Postbaccalaureate Programs

What Are Postbaccalaureate Programs?

The term postbaccalaureate can be very confusing. An article from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), “What Exactly Are Post-bac Programs?”, provides an excellent explanation: “In the broadest sense, the term ‘post-bac’ is used to describe any program after the undergraduate degree designed to support the transition from undergraduate to professional school.” These programs can be degree granting, nondegree or provide a certificate.

Health sciences postbaccalaureate programs are designed to help students who obtained nonscience undergraduate degrees strengthen academic credentials or fulfill prerequisite courses, as in the case of a liberal arts major who decides to become an orthodontist. In most cases, a postbaccalaureate program may strengthen your application to dental school.

Which Kind of Student Are You?

As you will discover, there are a wide variety of programs, structured and unstructured. Some have been around for a long time while others are new. Program length varies from a few months to two years. Some offer academic credit but no degree. Some offer a master’s degree.

What kind of program you choose to apply to will depend on your current financial situation, academic record and the type of courses you took in undergraduate school. Are you:

A nonscience major? Although you do not have to major in a science to be accepted into a dental school program, you must fulfill specific science prerequisites. Students often enroll in this type of post-bac program to meet these requirements. 

A science major who completed prerequisites but wishes to enhance your academic record? These types of programs allow you to take courses that can help you bolster your academic record. To be a competitive applicant, you must demonstrate significant academic improvement and do extremely well in these courses. Schools are looking for students who persevere and go above and beyond what is expected. These programs may be perceived as providing an academic makeover. But unlike a fashion makeover, you must put in the hard work to earn a seat in a professional school. 

An underrepresented minority student or an economically or educationally disadvantaged student? Some of these programs offer academic enrichment and support. They may offer background science courses, academic enhancement classes and/or test prep classes. Schools that offer these programs may guarantee a seat in their program for students whose performance meets specific requirements. At some schools, students accepted into the program do not pay tuition, and in some cases, they must be selected by the school rather than apply for a spot.

What Should You Know Before You Decide?

Programs vary widely so it’s important to consider why you are going, what you hope to achieve, how much money you can afford to spend on a program and what types of help and resources you expect from the program.

Before you make any decisions, make sure you have answers to all of your questions and that the information you are relying on to make your decision is current and correct.

The first step is to find programs that match your objectives. Once you have done that, start asking questions about the program. Talk to administrators and faculty at the schools you are considering and also see if you can talk to program graduates

Lolita Wood-Hill, Director of Pre-health Advisement at Yeshiva University in New York City, offers some good questions to ask:

  • Are all students given committee letters?
  • Are there GPA cutoffs for committee letter support?
  • What are the retention/attrition rates and how are they used in acceptance data?  
  • Are the statistics reflective of the success or failure of dropped students?
  • If you are a student with special considerations—disadvantaged, single parent, student with a learning disability, etc.—does the program have data to show the success rates for your group?”

In addition, answering the following questions can provide information that will help with your decision:

Were your grades high but your test scores low?If you have strong grades in your prerequisite classes, but your test scores aren’t that great, then you may need an assessment of your test-taking skills and help with learning how to take tests so your scores reflect your knowledge. In that case, a commercial test prep program may be your best option. If you have a history of poor performance on high-stakes standardized tests, consulting with your college or university’s learning center could be helpful. Center staff may have test-prep resources you can use as well as suggestions for maximizing your performance on standardized tests.

Which will provide the most benefit—a certificate program or a master’s degree? In general, certificate programs are geared to students without a significant science background who need those science classes. Master’s of Science programs are for those students who have the science background but need an academic boost. If you are enhancing your academic record, make sure to consider what kind of program would be best for your situation.

How much time do you want to spend in a program and how much tuition can you afford? Programs are typically one to two years long. Cost is another critical variable to consider. Tuition varies widely, from less than $20,000 to more than $40,000, so it’s wise to choose carefully, making sure that the program you select will provide what you need at a cost-effective price. It’s important to keep in mind that there is rarely financial aid available for programs like these, except for loans, so understanding what you can afford should be a critical part of your decision-making process. 

Does the program provide an advisor? An advisor can help with school applications and academic and career guidance. It may be that the guidance you receive is worth as much or more than the classes you take, so make sure to ask about what is available.

An advisor may also be able to help with letters of evaluation, which you may also be able to get from the coordinator or one of the faculty members in the program.

What are class sizes for the programs you are considering?Post-bac programs generally have small class sizes, making it easier to ask questions and ensure that you understand the concepts and material presented. That’s important for every kind of student considering a post-bac program.

A post-bac program can be a critical step in preparing for the career you have chosen, so you should carefully consider available programs and figure out which meet your needs. It’s important to consider why you think it’s important, the value that completing such a program will return to you and if the amount of time and money spent will be worth it.