Advice: To Post-Bacc or Not to Post-Bacc?

Hi Everyone,
I’m new here and would like to please ask you for advice, if that’s OK?
A little bit about myself: I’m in my late 20s, majored in History (got an okay but not great GPA, 3.6), and now would love to go to med school. Also, I live in southern California.
I’ve been looking into the Scripps College Post-Bacc program (http://jsd.claremont.edu/postbac/) and really like it. In particular I like that it has a linkage agreement with some med schools (GWU, Drexel, and Temple). But the biggest factor for me is that it’s so expensive: $25K + living expenses! Yikes.
My question is, do you think it’d be worth it for me to try and attend Scripps for a post-bacc? I really do like the linkage agreement, but $25K is pretty steep. Or do you think I’d be better off just taking classes on my own at a local Cal State university, which is far cheaper? Did anyone go thru trying to decide between a post-bacc or a regular local college/university, and which one did you pick, and what helped you make your decision? I’d love to get your thoughts on this. Thanks.
To sum up the pros/cons of a post-bacc linkage program:
PROs:
1. As long as I maintain a good GPA, get a good MCAT, and interview well, I’m guaranteed admissions to one of the linked schools so that’s absolutely wonderful;
2. I can get a lot of help with the admissions process since there are people there who are there to help you get into med school;
3. no gap year so I can start school right away;
4. and (I assume) other helpful things like good LORs written for me, a small, close-knit community, help with volunteering and research jobs, etc.
CONS:
1. Well, I was thinking, if I can get a good GPA, MCAT, and interview well, then although I won’t be “guaranteed” a spot anywhere, I’ll still have a pretty strong chance, won’t I? Or is getting accepted into med school as bad as everyone says?
2. it’s obviously super expensive ($25K), which is probably the biggest “con”;
3. I can only apply to one med school, and if I don’t get in, then I’ll have to reapply the following year! Which would put me back at square 1, more or less, and I would then feel as if I might rather have saved $25K.
Any thoughts, advice, suggestions, or anything else to add? I’d truly appreciate any comments or anything anyone has to say. Thanks so much!

Quote:


PROs:
1. As long as I maintain a good GPA, get a good MCAT, and interview well, I’m guaranteed admissions to one of the linked schools so that’s absolutely wonderful;
2. I can get a lot of help with the admissions process since there are people there who are there to help you get into med school;
3. no gap year so I can start school right away;
4. and (I assume) other helpful things like good LORs written for me, a small, close-knit community, help with volunteering and research jobs, etc.
CONS:
1. Well, I was thinking, if I can get a good GPA, MCAT, and interview well, then although I won’t be “guaranteed” a spot anywhere, I’ll still have a pretty strong chance, won’t I? Or is getting accepted into med school as bad as everyone says?
2. it’s obviously super expensive ($25K), which is probably the biggest “con”;
3. I can only apply to one med school, and if I don’t get in, then I’ll have to reapply the following year! Which would put me back at square 1, more or less, and I would then feel as if I might rather have saved $25K.
Any thoughts, advice, suggestions, or anything else to add? I’d truly appreciate any comments or anything anyone has to say. Thanks so much!


First of all, welcome to OPM! You’ll get a ton of good advice here from people who have "been there/done that."
As far as plunking down $25k for Scripps…. Yes, it is an excellent program (and very competitive to get accepted into). And yes, it is expensive.
My opinion is that p/b programs generally are most useful for applicants who are 1) re-applicants to medical school (there are excellent p/b programs for applicants in this category) and don’t have a strong science background/MCAT, and/or 2) applicants who need a fair about of structure in their study program. (Obviously this is somewhat simplistic, but I’m talking in general terms here.)
In spite of what you are told, there are NO guarantees into medical school. How well you do in the application process not only has to do with your own credentials, but also all of those applicants who are applying in the admissions cycle in which you are applying. And you have no control over that.
You aren’t so old that having a gap year is such a big deal. I wouldn’t make a decision based on that.
If you get to know your professors well (get to know one professor well EACH term), you don’t need a p/b program for LOR help. You’ll be taking care of this along the way, which is what you’ll have to do anyway.
Depending on where you did your undergrad work, you may still have access to their pre-med advisors (for free). You also have access to pre-med advising consultants (not free). AND, you have access to outstanding advice from OPMs.
So, formal p/b programs are excellent for a certain type of applicant, and not so necessary for others. You can get all the science pre-reqs at Scripps, or you can go to Cal State XXX or a UC (if it allows non-matriculated students to take courses…UCB does not). It may be harder to arrange your study program at Cal State just because there are so many students. This would be an advantage of Scripps, but for $25k? It’s hard to say.
Cheers,
Judy

I, too, had a similar question not too long ago. First, Judy’s assessment is correct: there is no guarantee that one will get into medical school and no post-bacc (PB) can fully guarantee this. You should inquire about the acceptance rate of the post-bacc’s graduates into medical school, but take their numbers with some skepticism. Some post-baccs have been accused of inflating their numbers in order to entice new applicants.
Be aware that there are two types of PBs: “formal” (structured) and “informal” (unstructured). Formal PBs are ones like Goucher, Scripps, Bryn Mawr, etc. They have very structured programs, normally geared toward students who lack most or all of the lower division sciences, no volunteer work, etc. Post-bacc students may all take the same classes together at the same time as a cohort. These programs usually have linkages with research and volunteer opportunities. And, as you noted, they tend to be private schools and are therefore expensive – someone has to pay for all this hand-holding and guidance! Formal Post-baccs are great if you want to be walked through the application process.
Informal PBs are often shoestring programs operated by state schools (e.g. SDSU, CSU Fullerton) or even community colleges (e.g.Santa Monica College). They tend to unstructured. They are inexpensive, but don’t offer much direct support although many have premed advising.
But there is sufficient information out there about how to go about applying to med schools, where good volunteer opportunties are, and knowledgeable advisors (such as Judy) to help you on your way if you choose to go it sans a formal PB, i.e. informally.
I’m curious why you say stated that you “can only apply to one med school, and if I don’t get in, then I’ll have to reapply the following year!”? There are a lot of good medical schools out there. Widening your application pool will increase your chances of getting in to medical school. Is there something special about this “one school”?
Lastly, because my story has some similarities to yours, perhaps it will help you make decisions about your situation. (Sorry to those OPMers who have heard it before!) I also now live in Southern California and I, too, applied to Scripps. However, I was rejected. Never did Scripps tell me specific reasons for my rejection (despite numerous calls), but perhaps it was because I already had almost all my pre-reqs (but they are very out of date). Scripps is apparently for those who do not have their pre-reqs for medical school. I was accepted to another formal post-bacc, but this PB advised me to first go to a CSU school, take introductory math and chem, and then start their program – obstensibly in order to prove that I could handle the science material again. If I did well in these four courses, then I could start their formal PB.
Meanwhile, a dean, here (at the CSU where I am taking the math and chemistry) has been encouraging me to consider either a post-bacc or a second bachelor’s degree (in a science). Both of these options are more appealing to me than the post-bacc. Why? Although they are less expensive, the main reasons they are appealing is 1)they offer more choices of courses. Because I already have my pre-reqs I was told (by most medical school adcomms) to retake the basic courses to bring them up-to-date. I was also told by some adcomms and med school deans to take sufficient upper division science coursework to show medical schools that I can handle new material. Scripps and most other post-baccs offer the basic lower division sciences but only a handful of upper division biology classes, such as Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Mammalian Physiology, Biology of Cancer. But as an undifferentiated post-bacc student, CSU offers Genetics, Anatomy, Physiology, Microbiology, Pharmacology, Neurobiology, Statistics, etc. 2) I still get to do lab work. 3) The commute is much shorter. 4) My new volunteer gig is close by.
Not all CSUs have undifferentiated post-baccs. Go to www.csumentor.edu for more information and search for post-bacc. It’s also not too late to apply for Fall 2005. For example, CSU Dominguez Hills is actually accepting Fall 2005 post-baccs up to August 26, even though their website says August 1.
Hope this looooooong post helps.

Thanks so much Judy and Nahani! All that info was SUPER helpful, I definitely think OPMs is awesome already!





Just a little bit about myself, so to fill you in better (sorry I didn’t earlier, I wasn’t really sure what to say and forgot 'cos it was my first time): I went to UC Berkeley but have never ever taken a single science course, unfortunately, let alone the MCAT.





Oh regarding the “one school” thing, before I forget, that’s not my choice (of course I’d love to apply to as many schools as possible), but that’s because, as far as I can tell at least, all the linkage programs I’ve looked at say that if we do their linkage program, then we can only apply to one of the schools they have a linkage with (assuming we wnat to do the linkage, and not just go thru the post-bacc program). So if I for example go to Scripps, they have a linkage with GWU. So that would mean I could only apply to GWU, at least as far as I understand. If I am rejected from GWU, then I have to wait another year and apply again. So to me this seems not so desirable, obviously, but then again from their point of view, GWU would be reserving a spot for me or guaranteeing me an acceptance into their med school as long as I maintain a good GPA and get a decent score on the MCAT (well, supposedly, although I realize per what Judy says there’s no guarantee). It’s sort of like applying early decision somewhere, at least that’s sort of how I understand it but could obviously be wrong since I’m still so new to this myself.





Speaking of this, is it really true that there are no guarantees? I thought that some schools (especially from what I’ve heard, Bryn Mawr’s post-bacc, back east) supposedly has in the last few years a 100% acceptance rate, even with a class of roughly 70-75 post-bacc students. I even read (on SDN, not on OPMs) that a current student there at Bryn Mawr’s post-bacc program said that his judgment was, if you’re in, you’re set. Here’s the link:





Source: http://forums.studentdoctor.net/showthread.php?t=218437





But then again, you guys are right, it seems like schools like Bryn Mawr do pre-select highly qualified candidates who probably would be able to get into many med schools regardless of whether they did a post-bacc or not at Bryn Mawr or wherever else. Same with places like Scripps, they too say they have near a 100% acceptance rate. Scripps seems like an excellent program, but they admit only apparently 10-15 people per year, so when they say they place near 100%, it’s not like they have a huge class of people they’re working with or anything (like Bryn Mawr), because then they might not necesarily have 100% admissions. Although I suppose it oculd be because they are a relatively new program too. And again they probably do pre-select too so it’s hard to get into Scripps, like you noted, unless they think you can actually get into med school anyway without them… if that makes sense… (sounds weird when I actually say it, althogh maybe I’m not saying it clearly enough, apologies). Anyhow, I’m just wondering about this guarantees thing, because I was considering schools like Scripps?





Thanks for the rec about the Cal State! And also for sharing your experence there. It sounds like it totally worked and is working out still, for you. So I’m defintiely gonna check out this route, especially beacuse it’s so inexpensive. And because ideally I want to stay in SoCal, and not go anywhere else for my post-bacc if possible. Can I ask you, please, did you find it difficult to get classes you wanted on time, though? I’ve heard that a lot of the science classes might be impacted at the CSUs and UCs so it’s hard to get the classes you want? But hopefuly I heard wrong and it’s not true.





By the way, have you guys heard of Harvard’s Extension School? Apparently, this might be even cheaper than Cal STate, wow. It’s about $540 per semester long class, or $10 per unit/credit (so $40 for a 4 unit/credit class if you can find a job at Harvard University as a research asst. or something). To me this is really cool – it’s like they’re paying you to develop your med school application. I saw this article, for eg, and it seems like a wonderful program:





http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/other_stories/documents/04590633.asp





But Im still reluctant to move outside of SoCal becausae I love it here right now and would have to uproot a lot of things, even if it’s just for a year or two. A year or two is still a long time for me, when I don’t have any guarantees per se, or at least it seems that way, ya know?





Well, I guess this post has been way longer than I expected! Sorry about that. But thanks again so much for your kind help!

Just to reply to your question about HES… If you really like So Cal, I think I’d recommend staying there. I’ve never visited that area, but I’m sure it’s vastly different from here: the climate, personalities, etc. I think I’d have a very difficult time adapting to a new environment AND embarking on this pre-med journey at the same time. Also, while the course tuition is less expensive (for the lab classes you’d need they’re actually around $850/class this year, though obviously much less if you were working there and going through TAP) living expenses in this area are astronomical, so you’d be trading one expense for another. Just my perception anyway. Best of luck with your decisions!

Pchan, here’s more advice from a fellow “Golden Bear” (I went to Cal,too):





Harvard Extension is a good program, and if you do a search through these forums (via the search button) for “Harvard Extension” you should come up with detailed info on people’s experiences.





Since you are in SoCal, another extension program to check out is UCLA Extension (www.uclaextension.edu). They have a great Introductory Science Certificate in which premeds can take their pre-reqs PART-TIME (not full-time) 1 or 2 classes at a time in the evening and on Saturday mornings. Costs are $325-450 per class, but these are quarter classes not semester classes. Academic advising is available. And although this is an extension program, students ARE eligible for financial aid (loans). However, there are caveats: Because they only offer courses in the evening between 7-10 p.m., classes can conflict so you may only get to take one class per a given quarter. An advanced class may not be offered for several quarters, so you may have little choice but to wait. Labs are available for all classes EXCEPT for General Chemistry. You could try taking the General Chem lab during the day, but apparently it is not easy getting a space. If you want to take Gen Chem with lab, take it through UCLA Summer Sessions (summer.ucla.edu), but you must sign up by March 1st (for the following summer); otherwise, the Summer Gen Chem lab will fill up within days.





Other issues: housing is very expensive in the UCLA/Westwood area; UCLA is nestled in a valley between Beverly Hills on one side and West Hollywood on the other: lots of homes, few apartments or rentals. Parking is available, but expensive, and commuting is *#$# on the 405! For cheaper rents and more housing, many UCLA students live in an area of LA called “The Palms”: it’s about 5 miles south of campus where the 405 crosses the 10 freeway.





Lastly, one advantage of staying in SoCal is because California has more medical schools than Massachusetts. State residency does play a factor in selection. For example, one of my best friends is an MSIII (third year med student) at UC San Diego medical school. When she was accepted, she informed me that ALL of her classmates were California residents. And as Arciedee says the weather is better, although I wouldn’t stay just for the weather. Would I go to Harvard if offered a spot? You bet! I would love to be in their New Pathways program, but I don’t think they will accept me.

Cool thanks guys! And of course, go bears! Seriously though that is really terrific info, and now I got a lot of thinking to do. UCLA extension sounds not bad, but youre right, that area is expensive. But if everything works out most likely I’ll be living in Pasadena, and so then USC would be closest. USC would actually be so ideal, but their costs are insane! I think the most expensive of any program I’ve seen, something like $1000 per unit… Yikes. Maybe then I’ll go with what yu’re doing and do Cal State. That actually might be the wisest way to go. Med schools don’t really care do they about where you do your post-bacc work, as long as you take the right classes, and as long as it’s not CC, is that right hopefully?
But speaking about HES, can I ask, how much on average does it cost to live there? And do you know of a lot of post-baccs who actually are employed thru TAP or whatever it’s called, who get the cheaper tuition, or is this pretty unrealistic? Those were my two concerns about HES.
Most likely, I think I might end up staying here in SoCal and going to a local school, unless HES does turn out to be the better deal. I can’t believe how difficult it is just to decide on a post-bacc and not on a med school yet! LOL. But thanks again and I totally, totally appreicate all your kind help.

BTW nahani, can I plz ask you a couple more questions I forgot to ask the last time?





1. What is the Harvard New Pathways program anyhow? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that before?





2. How does state residency work when applying to med schools? I’m a resident of CA of course, so am I allowed to apply to public schools in other states? (I assume I’m allowed to apply to any private school though regardless of whether I’m from that state or not.) I’ve seen a lot of people mention how the state residency makes applying to med school difficult, but I’m not sure what they mean, like if they just mean that if you’re not from that state, then that state med school will be harder to get into? Or if they mean something else?





Cool, thanks again!

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But speaking about HES, can I ask, how much on average does it cost to live there? And do you know of a lot of post-baccs who actually are employed thru TAP or whatever it’s called, who get the cheaper tuition, or is this pretty unrealistic? Those were my two concerns about HES.



For cost of living in the Boston area, you could check out boston.com to see what current rentals are going for. I believe sites like monster.com also have cost-of-living calculators that will compare where you live now and where you might want to live. I really didn’t chat much with my classmates, so I’m not sure if anyone was doing the TAP thing or not. I always see a ton of employment postings on the Harvard website, though, so I imagine it’s not totally impossible. Good luck with your decision.

Quote:

How does state residency work when applying to med schools? I’m a resident of CA of course, so am I allowed to apply to public schools in other states? (I assume I’m allowed to apply to any private school though regardless of whether I’m from that state or not.) I’ve seen a lot of people mention how the state residency makes applying to med school difficult, but I’m not sure what they mean, like if they just mean that if you’re not from that state, then that state med school will be harder to get into? Or if they mean something else?


State schools are usually required to admit a certain percent (or number) of students from in-state. Some schools admit ONLY state residents (e.g. New Mexico, Arizona, etc.) and you can get a good idea of which schools these are from the statistics for each med school in the annual MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements published by AAMC). Other state schools fill their class with up to 20% or so with out-of-state residents. If you are applying to out-of-state schools, you will want to apply to schools which are more liberal in their residency policy.
Cheers,
Judy

Harvard New Pathway: the “new” (1987) problem-based learning curriculum for the preclinical years that replaced an old lecture-based curriculum; runs parallel to the Health Sciences and Technology curriculum, a joint program with MIT that emphasizes research and development of new medical technologies. Off the top of my head I think between 3/4ths and 4/5ths of the Harvard med class plus all of the dental class does New Pathway. (I am a New Pathway student.)
But that is for historical interest only: the New Pathway is dead as of next year and will be replaced by a new curriculum as yet to be totally established; it will still have tutorials and problem-based learning but will use them differently and on a different schedule. Among other things this will put the medical school on the same schedule as the rest of the university; schedule conformity among the schools (allowing easier cross-registration) is a major push at Harvard now. It will also substantially shorten the preclinical years (into ~1.5 yrs) and will start the clinical years with a “principal clinical year” based at one clinical institution.
joe

Thanks for the scoop Joe! I’m a bit saddened that the New Pathway program is going away (or is it just being modified). Harvard had been(and perhaps still will be) my first choice for a number of reasons, including the New Pathway program (the others include their Department of Social Medicine, Arthur Kleinman & Paul Farmer , their MPH program, etc.)
I’ll still apply with or without the NP program, but it sounded great.

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But speaking about HES, can I ask, how much on average does it cost to live there? And do you know of a lot of post-baccs who actually are employed thru TAP or whatever it’s called, who get the cheaper tuition, or is this pretty unrealistic? Those were my two concerns about HES.



For cost of living in the Boston area, you could check out boston.com to see what current rentals are going for. I believe sites like monster.com also have cost-of-living calculators that will compare where you live now and where you might want to live. I really didn’t chat much with my classmates, so I’m not sure if anyone was doing the TAP thing or not. I always see a ton of employment postings on the Harvard website, though, so I imagine it’s not totally impossible. Good luck with your decision.


All good suggestions from ArcieDee. I would add that while Boston area is an expensive place to buy, rents have been going down since their peak a few years ago, and you can find places near to the universities in the neighborhood of $1300-1800, and less if you live farther out.
There are also lots of shared housing opportunities if you’re a single person, like a bedroom in a 4-bedroom apartment for about $600-700 but you have to be lucky with your roommates and it’s better to find some doctoral students or 30-something+ professionals rather than college or recent grads. Harvard Univ. has a housing office but I have found it to be wimpy and useless compared to the mighty Boston.Craigslist.org.
Regarding HES itself, tread carefully. Yes, it’s an excellent financial deal, but you are coming to a school which attracts people from all over the country and it’s a smart, competitive and somewhat cut-throat student population of 90% premeds. Don’t get me wrong, lots of nice folks but it’s not going to be an easy 4.0 GPA at that school.
The General Chemistry, Biology, and Physics courses are excellent, but the Organic course is somewhat in flux with a recent turnover of professors. I just completed summer school orgo after a less-than-stellar performance in the HES orgo course, and I can tell you the summer school course is excellent–well organized, fair grading, great teaching fellows (Harvard-speak for teaching assistants) and a fab prof.
The HES classes are 200+ students in a large lecture hall, plus smaller discussion sections. They make good use of the web, with pdfs of the lecture notes, practice exams, etc. made available. The labs are well run and fairly graded.
In retrospect, knowing what I know and in view of my less-than-great grades, I might have chosen a different university like Northeastern U. which has smaller classes, fewer pre-meds among a diverse mix of students, and some very good profs. If there’s an opportunity to get better grades at a lesser known school yet still learn the material and do well on the MCAT, I would definitely advise that route. My 2 or rather 10 cents, take from it what you will, and good luck!