Does Course Load Matter During a Postbac?

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OPM 275: Does Course Load Matter During a Postbac?

Session 275

How many classes will it take to show that you are academically ready for med school? 1 class, 2 classes? I’m answering that question here on this week’s episode!

Questions answered here on the podcast are taken directly from the Nontrad Premed Forum over at Please go ahead and register for an account, ask your question, and have fun with the community.

Also, please be sure to check out all our other podcasts on Meded Media as we try to bring you as many resources as you need on this journey.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:26] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

“Hey everyone,

After being in the workforce for 9 years post undergrad (graduated in 2012), I’ve decided to look into becoming a doctor. I’ve listened to tons of Dr. Gray’s podcasts and realize that shadowing and clinical experience are imperative to making the decision. I’ve also realized that at some point I will have to complete a post-bacc in order to bring up my cGPA and prepare for the MCAT. 

Because of time constraints of a full-time job and family I am leaning towards a DIY post-bacc. The purpose of the post-bacc is to prove academic competency, which means getting as close to a 4.0 as possible. But I know that I cannot manage a full course load (4-5 classes per semester). 

Is there a cut-off (in terms of classes per semester) that would be counterproductive to demonstrating competency? I know I need to take more than 1 class a semester. But if I only took 2 (or maybe 3) classes per semester, would that still show competency when balanced with everything else (work, shadowing, clinical exp., family, etc)?

Any opinions and suggestions are welcome. Thanks!

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[03:40] The Goal of Your Activity List

This is a big dilemma among nontrads coming from another career or students who have a family or those who need to go back into a postbac for whatever reason. Maybe they didn’t take sciences to begin with, or they need to go and improve their academic record. And so, they would need an academic enhancing program, a do-it-yourself program or a formal program.

At the end of the day, the question is, what will it take to show that you are academically capable of doing well in medical school? And I agree that one class per semester probably isn’t going to do it.

'Medical schools can see everything that you do through your activity list. It's not just to list all the medical things you've done, but to show what you've been spending your time with.'Click To Tweet

[04:36] Having a Family

Now, obviously, having a family doesn’t go into your activity list. That’s a separate thing that won’t show up on your application in a lot of areas. It may potentially show up in a personal statement. For instance, there’s something with your family that led you to want to be a physician, or maybe you have some activities around being part of the PTA or whatever that looks like. And your work and all of the other extracurriculars you’re doing are going to be in your application.

Now, the question is, what’s the difference between a traditional student who’s going to school full-time, working part-time, and doing all the extracurriculars as well? How is that different from a nontraditional student who’s working full-time, getting extracurricular activities, studying for the MCAT, and then also taking classes part-time? And it’s hard to quantify or qualify which one is harder or more difficult. 

Obviously, having a family and being out in the workforce, and having that roof over your head and food on the table is contingent on having that job. Now, the level of stress of that job in a non-traditional setting years out of medical school is way different from a job while you’re in undergrad. Your level of responsibility is different as well.

[06:08] How Many Classes Needed

Going back to the heart of the question, which is how many classes do you need to take to show academic capability, the answer is as many as you can do. Now, that answer is going to be different for every student who’s on this nontraditional journey.

If you feel like you can only take one class a semester to start out, and then you increase to two or three, do that.

I would rather you start, then to wait for this perfect opportunity to be able to take three classes. Rather than take two classes and then life gets in the way and it throws you for a loop. Then you start to doubt whether you can truly take those classes.

So start with one, get that working, get your schedule down, how long does it take you to travel the campus, and how long does it take you to study – all those stuff to consider. Find those habits and routines, especially when you have a lot of stuff going on in your life. 

'Don't try to line everything up to be perfect. Start with one and go from there and build and build and build.'Click To Tweet

[09:14] Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

All that being said, you know that one class a semester is not good enough. And there’s no easy answer to how many classes you need to take. Every student comes with a different level of ability to take classes. 

“When you're a nontraditional student, you have much more on your plate. And admissions committees can see.”Click To Tweet

As a nontrad, your level of activities – clinical experience, volunteering, shadowing, etc. – are likely going to be less than your traditional counterparts. And that’s okay. Admissions committees understand that. Stop trying to compare yourself to everyone else. And just do what you can do with the situation you’re in.


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