process?
Typically, a structured program, whether career changer or enhancement, will work closely with each student as they embark on the application process. This will likely include a letter of recommendation, advice about the timing of the application, writing the personal statement, guidance on selection of schools, and interview preparation. Unstructured programs may also offer these services.
Do postbac programs provide letters of recommendation for postbac students?
Many postbac programs do provide letters of recommendation/evaluation. These can be in either a Premed Committee Letter format or letters written by individual faculty who teach the required premedical science courses. In some postbac programs, postbac directors may provide a summary cover letter for the letters of evaluation.
Do postbac programs provide tutoring support specifically for postbac students to help them succeed in their classes?
Postbac programs differ in services provided to students. In some self-contained programs where everything is done within the confines of the program, tutoring may be offered. In other programs where students rely on services outside the program, students may have to use college or university tutoring services. Postbac students need to have a realistic self appraisal of their strengths and weaknesses and seek postbac programs that will address their weaknesses and enhance their strengths. As such, those students who need tutoring should seek programs that make it a point to provide tutoring within the program.
Can I expect postbac programs to provide MCAT/DAT/GRE review or prep courses? If so, will there be extra costs for test preparation?
Whether or not test preparation is included as part of a postbac program varies. Some offer test prep as part of the program, or at a low cost, but the majority do not. In most programs, students have to seek out a commercial test prep course or prepare for the MCAT/DAT/GRE on their own.
Applying to a Postbac Program
Are postbac programs designed for all health professions or mainly for medical school preparation?
This varies, and must be determined by researching programs of interest. While career-changer programs have historically focused primarily on premedical preparation, some also provide the course work necessary for predental and prevet students..
If I have already taken some of the prerequisite courses offered in a postbac program, can I still apply? Can I retake prerequisite courses in a postbac program that I've already taken in college?
It depends on the program. Some structured, career-changer postbac programs prefer that students take all their premed science courses during the postbac program. Other programs, either for career-changers or grade-enhancers, may allow students to enter the programs after having taken a number of the premed prerequisite courses at other colleges/universities. Depending on the situation, you may either repeat these courses or substitute other courses for them. Some programs allow students to repeat coursework only if it was completely at least five years prior to enrollment. Prior to applying to a postbac program, you should contact the director of the program. Provide a list of all of your science courses along with the dates taken and grades in each, and the director can provide guidance on whether or not you are considered eligible for that program.
What is typically required in the application process to postbac programs?
Typically, programs require applicants to submit a formal application (including essays), application fees, two letters of evaluation, official college (and sometimes high school) transcripts, and possibly standardized test scores. Some programs with more open admissions policies may only require an application, an application fee, and official college transcripts. Some Special Master’s Programs may require that students submit MCAT scores as part of the application process. Some programs participate in the PostBacCAS centralized application service and require that you apply through it.
Most programs expect applicants to substantiate their interest in healthcare careers through a history of volunteering in clinical settings, shadowing physicians and other health professions, and exhibiting an orientation to service and altruism. Experience in biomedical or clinical research is generally not expected, though it can enhance an application.
What makes a successful postbac applicant and subsequent postbac student?
Postbac students are expected to have certain qualities and characteristics. Whether it is an application to a postbac program or an application to the professional school, successful students demonstrate both ability and work ethic to succeed academically and the motivation based on a mature understanding of the profession. They should exhibit an understanding of health professions as fundamentally oriented to service.
Career-changer postbac programs generally look for strong academic performance in undergraduate work, as well as the ability to perform well on standardized tests. Particularly with one-year career changer programs, where applicants will be applying to medical school immediately upon completion of the program, there is not the time to remediate GPA issues or test-taking weaknesses. Applicants with less competitive GPAs may want to consider longer postbac programs to allow more time to raise their GPA.
As older students, postbacs have typically sought out exposure to their chosen profession and developed qualities of resilience, respect for others, integrity and dedication. These students should seek help where needed but also need to be self-motivated and independent. Once enrolled in a postbac program, a student will find the help necessary to prepare for professional school. The student will, however, be expected to work hard and handle what is expected as a mature adult.
Life as a Postbac student
Do postbacs live on campus?
Generally no, although there may be some exceptions. In most programs, postbacs live off campus.
Are there student clubs specifically for postbac students?
Typically, there are not specific clubs for postbac students. At some programs, postbac students can join the same clubs that other undergraduates can join. Programs vary in the extent to which there is a sense of a "cohort" or community of postbacs within the larger campus.
What is the typical course load for a postbac student?
Two to three courses with labs per semester are typical in a career changer postbac program. Some programs start in the summer with a two-semester General Chemistry sequence at an accelerrated pace, followed by fall and spring semesters with Biology, Organic Chemistry/Biochemistry, and Physics. Some programs offer or require calculus. To receive financial aid, there are often regulations about how many semester hours of classes must be completed per semester. In a grade-enhancing postbac program, a postbac student might take a heavier courseload in order to demonstrate academic strength.
Will I be considered a graduate student or an undergraduate student as a postbac student?
It depends. Different colleges and universities classify postbac students differently. For example, some postbac students are considered fifth-year undergraduates or second bachelor’s degree candidates. Postbaccs at other universities may be considered graduate students. As a postbac applicant, you should consult with programs of interest to determine how you would be classified and what the financial aid implications will be.
Students who are “career changers” are always taking undergraduate courses since those are the premed requirements. Those who are enhancing their academic record may want to consider the pros and cons of undergraduate versus graduate-level work.
Will the students in my classes be only postbac students, or will there be undergraduate students taking the classes as well?
Whether or not classes are mixed with undergraduates or separate varies from program to program. A small group of programs offer classes exclusively for postbacs, but the majority do not; others are a hybrid in that some classes are for postbacs and some mix undergrads and post-bacs. In some enhancement programs, classes may be taken with other graduate students or, in some cases, with medical students.
Do postbac programs offer financial aid?
Postbacs enrolled as full-time students generally qualify for financial aid. Although some programs offer small grants or scholarships, most financial aid is in the form of loans.
In the more accelerated postbac programs, such as the one-year career changer programs, students are unlikely to have the time to work outside of the program. Loan packages typically include a living expenses component to support rent, food, and other necessities. For students who want or need to work, a part-time program is ofteh tbest option.
How much will a typical postbac program cost?
Program tuition and fee costs can vary dramatically from $16,000 to $45,000+. Tuition and fees often depend on whether the program is located at a public or private college/university, and whether the postbac student is considered an in-state or out-of-state resident for admissions purposes.