Updated: Jan 12, 2020
You've completed your college education. You're happy that's over, but your GPA is less than competitive to apply to medical school. I'd dare to guess that a majority of non-traditional pre-meds would cite low GPA as the reason that they haven't, yet, applied to medical school. If this is your reason, then you know that improving your GPA will be your next best step to becoming an applicant that medical schools will consider. Now, the million dollar question is, "undergraduate post-bac or Master's program?"
There are a few options when it comes to improving your academic record. I'll cover the different types of programs that exist in more depth in a future post. Briefly, structured options include official post-baccalaureate programs, science-based Master's programs, and Special Master's programs (SMPs). Unstructured options include enrolling into individual science courses that you think might offset the blemishes on your college transcript.
I'm constantly asked by pre-med which option is best. The answer isn't straightforward. It really depends on a number of factors. Just remember that at the end of the day, your performance in the courses is what matters to medical schools. Here are some factors to consider when trying to decide what type of program is right for you.
Take a look at your transcript and determine if your medical school pre-requisite courses need to be repeated. For example, if you got a number of Cs and Ds in your pre-reqs, you might consider retaking these. Sure, these grades will still show up on your application, but doing significantly better in these courses will not only help improve your GPA, but will help you build your foundational knowledge for the MCAT and medical school. Advanced science courses be it 200 or 300 level undergraduate courses or Masters level course will demonstrate your ability to grasp more complex concepts.
Some non-traditional pre-meds might have geographical limitations due to financial or social situations. Marriage, children, job opportunities, and cost of living often play a role in determining where one can do additional academic work. You might find yourself in a situation that doesn't allow you to move to a different location for a particular program. Some programs offer online options. Be sure that the medical schools that interest you accept online pre-requisite courses.
As I mentioned above, finances might be the difference between choosing one program over another. Programs and courses vary in cost. Should you take financial aid or pay out-of-pocket? Certainly, this is something that each non-traditional pre-med has to decide on an individual basis. If you are concerned about running out of federal aid once you are in medical school, choosing a program or courses that you can pay for out-of-pocket might be the way to go. Of course, you can always see if you qualify for any scholarships.
How much time do you have? Do you need to factor in a long commute? Will your other obligations like family and work take away from your ability to excel during this additional academic work. Before you make the commitment to improving your academic record, be sure that you will have the appropriate amount of time to dedicate. Doing a structured program might require more time commitment since the classes are pre-determined for you, while choosing to do individual courses might afford you more control over the amount of time you spend in the classroom.
Are you really ready? Before even thinking about post-bac or Master's programs, make sure that you are in the right mindset to embark upon this journey of additional academic work. Once you've determined that you are, ask yourself what will increase your chances of improving both your knowledge and GPA - if starting out slowly with just one or two courses or jumping right into a rigorous Master's program. Whatever you choose, be ready to make the grade!
At the end of the day, admissions committees care how your academic performance has progressed over time. So, whether regardless of what type of program you choose, the bottom line is - PERFORM WELL!
If you'd like to learn more about how to become an applicant that medical schools want, pick up this FREE strategy cheatsheet: 5 Strategies you're currently NOT using to get into medical school!