Post baccalaureate Programs: How to Get In

Everything you need to know about post bacc programs, including a post bacc personal statement example

Post baccalaureate programs come in a variety of formats

Post baccalaureate programs come in a variety of formats

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Introduction

If you’re a premed considering post baccalaureate programs, you probably fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • You have a non-science bachelor’s degree and need to complete the medical school prerequisites

  • You’ve completed all the prerequisite classes but your GPA is weak

  • You need more research or clinical experience

  • You want to strengthen your application before reapplying to medical school

In any number of these cases, a premedical post baccalaureate program (otherwise known as a post bacc), can help improve applicants’ medical school-readiness and demonstrate their commitment to admissions committees.

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What is a post baccalaureate program?

A post bacc program gives students who have already earned an undergraduate degree the opportunity to take the prerequisite courses required for medical school and to gain clinical and research experience. The purpose of the post bacc programs is to help students become more competitive candidates for admission to medical school.

These programs are usually one to two years in length and may award a certificate of completion, a master’s degree, or no degree or certificate at all. Additionally, some programs award undergraduate credit while others award graduate credit. This distinction is especially important to note for those looking to enhance their undergraduate GPA—choosing a post bacc that counts for undergrad credit can help boost both your undergrad grades and your “science GPA,” a crucial component of your medical school application.

Post bacc programs can be thought of as adhering to one or more of the following categories:

For career changers

These post bacc programs are designed for students who have not completed pre-med courses, typically students who decided to become a doctor after undergrad. These programs catch their students up on medical school prerequisites, provide MCAT support, and advise students during the medical school application process. Some examples of career-changers include Bryn Mawr College, Goucher College, Johns Hopkins, and Columbia.

For academic record enhancement

Academic record enhancers are for students who were pre-med in undergrad and completed all or almost all necessary prerequisites, but whose stats are not as competitive as they’d like (low grades, low cumulative or science GPA, poor MCAT scores, etc.). These post bacc programs attempt to raise students’ stats and may offer more extracurricular medical experience to boost student resumes, as well as MCAT and application support. Georgetown Medical Institute and the UC Postbaccalaureate Consortium, for example, are academic record-enhancers.

For groups underrepresented in medicine

These programs exist to help under-represented groups gain admission to medical school. The AAMC’s definition of underrepresented is “those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population.” UCSF’s Interprofessional Health Post-Baccalaureate Certificate is one such program, as is Drexel Pathway to Medical School.

For economically or educationally disadvantaged groups

These programs are designed to assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds gain admission to medical school. The UC Postbaccalaureate Consortium offers this as its criteria for designating an applicant as disadvantaged: “From an early age, you resided in a low-income community or experienced enduring family and/or societal hardship that significantly compromised your educational opportunities." UC Davis’s post-bacc and Florida State University’s Bridge to Clinical Medicine post bacc are programs which serve students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Some schools have multiple programs that fall into different or even overlapping categories. For example, Drexel has a career changer program and several academic record enhancers, as well as a program specifically for underrepresented or disadvantaged students. Temple University has two tracks: one for non-science majors seeking to change careers and one for science majors looking to boost their academic performance.

A few other terms also bear mentioning:

Special Master’s Programs (SMPs)

A special master’s program is a graduate degree-granting program designed for students interested in medicine. Whereas postbacc programs tend to be geared toward students who have not completed the medical school prerequisites, SMPs can be a better option for students who just need to enhance their applications. Duke University’s Master of Biomedical Sciences and Tufts University’s MS in Biomedical Sciences are two examples of SMPs.

SMP students may take courses with medical school students, which may help admissions committees compare their performance to MD candidates (this may reflect positively on the SMP graduate if they excel, and negatively if they don’t). Also, because the coursework is graduate-level coursework, it counts as graduate, not undergraduate, GPA.

For students who want to improve their undergraduate GPAs, an SMP may not be the best option.

Osteopathic post bacc programs

Schools of osteopathic medicine offer post bacc programs with varying degrees of affiliation with their DO programs. The application process and course offerings resemble those of other post bacc programs, but with an emphasis on osteopathic practices.

NIH Post baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP)

This post bacc program is for students from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds with biomedically-related degrees not currently enrolled in a graduate program. Participants receive a stipend, research experience, mentorship, institutional access and, in some cases, GRE preparation. Upon successful completion of the program, applicants are expected to apply to PhD programs or MD-PhD programs in biomedical sciences.

NIH Post baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award Program (Post bacc IRTA/CRTA)

This is a unique program, rather unlike the other post bacc programs, so we won’t cover it here except to mention it as an option. Applicants to this post bacc program need to have already been accepted into medical school.

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Considerations for Applying to Post Baccalaureate Programs

With so many post bacc programs (the AAMC lists 233 programs on its site), how should you narrow down your choices and apply to programs that match your needs and goals? It’s a daunting task, but not an impossible one.

First, identify whether you qualify for career changers or academic record enhancers. This should be relatively straightforward. You either completed medical school prerequisites in undergrad and would like to improve your performance in an academic record enhancer, or you did not complete these courses and a career changing program is the best option for you.

Second, consider whether you qualify for programs geared toward underrepresented or disadvantaged students. If so, selecting among these programs might help you quickly narrow down programs for which you are qualified—in other words, programs that may give you the greatest odds of admission and which may be tailored for your needs and goals.

Additionally, consider the following:

Post Bacc Linkage Programs

Is the post bacc program affiliated with any medical schools? Does it have a standing agreement with said medical schools regarding admission of students upon successful completion of the post bacc?

Post bacc pre med linkage programs allow students to apply to affiliated medical schools before completing their post bacc. If admitted, a student matriculates into medical school the same year they finish their post bacc, which saves them a year of applying and interviewing. Some linkage agreements offer post bacc students conditional acceptance as long as students meet eligibility requirements. Other schools allow students who meet minimum requirements to apply through the linkage agreements, but do not offer a guarantee of acceptance.

For example, Columbia has linkage agreements with 15 medical schools, but admission is not guaranteed.

Drexel Pathway to Medical School, on the other hand, offers conditional acceptance into Drexel’s MD program for students who successfully complete the post bacc.

There are perks to attending post bacc programs with linkage agreements. Doing so could eliminate the need for the “glide” year (the gap year between post bacc and medical school matriculation), offer a quick response regarding admission, help save money on application fees, and take advantage of post bacc advisors during the application process. In cases where admission is guaranteed, it may even eliminate the need to go through the arduous AMCAS primaries and secondaries.

But there are some drawbacks as well. An applicant may have to simultaneously complete their application and their post bacc studies, while also preparing for the April or May MCAT exam date. (General applicants could wait until the June test date, mitigating some stress.)

GPA eligibility

Programs’ GPA requirements, for instance, may determine whether you are a competitive applicant for admission. For example, Temple University’s academic enhancer ACMS post bacc requires a minimum 3.4 GPA (cumulative and science) for consideration. California State University, East Bay, on the other hand, requires a bachelor’s degree with an overall minimum GPA of 2.8.

Length of program

Post baccalaureate programs can range from one to two years and may or may not include summer coursework. When deciding where to apply, consider whether you can set aside a year or two for studying, and how this will ultimately impact your medical school application process. How long will the medical school application process be delayed and does this fit into your life plans?

Part-time or full-time

Though the vast majority of post bacc programs are full-time commitments, some do offer part-time enrollment. These may be especially attractive to applicants with full- or part-time responsibilities during the day, or applicants with stats that are very close to being competitive. UC Berkeley’s post bacc, for instance, offers night and weekend classes, and Harvard Extension offers evening courses. Applicants should also consider whether a program is accelerated or not. This will impact program length and the intensiveness of coursework.

Cost

Post bacc programs do not come cheap, and financial aid is typically only available in the form of loans. In some cases, as in UC Davis and University of Pittsburgh, in-state residency can help reduce the cost of tuition.

Peer group

Who will your classmates be? In some post bacc programs, students take classes with members of their cohort, while in others, post bacc students take courses with pre-med undergraduates. A third possibility, depending on the program, is to take courses alongside medical school students, particularly if the post bacc program is integrated with the medical school.

There are advantages and drawbacks to each grouping. Taking courses with one’s peers increases the likelihood that courses are tailored to your needs and may result in a smaller student-to-instructor ratio, depending on class, faculty, and cohort sizes.

On the other hand, post bacc students in undergraduate courses may have an advantage if they’ve taken the courses before and are encountering the material for the second time.

Finally, admissions committees may look favorably on post bacc students who hold their own in medical school-level courses.

Coursework, clinical experience, research

Whether a program emphasizes coursework or research, and whether a program curriculum is regimented or not will have a significant impact on a post bacc student’s experience and, ultimately, their program outcomes.

Do you choose courses a la carte, or is there a predetermined curriculum that all post bacc students must follow? Are there lab components or extracurricular opportunities for clinical experience and research? Understanding the differences between program requirements and resources could help you determine whether a program is the right fit for you.

For instance, students whose undergraduate performance is inconsistent (i.e. they performed poorly in some science courses but well in others) may prefer a program where they select their coursework rather than adhere to a pre-set curriculum. Students whose undergraduate performance needs overall improvement, or students who are changing careers, may prefer programs with a structured curriculum.

Deadlines

Some post bacc programs have two different deadlines: one early deadline for medical school reapplicants (that is, for applicants who previously applied to medical school and were rejected)—roughly March or April—and a later deadline—usually around May or June—for first-time medical school applicants (applicants who have not yet applied for medical school).

However, it’s important to take advantage of rolling admissions and submit your application as early as possible to maximize your odds.

Test reporting requirements

Some post baccalaureate programs may require you to include a standardized test score in your application. Different programs have different test reporting requirements. You may be asked to include SAT, ACT, MCAT, GRE, PCAT, DAT, OAT, and even CASPer scores. Or, as in the case of Cal State University, East Bay, you may not have to submit any of these. It’s important to check with programs’ admissions requirements.

Medical school acceptance success rate

Do post bacc graduates successfully matriculate into medical school at a high rate? The medical school acceptance rate speaks to the quality and reputation of the program in the medical school community, so take note. Bryn Mawr College, Goucher College, Johns Hopkins, Scripps, and Tufts boast medical school acceptance rates above 90%, well above the national average of 50%.

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Post Bacc Application Essays

In some ways, the post bacc application mirrors the medical school application. Both, for instance, require a personal statement and shorter essays to qualitatively evaluate  program fit.

However, though the medical school personal statement can in some cases be recycled in its entirety for the post bacc application, in general the post bacc application requires a different approach. The post bacc personal statement should, much like the medical school personal statement, aim to convey the qualities and experiences that led the applicant to medicine. But, particularly for students who came to medicine later in life or have minimal clinical experience, the personal statement must also account for the non-traditional path they took.

Let’s take a closer look at some post bacc application essays.

Post bacc personal statement

The post bacc personal statement is similar enough to the medical school personal statement that it’s worth reading our article Medical School Personal Statement: The Ultimate Guide. It has everything the medical school—and post bacc—applicant needs to write an outstanding personal statement. The structural requirements—from an engaging introduction, to a compelling account of one’s journey to medicine, to a conclusion tying it all together—remain the same.

What changes, of course, are the specific details and the account of one’s journey to medicine. Chances are, if you’re applying to post bacc programs, your journey may not be as straightforward as that of a traditional medical school applicant. The personal statement is an opportunity for your story to make the case for you.

It’s also important to note that, while similar to the medical school personal statement, there is one major difference: the post bacc personal statement is not required across the board for all post bacc programs.

There is a centralized portal for post bacc applications—similar to the Common App or AMCAS—called PostBacCAS. But less than 50 of the approximately 233 U.S. post bacc programs participate.

Within the platform itself, individual programs can determine which essays and documents are required from applicants. This means there’s much variation in which documents are required from program to program. Some programs like Bennington will require a full-length personal statement akin to the med school statement. Others like the UC Postbaccalaureate Consortium ask that you write a 2500-character essay. Still others like Washington University in St. Louis won’t require a personal statement-like essay at all. With that in mind, we’ve provided a full-length personal statement below, which could easily be modified to adapt to smaller character or word counts.

As you read the personal statement written by Marisol, keep the following questions in mind:

  1. Does the applicant demonstrate qualities that are desirable in a physician? If so, which ones?

  2. Is the personal statement mostly about the applicant, or other people?

  3. Could anyone else have written this personal statement, or is it unique to the applicant?

  4. Does the personal statement cover too much, or is there real depth?

Post bacc personal statement example

At La Clínica de la Raza, I was in my element, surrounded by rapid Spanish and chaos. Lupe frowned as I filled out her intake form. Perhaps she’d encountered university freshmen on previous visits because she said, “The school sent you, huh? I can tell you’re not from around here.” I asked, “How can you tell?” Lupe said, smiling wryly, “Because you use ‘tu,’ instead of ‘usted.’” My face went hot with embarrassment as I realized my choice of address had been rude. It was a mistake I had made my whole life, my bad manners a source of suspicion for some Spanish-speakers. I smiled sheepishly and apologized, taking care to refer to her with the formal “usted” throughout the rest of the intake to show my respect. By the end of the questionnaire, Lupe’s shoulders relaxed, her expression open. “This is why I come here,” she said. “For people like you. It’s so scary when doctors tell you things you can’t understand.” I understood Lupe came to us because we could serve her in her native language.

From age 11, when I accompanied my father to have his warts cryosurgically removed, I have helped Spanish-speakers like Lupe confront their medical fears. Back then, the dermatologist had wielded a cannister of liquid nitrogen and warmly explained the wart-removal procedure, but my Spanish-speaking father just gazed at her, terrified. I knew what he needed and started to translate. By the time I finished repeating in Spanish what the doctor had said, my father had relaxed and even smiled as he anticipated seeing his face wart-free. At the end of the procedure, noting my fascination with the nitrogen, the doctor opened the cannister and spilled some liquid on the floor. It crashed and disappeared. In that moment, as my father and I laughed in delight, the connection between helping others through medicine and eliciting joy was clear to me. I knew I wanted to become a doctor.

I volunteered at La Clínica because I wanted to work with uninsured patients who had nowhere else to go. I was surprised to find that many patients did have insurance, but chose La Clínica anyway, despite it being overcrowded and understaffed. Melchor, for example, took a day off from work for a basic physical even though he had Medi-Cal. When I asked him why he didn’t visit a primary care physician within his health insurance, he told me the provider he’d been assigned didn’t have any Spanish-speaking staff who could communicate with him. “And it’s too far away,” he said. “I can’t get there by bus.”

This experience inspired my Ride or Die initiative. I organized Spanish-speaking volunteers to serve as interpreters for and give rides to insured patients. By doing so, we were able to clear space in the clinic for patients who truly needed it, rather than patients who could seek care elsewhere. Months later, I saw Melchor at the grocery store. He beamed as he noted that the influx of Spanish-speaking patients had motivated his Medi-Cal physician to hire a Spanish-speaking assistant. Seeing the difference my Ride or Dies made motivated me to persist with my goal of finding creative solutions to problems of access.

But by my sophomore year of college, I was facing my own access problems. My high school science classes had not properly prepared me for the rigor of university coursework. By midsemester, I was receiving grades on the lower end of the class curve in principles of molecular biology. Though my grades improved during my final two years of college, my GPA was not competitive for medical school. I doubted my ability to become a doctor for the first time since that fateful visit to the dermatologist.

Thankfully, I reconnected with my purpose a year after graduation. One autumn day, as I assisted Dr. Reynolds, he explained to two parents that their son’s appendix had burst; they had to operate immediately. While the father nodded, the woman’s eyes were wide with confusion and fear. After Dr. Reynolds left, I lingered and learned that the woman’s name was Gloria. Her husband explained to her in Spanish what the doctor had said, and Gloria burst into tears. She cried that it was her fault—if only she had not forced her son to sit through the pain because they were uninsured, it would never have advanced to this stage. I knelt by her seat, put my hand on her shoulder, and told her it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her fault that the difference between sickness and health for millions was a flimsy plastic card. I told her she had done the right thing by bringing her son in when she did. I told her it would be okay. I was careful to use “usted.”

Since receiving Gloria’s grateful embrace after her son awoke from surgery, groggy but fine, I’ve known I can’t only be a nursing assistant. I must become a physician. Doing so will allow me to continue providing the warmth, reassurance, and relief that have been the highlights of every significant clinical experience I’ve had so far. Attending a post baccalaureate program would help me ace biochemical pathways so that I can focus on the journeys that matter: from uncertainty and hardship to solace and hope. I am more than my GPA, and my experiences with my father, Lupe, Melchor, and Gloria are proof. I have no doubt that with the proper support, I can succeed in a fulfilling career as a physician.

Personal Statement Analysis

Now, let’s analyze the entire personal statement and answer the questions posed above:

Introduction  (Goal: Engage the reader)        

At La Clínica de la Raza, I was in my element, surrounded by rapid Spanish and chaos. Lupe frowned as I filled out her intake form. Perhaps she’d encountered university freshmen on previous visits because she said, “The school sent you, huh? I can tell you’re not from around here.” I asked, “How can you tell?” Lupe said, smiling wryly, “Because you use ‘tu,’ instead of ‘usted.’” My face went hot with embarrassment as I realized my choice of address had been rude. It was a mistake I had made my whole life, my bad manners a source of suspicion for some Spanish-speakers. I smiled sheepishly and apologized, taking care to refer to her with the formal “usted” throughout the rest of the intake to show my respect. By the end of the questionnaire, Lupe’s shoulders relaxed, her expression open. “This is why I come here,” she said. “For people like you. It’s so scary when doctors tell you things you can’t understand.” I understood Lupe came to us because we could serve her in her native language.

Analysis

Marisol places us in the setting, a chaotic community clinic, and focuses on the dynamic between Lupe, the patient, and herself. It’s easy to remain engaged as the introduction progresses because Marisol includes dialogue, which serves to efficiently characterize Lupe and Marisol and helps subvert the expectation she set for the reader in the first line (that of being “in [her] element”).

This subtle unsettling of expectations creates the conditions for Marisol to demonstrate self-awareness, cultural competence, and humility. Eventually, it is Marisol’s readjustment that contributes to Lupe’s transformation from frowning to open and relaxed. This reflects positively on her because it demonstrates that she can bounce back from bad first impressions and turn a fraught situation into a positive one.

At this point, we don’t know about Marisol’s interest in medicine, but we know she is involved in community service, willing to step out of her comfort zone, can respond conscientiously to criticism, and demonstrate cultural competence. Finally, the intro’s final observation sets the stage for the narrative threads of Spanish-speakers and medical understandings—which reappear in Marisol’s own eventual difficulty in understanding her pre-med courses and doubting her medical path.

1. Does the applicant demonstrate the qualities that are desirable in a physician? If so, which ones?

  • Conscientious, respectful, flexible (e.g., “It was a mistake I had made my whole life, my bad manners a source of suspicion for some Spanish-speakers. I smiled sheepishly and apologized, taking care to refer to her with the formal “usted” throughout the rest of the intake to show my respect.”)

  • Comforting, committed to patient understanding (e.g., “By the end of the questionnaire, Lupe’s shoulders relaxed…” “This is why I come here,” she said. “For people like you.”)

2. Is the paragraph mostly about the applicant, or other people?

Although Marisol discusses Lupe and “Spanish-speakers,” she is the primary character in the introduction, as demonstrated by the emphasis on her transformation and growth in a single interaction.

3. Could anyone else have written this introduction, or is it unique to the applicant?

Though many applicants may write about serving in community clinics, Marisol gives her own spin on this topic by doing the following:

  • Including highly specific details about the conversation between Lupe and herself

  • Describing her internal insights and thoughts, and linking it to a history, a life (e.g., “It was a mistake I had made my whole life, my bad manners a source of suspicion for some Spanish-speakers.”)

4. Does the introduction cover too much, or is there real depth?

The intro includes a single conversation with a single patient at a clinic unlike any other.

The Thesis Paragraph (Goal: Provide context and insight on medical interest)

From age 11, when I accompanied my father to have his warts cryosurgically removed, I have helped Spanish-speakers like Lupe confront their medical fears. Back then, the dermatologist had wielded a cannister of liquid nitrogen and warmly explained the wart-removal procedure, but my Spanish-speaking father just gazed at her, terrified. I knew what he needed and started to translate. By the time I finished repeating in Spanish what the doctor had said, my father had relaxed and even smiled as he anticipated seeing his face wart-free. At the end of the procedure, noting my fascination with the nitrogen, the doctor opened the cannister and spilled some liquid on the floor. It crashed and disappeared. In that moment, as my father and I laughed in delight, the connection between helping others through medicine and eliciting joy was clear to me. I knew I wanted to become a doctor.

Analysis

Marisol uses the thesis paragraph to give context about the interest in medicine that preceded her interaction with Lupe and establishes a long-standing commitment to serving underserved monolingual Spanish-speaking patients. It becomes evident why Marisol started her  essay writing about a single instance when she made a cultural faux pas during a patient interaction at the clinic.

Additionally, Marisol describes how the desire to pursue a medical career has a very personal connection to her past. The applicant conveys the pivotal moment her interest in medicine was sparked by including a scene that demonstrates not only her ability to comfort her father, but also her fascination and wonder with the medical field. The liquid nitrogen is a surprising detail that invites the reader to visualize the gas dissipating into the air, like a magic trick, and this implication of magic imbues medicine with a similarly fantastic quality.

Finally, notice that this thesis paragraph eschews dialogue in favor of more direct description. Though the paragraph continues to “show” the scenario, it also allows a bit of direct “telling” when the applicant writes, “In that moment, as my father and I laughed in delight, the connection between helping others through medicine and eliciting joy was clear to me. I knew I wanted to become a doctor.” Just like that, the motivation for Marisol’s path becomes obvious.

1. Does the applicant demonstrate qualities that are desirable in a physician? If so, which ones?

Marisol demonstrates empathy when she sees her father’s face, terrified at his lack of understanding and, without him having to indicate he’s distressed or why, she picks up on the source of it and automatically provides a solution: her interpretation of the procedure for his benefit. Wonder and curiosity also come across with the liquid nitrogen detail.

2. Is the thesis paragraph mostly about the applicant, or other people?

The details in this thesis paragraph are carefully selected to illustrate aspects of the Marisol’s personality and interests that would be difficult to accept if they were simply stated outright. The dermatologist and the father, while characters themselves, motivate Marisol’s response to the situation, helping her shine.

3. Could anyone have written this paragraph, or is it unique to the applicant?

Between the liquid nitrogen, the wart removal, and the importance of translation, it’s difficult to imagine another applicant convincingly recreating Marisol’s thesis.

4. Does the thesis cover too much, or is there real depth?

The paragraph focuses on a pivotal experience early in Marisol’s trajectory and zeroes in on important details to help illustrate the significance of the day. This focus on details has a payoff later in the essay as well, when the applicant experiences doubt about her potential to become a doctor. The writer took care to select details that could resonate across paragraphs while holding serious weight in their “home” paragraphs.

Body section 1: The Illustrative Anecdote (Goal: provide specific examples to build on a key message)

I volunteered at La Clínica because I wanted to work with uninsured patients who had nowhere else to go. I was surprised to find that many patients did have insurance, but chose La Clínica anyway, despite it being overcrowded and understaffed. Melchor, for example, took a day off from work for a basic physical even though he had Medi-Cal. When I asked him why he didn’t visit a primary care physician within his health insurance, he told me the provider he’d been assigned didn’t have any Spanish-speaking staff who could communicate with him. “And it’s too far away,” he said. “I can’t get there by bus.”

This experience inspired my Ride or Die initiative. I organized Spanish-speaking volunteers to serve as interpreters for and give rides to insured patients. By doing so, we were able to clear space in the clinic for patients who truly needed it, rather than patients who could seek care elsewhere. Months later, I saw Melchor at the grocery store. He beamed as he noted that the influx of Spanish-speaking patients had motivated his Medi-Cal physician to hire a Spanish-speaking assistant. Seeing the difference my Ride or Dies made motivated me to persist with my goal of finding creative solutions to problems of access.

Analysis

The first body section brings us back into the setting of the community clinic to demonstrate that the applicant’s commitments run deeper than helping Spanish-speakers alone: she is particularly interested in serving those who are least likely to receive medical attention, the uninsured.

Marisol doesn’t stand on a soapbox to convey this motivation. Instead, she includes the “inciting incident” for the accomplishment she wishes to highlight: that of the Ride or Die initiative, which is her major contribution not to individual care seekers, but to the clinic as a whole. This approach demonstrates initiative and creativity, as well as a commitment to values (access for those who need it most).

1. Does the applicant demonstrate qualities that are desirable in a physician? If so, which ones?

  • Resourceful, creative, principled

  • Accomplished, passionate

2. Is the paragraph mostly about the applicant, or other people?

Once again, Marisol does an excellent job of using character to motivate story to convey their best qualities. The first body section is ultimately not about Melchor, the Ride or Dies, or the clinic: It’s about Marisol evaluating a situation and creating solutions that benefit everyone involved.

3. Could anyone have written this paragraph, or is it unique to the applicant?

The humor of the Ride or Dies, the specificity of Medi-Cal, and the impact of the influx of Spanish-speaking patients to network providers makes this section unique to Marisol.

4. Does the paragraph cover too much, or is there real depth?

Marisol focuses on how their principles aren’t merely abstractions; they are actionable possibilities with significant results in the form of a transformation of the clinic environment and the experiences of those who visit it. The specificity of the solution—offering Ride or Dies—keeps it tight and specific, with the most efficient details selected to get the point across.

Body section 2: The Pivot (Goal: Describe what led you to the post bacc route)

But by my sophomore year of college, I was facing my own access problems. My high school science classes had not properly prepared me for the rigor of university coursework. By midsemester, I was receiving grades on the lower end of the class curve in principles of molecular biology. Though my grades improved during my final two years of college, my GPA was not competitive for medical school. I doubted my ability to become a doctor for the first time since that fateful visit to the dermatologist.

Analysis

The pivot contains the key difference between a personal statement for medical school admission and a personal statement for post bacc admission. In a medical school personal statement, an applicant would not intentionally draw attention to a seemingly negative aspect of their academic career: in this case, a less-than-satisfactory undergraduate GPA at the beginning of college.

However, in a post bacc essay, it’s important to use the particularities of one’s journey—whether it was a low GPA or a lack of interest in medicine until after undergrad—to one’s advantage.

Notice that the applicant does not merely include their low GPA without context. Instead, the applicant contextualizes it without making excuses for it, and demonstrates how the poor performance was the exception, not the rule (as the grades improved by the end of their college career). In addition, the authenticity of self-doubt comes across, and the inclusion of this detail makes the applicant’s recentering in her purpose in the next section that much more poignant.

1. Does the applicant demonstrate qualities that are desirable in a physician? If so, which ones?

The applicant demonstrates self-awareness and the ability to take responsibility and learn from mistakes (e.g., “Though my grades improved during my final two years of college, my GPA was not competitive for medical school. I doubted my ability to become a doctor for the first time since that fateful visit to the dermatologist. Thankfully, I reconnected with my purpose a year after graduation.”)

2. Is the paragraph mostly about the applicant, or other people?

This paragraph is exclusively about the applicant.

3. Could anyone have written this paragraph, or is it unique to the applicant?

Perhaps other students have experienced a similar academic low, but the specificity of the class curve in principles of molecular biology and the mention of the dermatologist visit that sparked her medical interest makes this paragraph not only unique to Marisol, but interconnected with other parts of the essay, and therefore integral.

4. Does the paragraph cover too much, or is there real depth?

Marisol focuses on the reasons behind her poor academic performance at the beginning of college (insufficient academic preparation in high school, which may also speak to an educational disadvantage) and how this impacted her medical journey (by lowering her GPA). In addition, Marisol suggests that the grades were not an accurate reflection of her abilities by demonstrating her upward trajectory in the latter half of her undergraduate studies. This offers a complete, yet succinct, picture of the circumstances that led her to apply to post-baccs.

Body section 3: Illustrative Anecdote 2 (Goal: Bring it back to your desire to pursue medicine)

Thankfully, I reconnected with my purpose a year after graduation. One autumn day, as I assisted Dr. Reynolds, he explained to two parents that their son’s appendix had burst; they had to operate immediately. While the father nodded, the woman’s eyes were wide with confusion and fear. After Dr. Reynolds left, I lingered and learned that the woman’s name was Gloria. Her husband explained to her in Spanish what the doctor had said, and Gloria burst into tears. She cried that it was her fault—if only she had not forced her son to sit through the pain because they were uninsured, it would never have advanced to this stage. I knelt by her seat, put my hand on her shoulder, and told her it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her fault that the difference between sickness and health for millions was a flimsy plastic card. I told her she had done the right thing by bringing her son in when she did. I told her it would be okay. I was careful to use “usted.”

Analysis

The applicant successfully demonstrates her unwavering dedication to becoming a physician and the qualities that made her want to pursue medicine in the first place: the ability to comfort, respect, and reassure others. This also finishes the arc that was introduced in the pivot paragraph.

1. Does the applicant demonstrate qualities that are desirable in a physician? If so, which ones?

The applicant demonstrates compassion (e.g., kneeling down to appear less imposing, noting that “It wasn’t her fault that the difference between sickness and health for millions was a flimsy plastic card. I told her she had done the right thing by bringing her son in when she did. I told her it would be ok.”)

2. Is this paragraph mostly about the applicant, or other people?

Though there are other people in the anecdote, it is Marisol who shines. It is her insight, awareness, and warmth that is on full display, though others play a role in her story.

3. Could anyone else have written this paragraph, or is it unique to the applicant?

The resulting insight with Gloria and the ways that the lack of insurance ties up threads that were planted in the earlier Melchor paragraph makes it not only unique to Marisol, but also coherent with the rest of the statement.

4. Does the paragraph cover too much, or is there real depth?

The depth of empathy and detail here—a burst appendix, a lack of insurance, a kneeling young woman comforting a mother—makes this a model example.

Conclusion: Tie it all together

Since receiving Gloria’s grateful embrace after her son awoke from surgery, groggy but fine, I’ve known I can’t only be a nursing assistant. I must become a physician. Doing so will allow me to continue providing the warmth, reassurance, and relief that have been the highlights of every significant clinical experience I’ve had so far. Attending a post-baccalaureate program would help me ace biochemical pathways so that I can focus on the journeys that matter: from uncertainty and hardship to solace and hope. I am more than my GPA, and my experiences with my father, Lupe, Melchor, and Gloria are proof. I have no doubt that with the proper support, I can succeed in a fulfilling career as a physician.

Analysis

The final paragraph accomplishes the following:

  • It concludes the story about Gloria and her son

  • It brings the applicant’s insights full circle

  • And it restates their interest in medicine while emphasizing their principles and values, which hint at the type of values the applicant hopes to exercise as a physician

The paragraph closes the loop with the essay’s most important narrative thread: that of their own commitment to medicine and how they intend to succeed in it despite any setbacks. They end on a high note by emphasizing the things that matter, and their own enthusiasm for their future as a physician.

1. Does the applicant demonstrate qualities that are desirable in a physician? If so, which ones?

The applicant demonstrates perseverance when that the nursing assistant position is not enough and she needs to continue with her original plan of becoming a doctor.

2. Is this paragraph mostly about the applicant, or other people?

Definitely about the applicant. All details are in service to conveying why this person should be admitted to the post bacc program, even when other characters are invoked.

3. Could anyone else have written this paragraph, or is it unique to the applicant?

The insights of this paragraph were carefully built up over the course of the entire essay. There is no way any other applicant could have written this paragraph in precisely this way.

4. Does the paragraph cover too much, or is there real depth?

Because it’s a conclusion paragraph, it must solidify previous points without unnecessarily launching into new information. Instead, the essay as a whole leaves the door open for the applicant to explain other aspects of their experience in more detail in additional post bacc essays.

Other Common Essays

These essays are typically shorter than the personal statement, and often, similar prompts come up again and again. For this reason, we’ve created three categories of essays that frequently appear on post bacc applications (note that these categories are not exhaustive).

The “Why Us?” Essay

Let’s look at the “Why Us?” Essay Prompt from Temple University’s Advanced Core in Health Professions (ACHS) Post Baccalaureate Pre-Health Program:

Please give a brief statement about why you chose to apply to Temple University’s CST Post-Baccalaureate Program (500 characters with spaces).

The first step to writing an effective “Why us?” post bacc essay is to avoid writing about how great the program or its location are. Admissions committees ask you to answer these prompts not to have you parrot their promotional materials back to them, but to see if you’ve considered their post bacc program for reasons beyond their career changer vs academic record enhancer status, its medical school acceptance rate, or its location.

Your goal for this essay, therefore, should be to align your qualities, experiences, and aspirations with their specific mission and resources. This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your “fit” for the program in question. Finally, because you have a short space in which to make your case, you may have to dispense with narrative flourishes, which are best reserved for the personal statement.

Here’s an Example “Why Us?” Essay:

Temple University’s ACHS track will align my EMT experience with training at the William Maul Measey Institute for Clinical Simulation and Patient Safety. In 10 years of emergency response work, I gained a reputation for achieving the highest standards of safety. In fact, I was responsible for implementing lessons from our staff’s annual World Trauma Symposium trip for 8 years. ACHS would allow me to assist peers with less prehospital trauma care experience both inside and outside the classroom.

Why It Works

The essay aligns one of the applicant’s areas of distinction—his affinity for trauma care in his previous career—with the program’s institutional resources. By indicating both his previous experience and gesturing toward how it would allow him to help his peers, the applicant also suggests he will be a valuable addition to the cohort.

The Disadvantage Essay

Let’s take a look at the prompt from Drexel’s Pathway to Medicine Program:

Drexel Pathway to Medicine Program: Describe ways in which you consider yourself an appropriate applicant to the program including what qualifies you as a disadvantaged student. (1.5 single-spaced pages, 12 pt font)

There are several reasons a school is interested in your response to this kind of prompt. Some programs may specifically serve students from disadvantaged or underrepresented backgrounds and want to ensure you meet the eligibility criteria for their program and mission. Other programs may also be interested in understanding how this aspect of your life experience impacted your ability to succeed in pre-medical coursework.

This is especially relevant for applicants whose disadvantages reduced their exposure to the medical field, like career changers who later in life decided to redirect their path, or students whose poor undergraduate performance was influenced by their disadvantaged status.

For instance, if a student’s high school had not offered advanced science courses and the student entered university with less preparation for rigorous science courses than their more educationally advantaged peers, a student could speak to this aspect of this experience. A student could also discuss economic or sociocultural disadvantage, if these pertained to them.

Here’s an example disadvantage essay:

My high school science courses didn’t adequately prepare me for the rigor of university science classes. Looking around my organic chemistry lab in sophomore year of university, I realized that most of my peers had attended schools which offered Advanced Placement (AP) biology, chemistry, and physics. My school, on the other hand, only offered AP Calculus AB. I could see this disadvantage reflected in my academic performance. My peers consistently scored higher on exams than I, and it was difficult for me to grasp concepts.

This was just one consequence of having grown up in a working-class neighborhood; the schools in my area tended to be under-resourced and crowded, and my mom and dad, a part-time clerical worker and truck driver, respectively, could not afford to pay for additional tutoring. Even our requests for an intra-district transfer to nearby Montgomery High School, which did have AP science courses, were not approved, and though we appealed, the appeal was rejected.

I decided that, if I wanted to receive advanced credit, I would have to seek out resources myself. I took a part-time job at a frozen yogurt business to save money to hire a private tutor. With my tutor’s help, I was able to supplement my college prep classes with more advanced topics in bio and chem. With my paychecks, I also paid for the AP exams in bio and chem and passed each test with a score of three. Although my educational challenges were sizable, by committing to my path and finding ways around the obstacles, I was able to prepare myself for advanced science coursework. By the time I enrolled in my local community college, I was performing at a higher level—consistently receiving As in college bio—than my high school peers who had not been able to prepare and successfully pass the AP exams.

Though I was able to mitigate the consequences of a lack of educational resources, I eventually faced yet another challenge in my junior year of high school. My father had an accident that forced him to take time off work and, though he received disability benefits, it was not enough to pay the house mortgage. I was forced to take on a job to help with the family finances, which further cut into my study time and ultimately resulted in a dip in my grades for junior year—I was now a B to B+ student. With my father now better and returned to work, I am now better able to focus on my studies as I prepare to apply to medical school.

Why It Works

The essay notes the educational disadvantage, describes efforts to overcome it, demonstrates the applicant’s success in doing so, and also indicates that the disadvantage persisted in the form of family hardship during college, which accounts for the students’ grade fluctuations.

The student mentions these things without making excuses or using sentimental language, which helps establish his authority and makes his case more convincing, and ultimately describes what he did to help or what has changed. It’s important to demonstrate growth with essays like these, as the goal is to convince adcoms that you either are no longer hampered by what previously prevented you from succeeding, or that, if still experiencing similar circumstances, have found a way to mitigate their effects while pursuing post bacc studies.

The Academic Performance Essay

Lastly, we’ll examine the Touro University – California, Master of Science in Medical Health Sciences essay prompt:

Master’s level, post baccalaureate degree programs are commonly used to improve the academic record in preparation for applying to medical school. With this in mind, are there any areas of your academic record where you believe you performed below your expectations? What do you believe are the factors which influenced your performance and what have you done to address those factors? (1500 characters with spaces)

Although programs are aware that you’re pursuing post baccalaureate study because something in your academic record was not up to par with medical school admissions, they also want to know that you have the necessary self-insight, determination, and ability to mitigate these circumstances going forward.

With limited space and resources, they want to make sure they are accepting the kind of student who qualifies for their support but is also able to take fullest advantage of program resources. A student incapable of demonstrating that they have addressed the factors that led to their poor academic performance is a risk for post bacc programs, furthermore, because they may increase the program’s attrition rate and reduce their medical school acceptance rate.

Like in the personal statement above, the academic performance essay is a key difference between MD and post bacc applications. It’s an opportunity to convey both what led you to the post bacc route and how you were able to overcome your challenges.

This essay might appear similar to the disadvantage statement, especially if disadvantage was the reason your academic performance was less than spectacular. However, they are not exactly the same, as one can perform poorly in school without it being a consequence of disadvantage. For the purposes of this example, assume that the student didn’t face any significant hardship, but still failed to perform well. If, however, disadvantage played a role in your academic performance, make sure to include it as noted in the disadvantage essay.

Academic Performance Essay Example

My first-year science grades are abysmal relative to my grades for the rest of my university career. Unfortunately, this is due to my own personal decisions, which I regret. As a college freshman, I took to life on my own like paper to water. I rushed a fraternity, moved into the house, and became part of a vibrant community which prided itself on its ability to party. Unfortunately, I got caught up in the fraternity lifestyle and my grades took a hit.

As a sophomore, noticing that my academic performance was significantly lower than my STEM student peers, I moved out of my fraternity and recommitted myself to academics. I found a studio in the part of town where graduate students live and withdrew from the partying lifestyle. I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking. I was a brain on a stick. I also joined a campus youth ministry and found friends through my lab—friends who encouraged me to pursue my academic goals.

By the end of my sophomore year, I had made the Dean’s list and discovered a new application for CRISPR; instead of merely editing genomes, I applied the technology to the field of epigenetics, which was previously considered laughable. As is visible on my transcript, the rest of college saw improved grades across all subjects for me. Having reached a low at a young age, I know what is required to pull myself out of a bad situation and recommit myself to hard work.

Why It Works

Our applicant here knows exactly where his weak spots are: freshman year. He also has a blight on his academic record—an infraction for underage drinking, something that might automatically disqualify him from some admissions processes. But by tackling it head-on with a story of growth and resilience, he both handles the weak spot and turns it into a strength. He makes it clear that an investment in his academic future won’t go to waste, because he’s already been tested and knows the route to his future.

Final Thoughts      

Post baccalaureate programs are a tried and true way to gain admission into medical school. By submitting a strong application, you’re another step closer to fulfilling your dream of becoming a doctor.