Why Post-Baccalaureate Programs Can Help Premed Students with Low GPAs Get Into Medical School

Looking into a post-baccalaureate program to boost your chances for getting into medical school?

If you're premed and you have a low GPA then post-baccalaureate programs may be your backdoor to medical school. 

There are two camps of students:

  1. Premed
  2. Career-Changer

I will focus most of my time on the premed students. Career-changers go here.

Two Types of Premed Students Choosing Post-Bacs

There really are two types of premed students who are choosing post-bac programs.

You completed most or all of your requirements for medical school but have a low GPA. 

This is you when your grade point average is below 3.3.

The other type of premed student has an extremely low GPA below 2.9 and still wants to go to medical school.

At any rate you both have a problem.

You're not competitive to get into medical school right now. Luckily this is not a permanent problem.

 You can take steps to fix your GPA and become a more attractive applicant for AdComs.

I will touch on that a bit later but for right now let's discuss your options.

Semi-Decent GPA aka above 3.0

If you're premed and you have a GPA above 3.0 then you have a fighting chance of getting into a post-baccalaureate program and certainly medical school afterward.

Your GPA tells me you can do the work but may have experienced some setbacks in undergrad that prevented you from doing well. 

Usually, setbacks include:

  • adjusting to college
  • death/illness
  • lack of motivation

What I can tell you is a lack of motivation is a red flag for any admissions committee member.

But if you struggled during your freshman year of college those things can be explained and spun in a more positive light. What AdComs will want to see is an upward trend in your grades.

You want your most recent grades to be higher than those of past semesters. AdComs can work with you then.

Otherwise, if your grades decline as your progress in your undergraduate schooling that's a big no-no. You're expected by this point to have an understanding of college and to have developed good study habits so you can perform well academically.

Life happens, even while in college.

If you lost a close relative the grieving process can certainly take its toll where you're unable to focus on everything including school.

When this happens you may see a huge dip in your grades for a semester or two. You can easily explain this to AdComs that you were dealing with XYZ issue and it negatively affected your grades.

The Caveat.

Your grades have to come back to where they originally were.

You are given a grace of one or two semesters and anything beyond this just means you're a student who is not meeting the academic standards to be competitive for getting into medical school. 

There's a specific type of post-baccalaureate program I want you to apply for if you have above a 3.0 GPA and have taken all or most of your premed classes.

You need to enroll in a Special Masters Program (SMP)

I will come back to this topic shortly but first I want to address those with very low GPAs.

Post-Baccalaureate Lecture Hall at Boston University School of MedicinePost-Baccalaureate Classroom at Boston University School of Medicine

Very Low GPA and Post-Baccalaureate Options

If you have a GPA below 3.0 and you want to get into a post-bac program there are going to be lots of hurdles for you to overcome.

For starters, your GPA in itself is a problem for many post-baccalaureate programs. When you look into programs you are considering you're going to get a harsh dose of reality.

The post-bac websites will tell you they do NOT accept applications from students who are below 3.0.

The reason being you're too big of an academic risk even for them. 

Now you're really in a huge hole.

The options are not looking good for getting into medical school either.

Here's why.

At some point along the way you should have realized my GPA is in the toilet and it's sinking like the Titanic. Once you come to this realization you need to stop taking your science courses and figure out what is going wrong.

I'm sharing this advice not to bash you but for your peers who may find themselves in a similar predicament and currently searching for advice.

You take the time out to determine what's working and what's not working. If you don't then you are practically shunned from any program.

The big issue is that fixing a bad GPA is nearly impossible.

How to Fix Your GPA for Post-Bac Programs

Unfortunately, your GPA is the hardest portion of your medical school application to fix. It's practically set in stone especially after you've taken lots of science courses.

What you need to do is evaluate your options.

For starters, I would recommend using a GPA calculator to get an idea of how many credits with what types of grades you would need to get for there to be any meaningful boost in your GPA.

If you "run the numbers" and your GPA is not budging you're up a creek without a paddle and not much that can be done.

On the other hand, you may see if you can get a couple of additional courses in the sciences and you see a movement in your grade point average this is very good.

You have one single goal right now.

That's to improve your GPA to as close as 3.0 as you can get it so you can at least apply to post-bac programs.

Even if you aren't at 3.0 here's what I advise you do.

You need to get on the telephone contact the post-baccalaureate programs you're interested in and ask:

"I see on your website it says you need a 3.0 GPA or better to apply is this a hard cutoff or is there wiggle room?"

They will either tell you it's a hard cutoff or they take a holistic approach to applicants or some variation of all of this.

This means for all the programs with a hard cutoff don't even waste your time or money applying. 

When there's a hard cutoff at a post-baccalaureate program here's the unspoken rule, "You need a minimum of 3.0 to apply but those who we accept are well above the minimum requirement."

Sounds harsh.

As medical school admissions become more and more competitive it just means these "feeder programs" as you can picture your post-bac to be will become difficult to secure a spot in as well.

All is not lost if you have very low GPA and applying to post-bacs.

If you saw with additional coursework you can improve your GPA then get to work on taking more science courses. 

One great option would be to take biochemistry if you have not done so already. Many medical schools are starting to require this course so if you can get it on our transcript now all the better for you.

Here's your Hail Mary approach for becoming a doctor even with a GPA that's very low.

You should consider applying to Osteopathic Medical Schools. 

Not because the requirements for medical school will be easier when you pursue the D.O. route rather in how your grades are calculated.

Virtually all of the osteopathic medical schools actually use grade forgiveness. 

Meaning if you have to repeat Organic Chemistry they will replace your original grade with the most recent grade you received in Organic Chemistry and overlook the original one.

This one avenue to pursue if you're dead set on becoming a doctor and the numbers just don't look good for you.

I won't say much about this but the MCAT is the great equalizer.

Having a very strong MCAT score can make up for lackluster GPAs but only to a certain extent. 

I say this because the MCAT is weighed the heaviest on your medical school application. The caveat being the MCAT is a test of your basic science knowledge so if you weren't able to show it in the classroom it is going to be much harder to show it on a standardized test like the MCAT where the stakes are much higher.

My advice to you: don't end up with a low GPA as a premed student. Stop the bleeding before it is too late. I would rather have you take a semester or two away from being premed and return recharged than to force yourself through the curriculum with bad grades. 

This is going to hurt but needs to be said. 

One of the most common emails I get is from students who have less than 3.0 GPA and want to know what they can do to get into a post-bac program. They will recount a "sob" story and make the case of how their grades are not a reflection of their capabilities and they just need one chance to show AdComs what they are doing. 

AdComs hear the same stories over and over so you're not a special snowflake to us. We would rather see you be proactive about improving your credentials than making excuses.

GPA Above 3.0 Post Bac Options

Congrats if you have a GPA above 3.0 and you want to get into medical school. You have several opportunities available to you.

You may not be competitive for medical school right out the gate but with some improvement in your credentials you're going to get there soon enough.

Here's the first assessment you need to make.

Do you even need a post-baccalaureate program in the first place?

Sometimes the problem is not your grade point average rather something else in your application. 

If you have a decent GPA that makes you competitive but your MCAT score is low then for all intents and purposes a post bac is not going to help you.

The weak point in your application is your MCAT and enrolling in more schooling is not going to fix that problem. If this is you then go save yourself thousands of dollars, skip more school and instead buckle down and do well on your MCAT.

When you fix the MCAT you will then be ready to apply to medical school.

What happens if you haven't taken the MCAT and your GPA is less than stellar?

Then I would highly recommend you enroll in a post-baccalaureate program. As you can see the process is very simple. Identify the problem. Fix the problem.

You're not going to enroll in just any post-bac program, though.

I want you to enroll in a Special Masters Program (SMP).

This will accomplish two things:

  • New and fresh set of grades
  • Show you can handle a medical school curriculum

You want to have new and fresh grades when you apply to a medical school which is an advantage of a post-bac program. 

When you apply to medical school there are two separate GPAs that will be on your application. One will be for your undergraduate coursework and the other is your graduate GPA.

With the SMP post-bac, you are killing two birds with one stone.

The SMP will allow you to have an entirely new set of grades on your application completely separate from undergrad. Therefore, you do not have to worry about if I take this course or how many credits do I need to see a jump in my GPA.

As my physician mentor told me when I was headed off to graduate school,

"Protect your GPA at all cost"!

If you're going the post-bac route it means your credentials are not the best and you absolutely cannot have any mistakes the second time around. 

Going to grad school and not doing well can sink your chances of ever getting into medical school.

This falls right into the second point of your SMP is to show AdComs you have what it takes to compete in a rigorous program that is comparable to medical school. 

The SMP is a great way to give yourself a leg up with the competition because you are taking the same courses as the medical students and graded accordingly. This means you become less of a risk to admissions committees because you've shown to the AdComs you have actually taken medical school courses and have done well in them. 

If you do poorly then you are in a lot of trouble. You have shown AdComs you will not do well in medical school. Shutting the door to becoming a doctor. 

Types of Post-Baccalaureate Programs You Can Apply To

Post-baccalaureate programs are a great way towards getting into medical school. You'll be able to:
  • Improve academic credentials
  • Take required pre med courses
  • Determine if medical school is for you.

If you are debating on whether a post bac program is the route for you then all of your answers have been answered. I have compiled everything you need to know about choosing a program, each curriculum, whether they have linkage programs with medical schools and the requirements for admission for over 35 programs.

Post-baccalaureate programs serve a number of needs and they can be put into four broad categories:

  • Academic Record-Enhancers
  • Career-Changers
  • Groups Underrepresented in Medicine
  • Master Programs

Before getting started you should be aware that many programs will be classified as Formal/Structured or Informal/Unstructured. This allows you to determine if there is a set curriculum in place and determine how long the program lasts. On the other hand, informal post baccalaureate programs allow you to pick and choose only the classes you need without having to stick to a particular curriculum.

There are pros and cons with each type of environment. With the structured post baccalaureate you will find a community environment where you take classes with the same set of students, whereas unstructured you will be taking classes with the general student population.

Not sure about how to get started? How about my post-bac guidebook where you can learn the ins and outs on choosing a great post-bac program that will open the doors to medical school.

Academic Record Enhancers

This post baccalaureate is for individuals who have completed most or all of their premedical requirements, but need another chance to show they can compete at a level required of medical students.

If you earned a C- in your premed courses, then it is crucial that you retake the course in question. Otherwise, do not repeat courses because medical school admissions officers expect you to get an A the second time around. Therefore, you want to take upper division science courses at the undergraduate level so they can be calculated into your undergraduate grade point average.

The academic record-enhancer program may be formal or informal, but you will find a support system in place at most institutions. You will have access to premed advisors, sometimes a committee letter of evaluation may be offered, and the post baccalaureate program can assist in the medical school application process.

A lot of programs have affiliations/linkages with medical schools. This is a benefit for you because you are more likely to earn an invitation to interview at a medical school, but it does not guarantee admission, you must still have a stellar GPA and MCAT score.

The goal of any post-baccalaureate program is to excel in your coursework, this is especially true for the academic record-enhancer.

Career-Changers

This post-baccalaureate program is for people who have decided to enter medicine after working in another career or who have already graduated from college. You will find career-changers to be highly motivated because they are generally more mature than the average applicant, have more life experience and are making substantial changes in their lifestyle to pursue medicine.

Career-changer post-baccalaureate programs are usually very formal because you have not completed the four courses needed for medical school:

  • General Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physics

Since everyone will be taking the same courses at the same time you will find a genuine post baccalaureate community among the students. The program directors are keenly aware of your needs and will set aside time in the curriculum to prepare for the MCAT, supply letters of recommendation and advise you on the application process.

If you were lucky enough to attend a post-baccalaureate that has a linkage program, you might be able to avoid the "glide" year (time from applying to enrollment) completely.

Groups Underrepresented in Medicine (URM)

This post-baccalaureate is for underrepresented minorities and is intended to increase diversity in the field of medicine. I will be very straight forward and mention that these post baccalaureate programs vary from institution to institution.

Some post baccs focus on completing the basic sciences, others give graduate credit, while some are a combination of both and then some. The underrepresented in medicine post-baccalaureate is consistent in helping minorities get into medical school and this may include:

  • improving study skills
  • MCAT preparation
  • mentoring
  • advising on the application process

If you are a racial/ethnic minority, educationally disadvantaged and/or economically disadvantaged then this may be the best way for you to go. These programs are very supportive to your needs by having a lot of counselors on hand, all types of academic resources, and health care volunteering opportunities.

Unfortunately, it is hard to get accepted into these types of programs because more students are applying and the screening process is very thorough. But once you're accepted and if you follow the advice of your mentors while also working hard you may end up in a very prestigious medical school.

Believe me on this, I have friends who completed a URM post-baccalaureate and then were faced with the problem of choosing which Ivy League medical school to attend because of receiving multiple medical school acceptances.

Master Programs

These programs are for students who:

  • have done well in school
  • want to take medical school courses or
  • improve their chances for admission.

In almost every case, if you do not have a bachelor's degree you cannot apply. Some even state you need to have completed the medical school prerequisites.

When you go on to apply to medical school you will be viewed favorably because of your advanced degree. The only cautionary advice is, bad grades can really hurt your chances, so once you're enrolled you need to perform.

Since many of these programs are one year in length and you will be getting an advanced degree it is possible to apply while you are enrolled and then go directly to medical school at the conclusion of your program.

Boston University Medical Campus location for Special Masters ProgramBoston University Medical Campus where I earned my Master of Arts in Medical Sciences

Get Started on a Post-Baccalaureate

If you want to get into medical school there is a post-baccalaureate program for you. The hardest part on your end is to identify which program matches up to your needs and wants and will give you your best chance of admission to medical school.

If you don't know where to begin then you need to get my Post Bac Guidebook Your Secret Gateway to Medical School. You'll learn the ins-and-outs on over 35 of the top programs in the country.

› Post-Baccalaureate


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