Postbac Programs--Can't Decide!

Hi all–

I am new to this site, but am so glad to find it. A quick word about me–I am 26, female, living in NYC, and have been working as an education non-profit employee by day and a poet by night the last several years. I have a BA in English and a Masters in creative writing. Recently–and partially as a result of donating an organ to my sister–I have decided, unequivocally, to pursue a career in medicine. I have been on cloud 9 ever since coming to this conclusion–I can’t wait!

Now I am trying to make some practical decisions about where to get my postbac starting this fall. I have done my homework and read the other posts about this on this site, hoping for insight, but still feel lost. I’m basically torn between doing a very expensive postbac at NYU or Columbia or saving a lot of money by going to Hunter or CUNY. It seems like there’s no middle ground in this town. It also seems like people who do expensive postbacs find ways to justify going into massive debt and people who go a cheaper route find ways to justify going to a school that may not immediately ‘wow’ adcoms.

But is there conventional wisdom on this? Is it a situation where if you can find a way to make it work financially you should go to the most prestigious program you can? And if you can’t, it’s ok because you’ll still probably get into med school if you get good grades and otherwise have an impressive application? Right now, it’s looking like a combination of loans, a parental safety net, and the fact that I have no little mouths to feed will make one of these high-profile, high-priced programs feasible, but is it a waste of money? I want to do everything in my power to get into a good med school in a timely fashion, but I don’t want to be a sucker! (By the way, to the great majority of you who can’t or won’t get help from parents or family–my hat goes off to you. You have my deepest respect.)

So, anyway, the expense of the pricier programs is scary and a big deal, but it wouldn’t cause my life to implode. But, if it’s totally unnecessary to go into massive debt (before even starting med school) I would obviously prefer not to. What should I do? I would greatly appreciate any advice anyone could give on this subject.

Thank you!


Hey Lauren,

I am over on Long Island and had a similar issue with post-baccs. While the big schools like Columbia and NYU seem to have the punch with adcoms and their acceptance rates high, it cane be a little misleading. For example, Columbia will not write you a university letter for ascoms unless you meet their standards. So they weed out people and boost their acceptance rate.

My opinion what you need is to excel in any program you choose. Why put the stress of money and brutal competition in Columbia on yourself when you can go to good programs at hunter or CUNY? (one of current OPM members is going to the columbia program right now) Doing well in class, getting clincal experience, preparing for MCATs and being on top of the application process are what you need. If you are just starting out, you may want to consider the Sophie Davis combined BS/MD program which is part of CUNY. It is seven years but it would take you 2 or 3 to get your pre-reqs done anyway, so it is no longer than doing it seperately. If you get accepted, and keep to their standards, you get into a med school “automatically” (I think they have seats at 6 or 7 med schools as part of the BS/MD)

Drop me a line if you wnat to discuss further.

Welcome, fellow English major and sometime poet! I am in Chicago… I decided to pop for the expense of Northwestern’s school of continuing studies for my postbacc. I took a bio class at a city community college and it was not rigorous enough. It was far too easy, and I knew it immediately. Northwestern has a big name and the classes are very challenging; I know that they will prepare me for the MCAT in ways that the comm colleges would not.

However, I understand that both Hunter and CUNY are supposed to be excellent. If that is the case, then there is really no reason to spend the extra $$$. My advice is to talk to students from all of the programs, and see what they say. After that, consider taking one class (a prereq for the prereqs - perhaps Bio 100 or similar class?) at Hunter or CUNY and seeing how it goes. Find out for yourself if you think that their classes will prepare you. I think that’s the most important thing- plenty of people have gotten into medical school from community colleges or lower-tier colleges. You just have to be sure that you will be prepared academically for the MCAT and for med school, when you get there, which you will.

Good luck.

Thanks, Rich and SLB, for the thoughtful responses. After much deliberation and despite your assurances that Hunter and CUNY have great programs/classes, I have decided to go ahead and do one of the pricier programs. I do believe that Hunter and CUNY are good schools and that many students therein successfully go on to medical school, but the opportunity to go to one of these fancy postbac programs is just too good for me to pass up. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea to test the waters with a class at Hunter or CUNY, but at this point, I am prioritizing getting this process well underway so I can matriculate at med school sooner rather than later.

Haha, I amuse myself with my frantic attempts to justify spending so much. I can only assume though that I would be frantically trying to justify NOT doing a big name postbac had I chosen to go the other way. I guess we’ll see if I change my tune when, decades hence, I am still chipping away at my student loans.

ANYWAY, thanks again for writing. I am so happy to have found a place like this to talk about this stuff.

Just a clarification on nomenclature for those who are trying to get informed and may be confused.

City University of New York (or CUNY) is the name of the University system– with two-year and four-year campuses across the five boroughs. Confusingly, the SUNY system also has a couple of campuses within New York City itself, including SUNY-Maritime, and the SUNY Downstate medical school.

The major postbacc programs that many people go to are CUNY-Hunter College (it’s a skyscraper in the east fifties) and CUNY-City College of New York (the most historic CUNY campus, located in Harlem.) I did my postbacc at CCNY (2003-2006). Sophie Davis students are students of City College, not Hunter. You will know them as the kids in your classes who are cackling all the time about not having to take the MCAT.

I should add-- the campuses in the outer boroughs, while they may not have official “postbacc premed” programs, have health professions committees that interview you, and write good committee letters and send lots and lots of their undergraduates to medical school and dental school. If you live closest to one of these campuses, it is highly likely that one of the advisors at Queens College, Brooklyn College, Lehman, etc., would take you in, let you take your two years of classes, and then advise you in a med school application. All you can do is ask-- and it may save you two years of train rides from Harlem to god knows where at 11pm at night. If you are working during the day, you should expect that at least one lab per semester is going to be ending thereabouts, and plan your life accordingly.

I have really mixed opinions about City College, but I would prefer not to share them with the world at large, because I like to accentuate the positive in group communications. However, I am happy to share my experiences in private, so anyone trying to decide on a NYC postbacc is welcome to send a pm.


you should base your decision on how well you think you’ll do rather than on how concentrated or how prestigious a program is. Your grades, once recorded, can never be erased. If you go to Columbia and get straight A’s or mostly A’s, great! But if you stumble and get some C’s because you didn’t realize how much work it would be or hadn’t given yourself enough time to develop the right study habits for scientific courses, then you will (1) limit what medical schools will accept you and (2) risk not getting a letter of recommendation from the program.

Think of this as a long term project. It takes about ten years to become a physician and that’s assuming you don’t do one of the longer residencies. At your age, an extra year to complete your prereqs is nothing, and it may make the difference between getting into the school of your choice. Best of luck,


Thanks for the info. For some reason I had it in my head that Hunter was like a 2nd tier 4-year school, not part of the city college system. No idea where I got that from. NY’s city college system sounds like Chicago’s, but bigger.

Terry- I agree about getting in over one’s head. But MetaKitty could always drop before the deadline if she is in over her head. I eased in a little bit with one class at a city college, but in the end decided it wasn’t challenging enough - if I’d just jumped in at Northwestern, I’d be a semester ahead. Either way there are pros and cons. Of course.