Formal vs informal Post Bacc overview

Note: this topic was started in a different thread. Just moving it hear for ease

  • amykaylit Said:
I have a stupid question...what's the difference between post-bac program and taking the classes needed at a four year college after you are done with your degree?

  • spoxjox Said:
Not a stupid question at all! ...

A post-bacc program is just that: A program. When you finish, you get to show the medical school that you have completed a program, and even have a little certificate to show them. As far as I can tell, that's the only real difference.

There are several important differences between formal and informal (e.g. taking classes on your own) post-bacc program. Additionally there are big differences among post-bacc programs

For those who may not know, Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical programs are exactly what the names implies. Pre-medical prerequisite courses for those who already have a bachelor's degree. They come in several flavors as used by the AAMC in formal programs

Formal Programs

80 undergraduate programs

*all non-degree, split between certificate and non-certificate

48 graduate programs

*non-degree with both certificate and non-certificate

*degree with traditional masters with thesis/hard science

*degree special masters program with applied/medical science, some have thesis


*undergraduate, degree programs

*undergraduate, non-degree/non-matriculat ed classes

*graduate (should be included too I guess, but I don’t have much info/experience)

Here are some differences/things to consider (by no means is this list complete)

1) Classes: In formal programs, you may have a higher priority and/or separate classes for the pre-reqs as you would for an undergrad degree program. As a non-matriculated student, you are last on the list for class space. Colleges have cut class offerings and this is a real issue for some students, as in California schools.

2) Advising: Most for post-bacc programs, there is at least some formal advising for students, probably as good as premed advising for regular degree undergrads. I am under the impression that a large percentage, probably a majority, of formal programs have dedicated staff separate from regular undergrad advisors. The formal post-bacs should be better at dealing with non-traditional students than typical UG advisors.

3) Cost: Most formal programs are going to cost more than typical undergrad classes and you may not be getting much more. For example, SUNY Stony Brook charges graduate course rates for the formal post-bacc yet you’re in the same classes with regular undergrads who pay about 1/3 as much for a class. Some programs can cost an arm, a leg, a lung, 3 feet of intestines, and a lobe of your liver.

4) Linkage: Some formal post-bacs have strong linkages with medical schools that may give you a leg up in terms of prestige.

5) Volunteer/Research: Some formal programs seem to have more organized volunteer and research arrangements

Now, despite all the above, I actually am not a real big fan of formal programs. There is wide variation amongst programs, many are designed with the concept of recent college graduate with good to great background, have very structured scheduling, and are expensive. As always, it really depends what your needs, budget, location, scheduling, etc. So you really have to explore, examine, and evaluate programs independently.

There are really 3 general types of postbacc programs.

  1. Formal w/ linkage (e.g. Scripps, Gaucher, Mills, Bryn Mawr)

  2. Formal w/ no linkage (e.g. USC, Harvard Extension, Upenn)

  3. Informal/DOY (e.g. state school, community colleges)

    The big payoff with 1) is linkage. If you can get accepted to these programs, you are virtually guaranteed a seat in a US MD school the following year. That is amazing! Well worth the cost.

    The payoff in 2) is the name recognition of the school and being able to finish the prereqs in 1 yr FT (this is becoming more and more difficult at state schools, esp in CA, with budget cuts & lack of registration priority for postbacc/non-matriculated students) Med school acceptance rate is 75%. Cost is still worth it IMHO. And cost at Harvard Extension is actually not much more than some state schools.

    The payoff in 3) is initial cost. If you only want to go part-time, do not want to take out loans, will not apply to the most selective med schools, or are geographically stuck then this is a good route to consider. Anyone know informal postbacc acceptance rates?

    Everyone has there reasons for choosing a certain path, but formal postbaccs definitely offer more than a just a pretty little certificate. Actually, I never even got one of these!

another difference is most post-bacs programs were originally designed around the concept that most students will be recent college graduates with good to excellent academic records who took few, if any pre-reqs. I would even go as far as saying the older programs, such as columbia, assumed non-science students would be their demographic. This philosophy still lingers and has an impact on who the schools will accept into their programs.

In the past few years, there have been programs developed and designed specifically for the older student who need to raise GPA, repeat or renew previously taken science courses, and shows the ability to deal with medical-school level work. The Special Masters at Georgetown comes to mind.

There are also several programs not simply linked to medical schools, but run by the medical schools themselves.

The above factors as well as items raised in previous posts overlap in many ways and do not make for easy classification or review of programs.

Oh, take with a grain of salt programs that promote themselves as having high acceptance rates into medical school. These schools often base acceptances into medical school as a percentage of those who apply to med school. Seems reasonable. Except some programs would not give you a committee letter, which you needed to apply, unless you had made the program’s internal cut off criteria. Columbia used to famous for this. So they had an 85%-90% acceptance rate because they wouldn’t give you a letter unless you had a 3.7 GPA and 30 MCAT. This situation may have changed.

One other thing that attracts people to formal programs (and is the primary thing for many students) is that you get a committee letter. Having personally decided to go the expensive route at a private university, I have hemmed and hawed, wondering about the cost.

But, after working through the finances with my husband, decided that it was worth the cost. I know some people disagree, or have other priorities. But for me, the committee letter is important. Although I have lots of good professional references, a school’s committee letter usually synthesizes all of your references from previous jobs, as well as your academic credentials, into one letter. Also, the linkage program is key. Finally, but not lastly, and the environment of intellectual stimulation provided by both my peers and the school itself, I think, will help me get in somewhere - as long as I maintain an A or an A- average (not an easy feat in and of itself).

But I am the kind of girl that thrives in more structure, so that is another reason for the formal program. I am lucky to have a supportive family. We have little money, but somehow we are swinging it.

  • AntMan Said:
There are really 3 general types of postbacc programs.

1) Formal w/ linkage (e.g. Scripps, Gaucher, Mills, Bryn Mawr)

The big payoff with 1) is linkage. If you can get accepted to these programs, you are virtually guaranteed a seat in a US MD school the following year. That is amazing! Well worth the cost.

Unfortunately there are no guarantees. If you don't "make the grade" [no pun intended] for what they require to recommend you to their linkage school(s) you won't get in. When you are doing your research about p/b linkage programs, be sure to ask how many graduates were admitted immediately to med school and how many had to reapply. Also, how many entered the program, and how many of that same cohort completed the program? Additionally, how many didn't ever get in? (The p/b program may not know the answer to this.)



The main advantage to joining a post-bac program is access to resources. A good one will provide advice and support with the medical school application process beyond just a committee letter. They should have advisor(s) to help you choose courses, plan your time line and help you decide where to apply. A good post-bac program may offer help finding shadowing, research and/or volunteer opportunities. These first two may be more difficult to find on your own. Does the program offer an MCAT prep course, help with writing your personal statement, or mock interviews? Post-bac programs that grant a certificate or degree probably will have financial aid available and may offer scholarships as well. Costs vary widely and so do program requirements. If you’re considering a post-bac, find out exactly what the tuition and other charges are and ask how flexible the curriculum is. The time and effort required to prepare for medical school is a significant investment. If you choose to do a post-bac program, make sure you’re getting a good value.

Excellent advice!!



  • AntMan Said:

The big payoff with 1) is linkage. If you can get accepted to these programs, you are virtually guaranteed a seat in a US MD school the following year. That is amazing! Well worth the cost.

From what I've learned, this is not accurate. The linkage only allows a student to apply early and skip the glide year if:

1. There are seats left in the medical school after the general pool has been exhausted.

2. You make the grade. Then, you may get an interview. Just because there is a linkage, it doesn't mean you will be accepted.

The only program that I know of that guarantees a spot in medical school from their postbacc program is Temple University. The linkage is with the medical school at Temple only. So, it would seem that this particular program would not be for those looking for GPA enhancement. I assume getting into Temple's postbacc is as difficult as getting into medical school.

I have been looking into some post-bacc programs and I read the same information, there is no “guarantee”. I was looking into them primarily for extra credits to help with my GPA.

The only guarantee when it comes to medical school is that if you don’t work hard, dont spend long hours at the books, and you don’t apply, you wont get in.

But if you do work day after day, prepare intensely for the MCAT, write a stellar personal statement and have a smashing interview, you might get in.

Even with a low original undergraduate GPA, post-bacc will help immensely.

Your GPA is broken down into several categories on your application.:

original UG GPA (science & non-science)

post-bacc GPA (science non-science)

above combined GPA (science non-science)

graduate GPA (science non-science)

all combined GPA (science non-science)

overall GPA (single GPA)

So they will see if you have a vast improvement from poor old UG days to new and improved post-bacc days.

BTW, this will even be more pronounced in DO applications as the process mechanics will take the highest grade in a repeated course and drop the other grade in the GPA calculation. MD applications count every grade towards GPA

Thank you for the insight Richard. That breakdown helps a lot.

Getting into Temple’s program is, in fact, highly competitive.

Unfortunately, Temple’s 2009-2010 class only had a 20% success rate. They spent a lot of money expanding the program to 20. 80% of the students did not get the 3.5 and 30. For the most part, because the program was not designed properly for the students to succeed at the MCAT.

These are the basic core results. No idea what happened with the advanced group.