Often seen as a stepping stone between an undergraduate and graduate program, postbaccalaureate programs can help prepare students for a new or different area of study. But, more than just a leg up, a postbaccalaureate program can be a major financial commitment—anywhere between $15,000 and $45,000 a year.
So, just what is this program, and how can it benefit students? Read on to learn the benefits, drawbacks, and financing behind a postbaccalaureate degree.
What is a Postbaccalaureate Degree?
A postbaccalaureate degree or program is typically one or two years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Students may enroll in a postbaccalaureate program for a variety of reasons, including:
• Completing a second bachelor’s degree.
• Working towards a graduate certificate.
• Taking prerequisite courses required for admission into a graduate program.
A postbaccalaureate program isn’t a graduate degree, but students may enroll in the one to two-year programs before heading off to a grad program.
Applying to a postbaccalaureate program will differ from school to school, but students can generally expect to submit their transcripts, as well as test scores, recommendations, and an essay.
Sometimes called post-bacc, these programs are popular among college graduates who hope to enroll in medical school. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, postbaccalaureate medical programs focus on science, biology, and other subjects required before med school.
Here’s why post-bacc programs might help a student hoping to apply to medical school:
• It offers the appropriate prerequisites. If a student wasn’t on a pre-med track in undergrad, but they decide they want to pursue a graduate program in medicine, a post-bacc program makes it easier to take all the required courses before applying to med school.
While a student may have studied the humanities in their undergrad and taken a few biology introduction courses, a post-bacc can help them take the advanced courses required before a student even enters med school.
• It gives them an opportunity to improve their grades. If a pre-med student graduated with a low GPA, they might elect to retake some of the courses in a post-bacc program to boost their numbers. It gives them not only a chance to review material they might’ve missed but also a way to enhance their application with better grades.
Similarly, if someone is considering a career change into medicine, they may be required to take courses again before applying to med school. That’s because some schools have expiration dates on courses accepted. Other schools sometimes give preferential treatment to students who have completed their pre-reqs more recently.
• It can help strengthen an application. If a student is reapplying to medical school, they might first attend a post-bacc program to get an edge up on the competition.
• It can be a supporting supplement for students with weaker MCAT scores. If a student has taken the MCAT multiple times with borderline scores, getting strong marks in a post-bacc program can be a helpful ace up their sleeve in the application. It can show a commitment to the area of study, despite low test scores.
Going to a post-bacc program might be the right fit for some students looking to enter a medical graduate program, but it by no means is a requirement.
Pros of a Postbaccalaureate
A postbaccalaureate program can offer many benefits for the right student. Here are some of the pros they can expect on their way to a graduate program:
• Flexible studying. Postbaccalaureate students have a lot of flexibility in the program. They can usually choose to study full time or part time while they work, based on their availability and schedule. Full time programs are typically a year long, and part time programs take closer to two years.
• Linkage programs. Many postbaccalaureate programs are housed within a medical school . While participating in the school’s postbaccalaureate program won’t guarantee admission in its medical program, it could give a student a leg up in the application process.
• MCAT prep. Some, but not all, postbaccalaureate programs include MCAT tutoring and prep in admission and pricing. For some students, this can be a great prep opportunity or way to raise test scores.
• Networking and experience. In addition to courses, some postbaccalaureate programs will also offer speciality programming and networking opportunities for students. This can be an opportunity to learn more about medical specialties from events, or network with fellow students.
• An introduction, without the long term commitment. A postbaccalaureate program can give students just a taste of what medical school might be like. However, instead of studying for years, it could be just a couple months or two years at most. If a student decides med school just isn’t for them during a postbaccalaureate program it’s less time and money spent.
Cons of a Postbaccalaureate
While a post-bacc program will offer many benefits, these programs do have their fair share of drawbacks. Consider these cons before attending a postbaccalaureate program:
• Not all programs offer federal aid. Postbaccalaureate programs can be pricey, and when it comes to aid, some students will be on their own to find a way to pay . Some, but not all, post-bacc programs will have federal aid packages.
• They could be overkill. While postbaccalaureates can be a great refresher on subjects for students, the demanding curriculum could be too demanding academically and financially. It helps to crunch the numbers. In some cases, students might choose simply to take a few prerequisite courses at a community college instead of paying for a post-bacc program.
• Losing out on experience. Postbaccalaureate programs offer their own benefits and experience, but enrolling in could mean missing out on real-world experiences or work, especially if done full time.
• Post-bacc programs aren’t all built the same. Students shouldn’t expect the same experience from every post-bacc program. Different schools will offer different focuses and programs. Some are more geared towards enhancing a student’s academic record, while others are actively seeking to engage economically disadvantaged or underrepresented students. The American Association of Medical Colleges has a full catalogue of programs across the country.
• It doesn’t guarantee admission. Post-bacc med programs can give students a leg up when it comes to boosting their GPAs and MCAT prep, but they are not a guarantee that a student will gain admission to medical school. If a student is considering enrolling in a postbaccalaureate program solely for admissions purposes, they might want to rethink their motivation.
Postbaccalaureate programs are programs beyond undergraduate school but do not result in a graduate degree. They are often used as a stepping stone for people who are making a career transition or are interested in pursuing higher education, such as medical school.
The choice to enroll in a post-bacc program is deeply personal, just like how a student decides to pay for school. Whether or not a person chooses to head straight into a postbaccalaureate program immediately after undergrad or not, keeping an eye on their student loans is important.
Depending on a student’s loan structure, students may be expected to make loan payments while enrolled in a post-bacc program.
Some students may find that refinancing student loan debt can help them reduce their interest rates. Refinancing federal student loans eliminates them from federal benefits like deferment so it’s not an appropriate option for everyone.
But for students interested in refinancing, SoFi offers flexible terms and no hidden fees.
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