post-bacc vs. 'do-it-yourself'/non-formal programs?

I’m a ‘career-changer’ who recently graduated from an Ivy w/ a 3.7+ GPA in poli-sci, and am now looking to complete the pre-med science reqs (although I have already taken 1Y Chem).

  1. I was wondering: Do Med schools noticeably favor applicants from formal post-bacc programs over those who take the classes on their own? That is, GPA/MCAT being equal, would applicants who took classes from high quality, 4-year Universities (eg., Michigan) tend to lose out to those from post-bacc simply because of a program’s prestige/explicitly pre-professional nature/agreements with medschools/etc.

    When I see that programs like Goucher or Harvard are boasting 85-90% med school acceptance rates, it seems like there must be some additional ‘edge’ (in addition to advising/linkage) they possess.

  2. For the post-bacc route, which programs are considered especially good (good trackrecord of placement, high-quality classes, good advising/research opps, etc.)?

  3. Finally (for both post-bacc and informal), how much do med schools weigh GPA based on either the rigorousness of the institution? Does, say, a 3.6 at an Ivy beat a 3.8 at a mediocre school, or is it more similar to law school?

    Thanks for all the help!

I do think that comparing acceptance rates of post-bacc programs vs. DIY students is an apples to oranges comparison. The post-bacc group is a skewed sample: they are putting a LOT of time and money into the pursuit so one could reasonably presume that they are most dedicated. The DIY’ers can absolutely be just as dedicated, but there will be some who aren’t going about it as systematically, perhaps, as the post-baccs. (I am always surprised to hear stories of people who just jump in, take some classes and apply - without really having a Plan. I’m also surprised that THEY are surprised when they don’t get in.)

The post-bacc’ers are also cherry-picked. They have to meet high standards to get into the program, whereas the DIYs, as you know from looking around here, can have a lot of academic “sins” to make up for. (“sins” that would keep them from getting into a post-bacc) Some folks are able to overcome those past academic problems and get in anyway - but others are not.

So for a good student with a good past academic record and a clear sense of where you are going, I say no - a formal post-bacc is not required and in fact is a very silly way to waste your money. You are going to accrue a good bit of debt, anyway - save your money while you can.

As for comparative GPAs: alma mater isn’t important, MCAT is! If you have a great GPA from a top-notch school, but a mediocre MCAT, you are not going to look as good as someone with a great GPA from a no-name school. MCAT is the great equalizer.

Good luck


Hello Dr. Renard. My name is B. I am a bus driver in Chicago who desparatley want to apply to med school. for years i have been telling myself i wasn’t good enough. Currently i graduated with a BS in Biochem with a B- GPA. Working a full-time blue collar union job and going to school is not easy. I shall never forget glycolysis over the steering while parked! Anyway, I have volunteer work with an attending physician overnight after driving the bus and most currently an ophthamologist. Its hard to find volunteer work around my schedule so i get in where I can. I think i am as non-traditional as it gets. Currently studying for the MCAT because i’ve taken what would be in postbacc so thats not an option. Choices of schools: Johns Hopkins, Cornell, U of Chicago, and U of IL in Urbana Champaign. I know these are competitive!!! My main point though is: One must have a C or better in all courses. I have CCBCBCCCBCACBC. A straight-A violin playing super student I am not. Am i good enough? looking for guidance please. Thanx and happy new year.

B, since this thread was started for a specific question, how about if you start a thread, sharing a little more about what you’ve done to date, and asking folks for their ideas? I hate to hijack someone else’s thread.

You’re starting at a disadvantage with a B- GPA, but I am sure you know that. It sounds like you have lots of questions - start your own discussion and see what happens.

Good luck!


SeekingGuidance, while there may be some advantage, as Dr. Renard describes,to participating in a formal post-bac program and some ad com members may have a prejudice of this sort, there is another side. If you are not in a position to enroll in one of those, then an informal program is a viable alternative.

I think the key is to plan ahead and demonstrate steady progress with high achievement. This would counter the shotgun approach to which Mary alludes. For example, one might plan to attend full-time for two years completing all of the required sciences before taking the MCAT. Then, during the “glide” year/application process there would be time for taking additional upper division biology coursework and/or applied experience in biomedical research.

There are, of course, other formats which would achieve the same impression, but “informal” doesn’t have to mean uncoordinated. And, carried out according to a plan they can be successful.