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Post Baccalaureate Programs: Everything You Need to Know

Jennifer Kleiner has always felt passionate about medicine and helping animals. But the Cornell University graduate knew science was not her strength, and in college she shied away from a major that required pre-med classes. Instead Kleiner pursued a double major in English and anthropology, but with the economy in shambles, she soon found finding a job to be near-impossible. “I was forced to take a step back and really think about what I wanted to do with my life,” Kleiner said. “I realized the only thing that I truly felt passionate about was medicine.” That’s when she remembered a John Hopkins School of Medicine article about post baccalaureate programs she’d read as a sophomore.

If, like me, you stay as far from science courses as you can, you may have never heard about these “post bacc” programs. Post baccalaureate pre-medical programs assist students in pursuing a medical career after they have already earned their undergraduate degrees. So fear not political science, psychology or even music majors: you, too, can be a doctor. These one to two-year programs allow you to take the required undergraduate level science courses for medical school in an extremely condensed period of time. Burton Hui Shen, a graduate of Harvard College doing a post bacc program, says he considers post bacc programs valuable because they let students pursue humanities or social science degrees and then a career in medicine, leading to a more balanced education.  

There are actually many reasons why a student might apply for a post bacc program, says Sharon Jones, assistant director at Undergraduate Career Services at UNC-Chapel Hill. First, students may have decided too late that they wanted to apply to a professional school program. Jones says, for example, a student might have majored in a non-science discipline and therefore doesn’t have all the prerequisites needed. A post bacc program would allow her to take the basic classes required for medical school.

Students may apply to a post bacc program if they are undecided about whether medical school is the right next step for them. Jones says taking one year of courses should clarify this. “In some cases, these courses are the same ones taken by first-year med students, so post bacc grades can be considered predictive of success and may even transfer for credit if later admitted to an M.D. program,” Jones says.

Other students may be interested in making a career change or advance within the health field. Jones says that a post bacc program would allow them to meet the qualifications to transition to a professional school such as medical, veterinary, dental, optometric or chiropractic. Jennifer, for example, wants to enter veterinary school in the fall and become a practicing veterinarian/surgeon. Burton is currently set on primary care or pediatrics and is enrolled in the Health Career Program at Harvard Extension School. 

Finally, Jones says that students may not have been accepted to medical or dental school and need to improve their academic credentials. Getting into medical school is a difficult process, so no student should feel embarrassed about not getting accepted right away. “If they had a 2.9 or 3.0 GPA, earning A’s or B’s in a post bacc program may help,” Jones says. Brush up on your sciences in a classroom of students who actually want to be there and just think – you won’t have to take electives such as History of Country Music or Ancient Philosophy.

So what’s an actual semester like in a post bacc program? Jennifer just completed her first year in a post bacc program at UPenn. She says most students at her school take two classes with labs each semester. Just like most students’ undergraduate years, lecture is 1-3 times a week depending on how long the class is. In general, Jennifer says most classes hold three hours of lecture, two hours of recitation, and about three hours of lab per week. “All of the classes I have had will hold weekly quizzes, but the majority of the grade is dependent upon two exams and a final, as well as your lab grade,” Jennifer says. “Labs usually require a decent amount of work such as lab report write-ups, sometimes quizzes or exams, as well as the time in the actual lab.”

On top of attending classes and labs, many students in post bacc programs work, volunteer or intern. Burton worked part time in addition to taking two classes a semester. Jennifer says many post bacc programs have classes at night so students can complete volunteer/internship hours during the day. She says, “To be able to work AND attend classes, students need to pace themselves.”

As for the student body, Jennifer says there are students in your classes from all different backgrounds. “Many students have been out of school for a while and decided to go back and many of these students have taken the classes before but must take them again due to expirations on science classes,” says Jennifer. Other students have been in school getting a master’s in a science-related field. She says others took all the classes recently but wish to retake them to get better grades. Many other students were science students but still need a couple additional classes for med schools; and finally “other students like myself haven’t taken a math or science class since high school,” says Jennifer.

The application process for post bacc programs is similar to applying to college, except it’s less stressful, says Jennifer. Essays, recommendations, transcripts and SAT scores were all required elements of her applications to UPenn and Drexel. (UPenn had a fairly low-key admissions interview.) Ultimately “I chose UPenn over Drexel because of the networking possibilities I would have for UPenn Vet School,” Jennifer says. Sue Harbour, assistant director at UCS at UNC-Chapel Hill, says if a student gets into a post bacc program at the school they would like to attend for medical school, then they have already got their foot in the door and are networking with the faculty and administration. So when they apply to the medical program, they have already established a relationship with the school.

If you are now thinking about applying for a post bacc program, there are plenty of resources to help you decide. You can start by talking to a career counselor at your school who has experience guiding students through the admissions process. If you want to check out information on your own, The AAMC has tons of great advice and fact sheets on its website. The AAMC also has a helpful database where you can search by state, degree type and special program focus to find the right program for you.

Post bacc programs are great for networking, a support system of like-minded peers and a schedule full of just science classes. Whether you’re an English major considering a career in pediatrics or a struggling student on a pre-med track, just remember there is more than one path to medical school.


Burton Hui Shen, Harvard College 2009

Jennifer Kleiner, Cornell University, Class of 2009 

Sharon Jones, assistant director at UCS, UNC-Chapel Hill

Sue Harbour, assistant director at UCS, UNC-Chapel Hill

Post Bac Database, http://services.aamc.org/postbac/

Post Baccalaureate Premedical Programs (AAMC), http://www.aamc.org/programs

Jessica Stringer is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is originally from Woodbridge, VA. At UNC, she is the editorial director for Rival Magazine, a joint publication between UNC and Duke. She has previously written for the Daily Tar Heel, interned at DC Magazine and CNBC, and is a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Jessica fell in love with London during her semester abroad and dreams of moving across the pond. Some of her favorite things include coconut cupcakes, Carolina basketball, old Hollywood movies, and her Havanese puppy Max.
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