Postbacs 101: What You Need to Know Before Finding a Program

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Postbacs 101: What You Need to Know Before Finding a Program

Session 466

I’m joined today by Caleb, Assistant Director of Temple University’s CST Post Baccalaureate Pre-Health Program, to talk about postbacs!

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

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

[01:32] The MCAT Minute

The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT.

The MCAT timing is a very important part of the whole application process. If you apply to medical school during the May-June timeframe when applications open up, make sure your MCAT is done. You don’t necessarily have to have your score. But to get it out of the way so you can work on your primary application. You can work on your secondary application and start prepping for your interview invites.

A lot of students plan on taking the MCAT around August or September of the year they’re applying, and that’s just very late. We don’t recommend it. And so, we recommend you take the MCAT around January through April of the year you’re going to apply. Now, that’s the year before you want to start medical school.

'The earlier you take the MCAT, the better.'Click To Tweet

[04:35] What is a Postbac?

A postbac literally means “after your bachelor’s degree.” It refers to courses, program, certificates, or a degree-granting program that you do after you’ve completed an undergrad degree. And so, if you don’t have a bachelor’s, there’s probably really no reason for you to get involved in a postbac program.

There’s a lot of misinterpretation or misunderstanding among students thinking that you need to do a postbac program if you want to go to medical school. They think it’s the intermediate step to go to medical school, but it’s not for everyone.

Caleb identifies two groups that can benefit the most from a postbac program.


The first group is composed of those who don’t have a science background. They might be an English major or religion major, they might have been a lawyer for a long time, they want to go back to school.

'There is a postbac program track designed for folks that don't have a science background.'Click To Tweet

Academic Record Enhancer

The second group is composed of those who took science coursework but didn’t achieve the academic level they’d wanted to as an undergrad. Maybe they got off to a slow start in their freshman or sophomore year, particularly in the sciences. Then they want to come back to school in a postbac program and take classes that will help them raise their science GPA.

[07:03] Taking the MCAT with a 2.4 GPA

Q: “I’m currently a senior in college with a terrible GPA, I had a 1.4 in my first semester of college. I ended up flunking out with all F’s on my sophomore year. I transferred to a public university a year later and have done a little bit better. 

My concern is that no matter what I do, my GPA will not be high enough, because of the damage that was done. I’m currently sitting at a 2.4 GPA and will be taking the MCAT in July. (This was posted in April) Should I enroll in an SMP or a postbac? And for how many years/months?”

Caleb’s response:

It’s probably a good fit for a very structured, one-year rigorous program like theirs. Where you need to take on a lot to try to fix a grade point average in a relatively short period of time.

Caleb explains that you can actually take postbac classes as not part of any formal postbac program.

Hence, go to your local four-year school or even sometimes a local community college, and piece together a postbac program. That may take a little longer than the way you planned it from the beginning. But it may raise your GPA to the point where you can take the MCAT and do well then apply and become a viable candidate for medical school.

And so, while this student is not out of the woods, their ship isn’t sinking either. Again, it just might take a little bit of time for them to work through that. Many times, grades reflect your comprehension of the subject matter. And so, Caleb is a bit worried if the student sits for the MCAT.

One of the things Caleb recommends to students when looking at a postbac program is to check if they have a formal MCAT preparation piece built into it.

Caleb says the average GPA for students in their program is around 3.2. Even though they don’t have a minimum GPA, they also have to realistically look at the math. And so, their program is limited in that way. But he clarifies that this is more of a limitation of their program, and less of a limitation of that student.

At the end of the day, the student can go and find a bit more flexible program that would allow them to take the courses. There are so many postbacs out there, and so many different ways to approach it. Hence, this student could find one that would help them get to where they need to go.

[13:38] Trends Are Important

Students come in sometimes either disillusioned or discouraged already from the outset. And a lot of what they have to do as a postbac program is to coach them and let them know that the 3.8 isn’t the end all be all.

'A lot of times our students just want to get into medical school and they don't have to have a 3.8 and a 520 In order to do that.'Click To Tweet

Caleb uses an airport analogy to remind their students that their program is an extra runway. 

Maybe you’re trying to get off the ground academically. Then after four years of college, you have reached the end of that runway. And you’re still not in the air yet. Then their postbac program can give you an additional year of time to get your aircraft airborne.

Sometimes, a student may need a little bit even longer runway. They may need a two-year program to allow them to get enough grades to get them airborne. And so, you can start off with a 1.7 in your freshmen year, but you can increase your trend as you move forward to sophomore year, junior, year, and senior year.

Ultimately, once they do the math, they can clearly see that you were figuring out how to do school well, and most importantly, do school well in the sciences. Seeing the upward trends, they could see how you’re on the right trajectory. And so, when you come to their program, there’s clear evidence to demonstrate that you can get into the air. And so, that pattern of performance is really important to them.

[18:00] How to Adapt with the Rigors of Academics

If students apply to a postbac program but they still come in with the same bad habits, they’re probably not going to thrive in a postbac program either.

It’s critical that you’re removing distractions in your life that were causing those negative patterns to exist in the past. While there are upward patterns in grades, they can also see patterns of students that were having trouble and were struggling.

In their program, Caleb says they have a learning skills specialist. This is a person on their staff specifically to help students hone those skills such as study skills, time management, and all those things.

Caleb adds this is one of the things students should also look into when shopping around for postbac program. Look for programs that have learning skills specialists or someone like them, because they can really be an advocate for you. And they can help you learn some new techniques to help you excel that maybe you weren’t using before.

'You have been told to study but you haven't really been taught how to study.'Click To Tweet

We know that we need to study math, we need to study physics, we need to study whatever. But everyone skips the first step of studying how to study. And it’s a never-ending process, especially when you get to medical school when the volume of information just comes at you.

[21:59] What to Look For in a Program

Look for Undergrad Grading

Caleb says the first step is to look at your undergraduate GPA. Look for a program that grades undergraduate grades. If a postbac program doesn’t have undergraduate grades as part of its curriculum, it’s not going to help you improve your undergraduate grade point average.

'While many times a graduate program can be good, that is factored into your grad grades and it doesn't directly impact your undergraduate GPA.'Click To Tweet

Programs That Fast-Track You to Medical School

There are also programs designed to fast-track you into a medical school. The idea is that you come to that postbac program. Then at the end of it, you go right into their medical school that’s directly connected to that postbac program. Many times, they will need the MCAT for that because you are actually applying to medical school even though it’s front-loaded with the postbac program.

Then there are programs like theirs that don’t require the MCAT. Their students can be fast-tracked to Temple University’s medical school. But most of their students apply broadly to medical schools across the country. This is another thing a student needs to look at.

'Many times those programs that do fast-track you typically do have higher test score requirements and higher GPA requirements for admission into those.'Click To Tweet

These things can be confusing to a lot of students. And so, Caleb suggests that if the postbac program has an interview day, be sure to use that as an opportunity to ask as many questions as you can. Because you need to feel comfortable in that environment.

Programs with Built-In Clinical Experience and Other Features

There are also some programs that are structured in two-year increments. Where in your first year, you do the classes. And then the second year, you might work in a lab or teach in the lab like a grad assistantship. Then you get some research or some clinical hours that way. And if that’s important to you because it’s something you don’t have, this is also something to look at.

[27:11] When a Postbac Isn’t the Best Thing for You

A high GPA student with not a lot of clinical experience may not need a postbac. It’s very reflexive for a lot of students to apply to medical school with 3.8 GPA, solid trends, and no issues. They don’t get in for one reason or another, whether it’s bad activities, bad essays, writing bad interview skills, poor MCAT scores, etc.

Then they’ll apply to postbac programs thinking that’s what they need. Postbac programs are to prove academic capability and their 3.8 did that already.

And so, for students who find themselves in this situation, a postbac isn’t what you need, and it’s probably something else. Maybe do scribing for a year and get some more clinical experience. Really look at your application and figure out what’s missing and how you could address those things.

[29:54] Classes to Take in a Postbac Program

For the career-changer postbac, you need to take Chem 1 and 2, Bio 1 and 2, Physics 1 and 2, Organic Chem – all the things a premed starts out with during their freshmen and sophomore year.

For the record-enhancing program, you’re going to see more advanced biochemistries, anatomy, and physiology. Now, students may say they already took that as an undergrad. But in their program, for example, Caleb says they’re titled similarly to things students took as an undergrad. But they’re taught with a very different slant.

“Most of the time, if they're in a pre-health postbac program, they're mapped directly to the components of the MCAT as far as content goes.”Click To Tweet

[32:04] The Car Shopping Analogy

Caleb uses the analogy of car shopping when shopping for postbacs. If five cupholders are super important to you in a car, then you’re only going to look for cars that have five cupholders. So if you don’t care about cupholders, then you remove that from your decision-making process.

And so, you can choose to do postbac classes with your cohort only where you’re surrounded by people that get what you’re trying to do and trying to accomplish. Then you don’t want to be taking intro bio, for example, with 18-year old freshmen.

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way but a student knows whether it’s right or wrong for them. 

'Don't try to play the game of what a medical school is going to like better. Do what works best for you as a student.'Click To Tweet

[33:48] The Application Timing

When it comes to the timing of an application to medical school and you’re in their program to improve your grades, Caleb says this is really tough. And it’s typically not something that they recommend their students do. Although there’s usually one or two that is an exception, and it’s only because they’ve already lined up all of the dominoes perfectly. But it’s a really hard thing to pull off.

Caleb’s best advice is to just wait. Get your house in order and your finances in order. Get your clinical experiences in order. Defer to the postbac. And then when you come, you’ll be ready to go and hit the ground running.

Plus, there’s a lot of potential for distraction. There’s a lot that goes into applying to medical school and taking the MCAT. It takes a lot of time to do all of that correctly. And when you’re in a program to prove that you’re academically capable, and that should be taking up a lot of your time, as well.

You don’t want to add extra distractions that don’t need to be there. Hence, a year to do it properly is a safer bet. 

Many times, too, this doesn’t come from the students themselves, but from their parents. They tell their kids to just do it and see what happens. But this isn’t how it works. You have to be very intentional because it’s a complex process.

“You want to approach it when you're ready to do it. You want your first app to be your best app.”Click To Tweet

[38:09] The Biggest Mistake Postbac Students Make

Caleb stresses the importance of approaching a postbac program like they’re in medical school. Make sure that your personal distractions can be mediated, and that you can really focus on the coursework.

'A lot of the things students make mistakes while they're in the postbac are the same things that were they were making mistakes on as undergrads.'Click To Tweet

Students need to focus, build study groups, and go to their learning skills specialist. Really dive in and take this seriously.

Sometimes, for some students, it means even doing things like quitting their job so they could focus on the postbac for a year. They can’t ask everybody to quit their job and go back to school. But many times, that’s what’s needed for a student to really demonstrate that they can do the work. And many times, too, that distraction is taken away so they’re able to step up and they make the grades.

[41:53] Final Words of Wisdom

Postbac programs are expensive and you don’t necessarily have to go to a formal postbac program. And you can do them in a cheaper, more convenient, and easier way. And if that’s what you have to do to make it work for you, then do it.

Don’t feel self-conscious about comparing yourself to others. Because in the end, it doesn’t matter if you go to a formal postbac program or you do it on your own. 


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