Everything You Need to Know About Postbac Programs

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PMY 424: Everything You Need to Know About Postbac Programs

Session 424

Dr. Joon Kim, Senior Director and Instructor of Postbaccalaureate Programs at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), answers all of your questions about postbac programs. Keck Institute is part of the Claremont Colleges in Claremont, California.

For more podcast resources to help you along your journey to medical school and beyond, check out Meded Media.

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

[02:18] His Journey in the Postbac World

Joon says he’s a 28 year plus recovering premed myself who wanted to go into medicine, escaped, and haven’t looked back. But he enjoys working with students who are embarking on that very journey he began long ago.

Joon became a teacher for LA Unified School District and taught middle school for a couple of years. And then when he started his master’s degree in higher education, he started to do some substitute teaching for four years. He soon realized that although he loves education, the K-12 system wasn’t his cup of tea.

His first higher education position was at the University of Southern California as a biology advisor where he got into prehealth advising in 2003. About eight years out and getting some more letters after his name, Joon became fascinated with graduate students. He felt they were more focused and more motivated. You could have more frank and candid conversations with them. And so, he came across KGI as a brand new founding director of the postbac program in 2011.

[05:21] What Makes a Good Postbac Student

What makes a good postbac student is the same as what makes a good student. Graduate students think that if they make the right decision, somehow that’s going to trigger a cascade of correct decisions and the right outcomes they’re seeking.

Regardless of which program you go to, success relies on the individual. How badly do they want to do it?

'When postbac programs talk about their success rate, past performance does not predict future performance.'Click To Tweet

Joon adds that students having a gap year is helpful for students to understand their motivation. Why are they pursuing it? How do they know this is something they want to do? Get out there and get some experience. Get a job.

Do something to help you move from being a professional student to someone who’s prepared to make a lifelong commitment towards a profession that is very demanding.

'It's not a job, it's not even a career. It is your life and the lives of your community and constituents.'Click To Tweet

[09:18] The 3 Dimensions of Motivation

'Motivation is very complex. It's got multiple dimensions.'Click To Tweet

Joon explains three specific dimensions around motivation. For example, when we speak about New Year’s resolutions, we’re really talking about the initiation motivation –  the motivation to start something right. 

Another dimension is the motivation to persist. So initially do something and then the consistency starts to taper off so you need to stick with it. Some have a very strong motivation for initiation but really lacking persistence. And when we don’t persist, we’re not going to see the results. And in positive feedback, when you start to see the results, that causes you to be more committed and more motivated to keep continuing with what you’ve been doing.

The last piece is you need to pour all of your efforts when you are actually there practicing or going about doing what you’re doing. 

And as a premed student, it’s important to understand where are you the strongest and which part are you lacking? Then figure out what you can do to improve upon those areas. And this might be a good place for you to start.

'You need to know yourself well enough before you can go out there and start treating and helping people.'Click To Tweet

[12:22] Types of Postbac Programs at KGI

Enriched Academic Enhancer

It’s a program for students who already have taken all the science courses and they may or may not have taken the MCAT already. It’s designed to help students elevate and become more competitive because admission has become so competitive.

Career-Changer Postbac Program

As the name suggests, it’s for people who have not taken the sciences or very few of those science prerequisites, and they’re pivoting towards a science/health profession. In this program. you would be taking your traditional biology, chemistry, organic chem, physics, and so forth.

DIY vs. Structured Program

In terms of DIY classes, students are able to improve upon their academic needs by taking classes on their own. But it’s nice to have a structured program where you have certain resources available to you. They are a convenient way of going closer towards your goals, but you can certainly do it on your own.

[15:27] The Academic Enrichment Program

For the academic enrichment, the question is really geared towards, “how do I get into an academic enrichment program and the reason I need that program is because my stats aren’t good.” Part of that has to do with the fact that every program out there really relies heavily on the success percentage. While they love to be the offshore postbac program with a large number of students going into the program, they also need to make sure a lot of their students are successful.

The philosophy will vary from program to program. Certain programs take almost an open-access available for all. While some programs have a very specific mission or a focus, or maybe a specific population of students.

There will be some academic enrichment programs where the requirements are going to be out of reach for some students. That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t get to your goal, it just means you have to take a different route.

Sometimes, students fall into the trap of thinking that the GPA for one school is better than another school. But

“It all comes down to the aggregate evidence that your application conveys to those admission committees. It's almost a risk management endeavor.”Click To Tweet

And so, you don’t need to just have a high GPA to demonstrate that. There are other ways you can convey that through your application. Take it wherever you think you’re going to be most successful because they will be looking at your MCAT. They’ll be looking at your life circumstances and the timing of everything.

[19:45] The Financial Aspects of Going to a Postbac Program

The finance is very real and the finance is varied from a couple thousand to $50,000 for some programs. As a general rule of thumb, if it’s a master’s degree program, they will tend to be more than certificates and so forth. 

Examine your specific financial situation. Really understand if it’s something you want to pursue wholeheartedly.

The specific reason Joon brought this up is that at KGI, they’re unique in the fact that their students have the option to continue on their medical school path. And because of the nature of the classes they take such as biotech, pharma, life science, and interdisciplinary courses, they can pursue other career paths.

So while they have one foot towards the med school admissions path, but then if this doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, then they can go ahead and pursue this job.

'Look at not just the dollars and cents in isolation. But what would you be gaining by investing in your education?'Click To Tweet

Examine the value of each program, and find out is that what you’re looking for. That being said, students shouldn’t fall into this thinking that since it’s expensive, it must be a good program. Each person is in a unique situation and just because this program worked for this person, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you.

[23:49] The Application Process

For academic enhancement programs, some of them are into the centralized application system because it allows them to get more applicants and so forth. But they also have colleagues who have decided not to participate.

As for KGI, they have decided not to participate. Because when they surveyed the last three to four years of their alumni and asked them how many programs they applied to, 80% of them said they applied to just KGI or one other program. So their audience is different from the other students out there looking at postbac programs. If you’re interested, check out kgi.edu. Use the promo code JOON and have your KGI postbac application fee waived.

[25:44] What Makes an Application Shine

Authenticity. Figure out who you are, what you’re looking for, and present yourself in your most authentic way. A lot of students out there, however, think they know what the admission committees are looking for so you try to almost try to figure out what they’re looking for.

'It's not really about what you do that determines whether you get in or not. But it's who you are.'Click To Tweet

The health profession admissions has really shifted towards an admission practice that looks at the heart of the individual. It’s the reason so much of the application process is examining their motivation and their past experiences.

Students need to recognize that when you are describing those extracurricular experiences, it’s not this tone of what you did but who you are.

[30:30] The Time Commitment

This varies depending on how soon you would like to apply to med school or whatever health profession school that is. If you are a career changer, you pretty much have a much smaller window. Career changers are making the switch later on in their life.

'Most career changers are eager to go ahead and get started.'Click To Tweet

In terms of their postbac program at KGI, you cannot work full-time. It’s a full-time program so it requires your full commitment. 

They’ve had students who were working for biotech companies, and then they quit their jobs to attend their program full-time. Their students are able to work part-time, anywhere from 10 to 15 hours a week.

Now, there are some programs out there where they’re almost like DIY. You get to set your schedule, choose how many classes you want to take, and  set the pace of the progress. Again, Joon recommends that each person needs to examine their life circumstances and limitations so they can design which program fits their needs.

[32:54] Getting Activities in the Midst of the Pandemic

It’s not to say you have to drop everything. In fact, don’t drop everything just so you can focus on your grades. You need to be able to demonstrate that you can succeed in a realistic life context where you have family emergencies, where you have things pop up just like the pandemic.

There are some severe real limitations. But the reality is there are some individuals who will still rise up and still deal with that in the midst of a pandemic. Stop being reactive. You don’t want to wait. You want to be proactive. Think about what you can do online.

“Pursue and engage in things that really matter to you and that you get excited about.”Click To Tweet

Get at least one or a few of those things that are clinically or medically related. But if it’s all medically clinically related, then you’re no different than the next person. And worse, if they have no way to figure out why you’re doing this and what your motivation for doing this.

[37:13] Getting Prehealth Advising

The National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) can potentially get students paired up with an advisor.

Students can have access to temporary help so take advantage of that. There are volunteer advisors who respond to students’ emails. Joon also serves as a volunteer and shares his time and expertise to students who come to the organization for some questions. It’s a great resource for students who don’t have access to an advisor.


Meded Media

Kgi.edu (Use the promo code JOON and have your KGI postbac application fee waived.)

National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP)

The OldPreMeds Podcast