What do you do if your decision to become a physician, dentist or veterinarian was made after you completed college? How do you obtain the science courses necessary to apply? Or, perhaps you made the decision early on, but your grades in college are not competitive for admissions into med or dental school.
One option is to attend a post-baccalaureate program. Post-bac programs focus on applicants to medical, dental or vet school who either need to take the science prerequisites or who need to improve their academic standing prior to applying. Programs are typically one to two years in duration and may lead to a certificate or a master’s degree. The application period for many schools opens in January and lasts through spring, although you should apply early as admissions may be rolling.
Prior to applying to a post-bac program, you need to determine which type will best suit your needs. Post-bacs can be divided into several types:
- Programs for applicants who have not yet taken the prerequisite coursework for medical, dental or vet school. Students in these programs may include those coming straight from college as well as those who pursued another career for years or even decades.
- Programs designed to enhance the academic records of applicants who have already completed premedical/predental coursework. These programs are comprised of upper division or graduate level work. They may lead to a master’s degree in a field such as physiology, biomedical sciences or nutrition. Post-bac programs leading to a master’s degree are known as “Special Master’s Programs” or “SMPs.”
- Programs for applicants who are disadvantaged or from a group underrepresented in the health professions. These programs can fall into either of the categories above, but are focused on students from underrepresented groups or who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.
Post-bac programs vary widely in the level of support they offer their students. Some are highly structured, offering services such as MCAT or DAT preparation, advising and guest speakers, while others are focused solely on providing the coursework needed to obtain a degree or certificate.
An alternative to a post-bac program is to take classes independently through a college or university. This option is often less expensive than a post-bac program, but if you go this route, make sure you seek advice on which courses will be most beneficial to you. Also, committees look at the course load an applicant took, since, for example, a 3.7 with a full load of science courses means more than a 3.9 earned by taking one class at a time. For this reason, if you take classes on your own, put together a rigorous course load in order to show the committee that you can handle the academic demands of medical, dental or vet school.
The AAMC post-bac page at http://services.aamc.org/postbac/ provides a searchable database of programs for premedical students. Some of these programs accept predental and preveterinary students as well. The right post-bac program can provide a much needed bridge for some applicants who aspire to become a physician, dentist or veterinarian.