Gap Year: Post Bacc & SMP Programs

Special Masters Programs (SMP)
SMPs are one or two year graduate degree programs designed with a pre-med in mind. This means that the schools that offer SMPs understand that most students will be enrolling in their program to strengthen their application to medical school. They specifically design the program to replicate aspects of medical school and often involve taking courses along with 1st year medical students and using national medical exams to distinguish their students.

What degree is earned?
Each program will offer a different master’s degree at the completion of the requirements. Commonly students will receive a ‘Masters in Medical Science’ or a ‘Masters in Medical Physiology’. However, more important than the degree itself is the coursework that is completed.

How do medical school admission committees view SMPs?
When you submit your AMCAS application, your undergraduate and graduate GPA will be totaled separately. Each medical school has their own system when considering these GPAs but in general, if an applicant has a low undergraduate GPA, a high graduate GPA will help compensate for this. Medical schools recognize SMPs to be more rigorous and representative of medical school than, say, a MBA or online MPH. Therefore a 4.0 from a SMP will be most reflective of your academic capabilities as a future medical student.

What are the other benefits of a SMP?
As SMPs are designed with the goals of a pre-med in mind, most will offer a variety of other activities. Many will provide research opportunities which is great if this is a potential area of weakness on your application. They may also have opportunities for clinical experience and volunteer work. In addition, many will provide MCAT preparation and advising to ensure all areas of application are in check.

What are the downsides of enrolling in a SMP?
SMPs are not for everyone and there are some technical and financial aspects to consider as well. The programs can be costly, with tuition ranging from $10k-$30k per year.

Additionally, you do have to apply to these programs, and although the programs cater to pre-meds that have a lower GPA, acceptance is not definite.

Students must also consider the timing of applying. Let’s say the degree length for a specific SMP is one year, you ideally want to submit your medical school application after having completed the program to demonstrate your success. This means that you would not matriculate into medical school until a year after completing the program.

Another potential downside is that you should have all of your medical school pre-requisite courses completed before the SMP. This is because the SMP will offer graduate level coursework and this will not satisfy requirements for general science courses such as organic chemistry or physics.

Post-Baccalaureate Programs
A post-bac pre-medical program is typically a one year (but can be up to three years) educational program provided by universities that works to prepare a student for medical school. The program develops a curriculum that offers pre-requisite classes for medical school- for example, biology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, etc. Some schools allow the student to establish their own curriculum while others have set coursework schedules. In addition to the science curriculum, many universities offer advising, research opportunities, medical volunteer experiences and even the chance to earn a master’s degree.

What are the other benefits of attending a post-bac program?
Many medical school applicants don’t have sufficient undergraduate advising- they may have not taken the correct courses or inadequately prepared their application, which can hinder their chances of admission. Post-bac programs frequently offer comprehensive and direct counseling so that each student has an assigned advisor who knows them extensively providing them with exceptional mentorship. In addition, various schools offer MCAT preparation, opportunities to participate in research and medical related activities. Post-bac programs frequently hold events such as physician speakers to further immerse their students in medicine.

Will a post-bac program guarantee admission to medical school?
A post-bac program is designed to improve the likelihood of an applicant getting accepted to medical school. Some schools tout a 90% acceptance rate for students that complete a post-bac at their university. However, there is no guarantee of acceptance. Some schools link with a medical school and will guarantee an interview if the student has met specific GPA and MCAT requirements. An interview does not ensure that an applicant will be accepted, therefore, its crucial to use the resources offered by a post-bac program to boost your application.

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