By Brian Burnsed

Postbaccalaureate premed programs can boost your chances of getting into med school, but aren't cheap

Students with aspirations of one day donning scrubs and using a stethoscope in their professional lives have to be diligent as undergraduates -- often eschewing Wednesday night parties with their friends or Saturday afternoon trips to the stadium in order to maintain a high GPA and eventually get into medical school. For those who enjoyed a more robust college experience -- and whose grades suffered as a result -- getting into medical school may seem like an impossibility, especially with ever-tightening admissions standards.

However, for students with mediocre-to-above-average grades, all hope is not lost. There are dozens of postbaccalaureate premedical programs that offer students a chance to take science classes like organic chemistry, molecular biology, and physics they either struggled with or avoided altogether. These programs, held at schools ranging from lesser-known institutions like Barry University to prestigious medical institutions like Johns Hopkins University , typically last a year and often cost more than $30,000 in tuition alone. So, given the cost, are these programs worth it? Yes, but with several caveats, medical school admissions counselors and admissions officials say.

"Some of these programs vary pretty widely in their quality, and it's something that has to be assessed by the student. It's a process that takes a lot of time," says Suzanne Miller, a medical school admissions consultant and author of the Medical School Admissions Guide. "If you're thinking about [applying], start early and do your homework, because if you're going to sink $30,000 into it you want it to be worthwhile."

Programs tied to top-ranked medical schools, such as the one at Johns Hopkins, boast that nearly 100 percent of postbaccalaureate program graduates get accepted into medical, osteopathic, dentistry, or nursing school. Other schools, such as Barry, for instance, claim about 80 percent of program graduates are accepted into medical school.

The process of finding a postbaccalaureate program that fits your needs involves first making sure you meet eligibility requirements. Minimum undergraduate GPA requirements for acceptance tend to hover near 3.0. Columbia University 's, program, for instance, will accept students with a 2.8 GPA or higher. Beyond a GPA requirement, programs only require that applicants have a bachelor's degree, though many recommend that applicants should have medical work, clinical, or volunteer experience.

Once students qualify, it's integral to make sure that the program has linkages to several medical schools, which will broaden applicants' chances of getting in. These links guarantee medical school interviews for students who meet certain GPA requirements, and in some cases even allow them to apply to the medical school partners without having to take the MCAT. Bryn Mawr College 's program, for instance, has links to 16 medical schools including the Boston University School of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "If [students] can afford to do this, then it is an excellent route," says Beth Piraino, Pittsburgh's associate dean of admissions and financial aid.

Also, experts say, students should avoid schools that don't have strong advising programs. The best programs will offer regular one-on-one meetings with advisers and MCAT prep courses. If a student performs well, the school will write a committee letter of recommendation singing the student's praises, which are typically well received by admissions officials like Sylvia Robertson, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine . "Different med schools know different postbac programs better than others," she says. "[With] the postbac programs we know well, we have more confidence in what a solid performance in those programs means."

For students who are struggling through their undergraduate work but still yearn to attend medical school, a postbaccalaureate program is typically the best chance to make an improvement. Enrolling in a master's program in science or a master's in public health are other options, admissions counselors say, but take longer and can be more expensive.

Ultimately, says Jeff Koetje, director of prehealth programs at Kaplan Test Prep, the best and least expensive route students can take is to be diligent as undergraduates. Though postbaccalaureate programs are effective, he says, they should only be considered a last resort. "They're a very expensive backup plan," he says. "It's a second chance. It's one you will pay for, but it is a second chance."

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