Not everyone is academically prepared for professional school by the time they graduate from college. A student might need to finish one or more prerequisite courses, or they may need to increase their GPA in order to be competitive for the program they hope to enter.
An excellent starting place for understanding more about post-baccalaureate options is the website of the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP). (You can also read more from the American Dental Education Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges).
Whether you need to finish prerequisites or enhance your academic record, there are two basic ways to complete courses after college graduation: taking individual courses as a non-degree student at an appropriate institution, or enrolling in a part- or full-time post-baccalaureate pre-health program. Since many students do not fall squarely into one single definition of a post-baccalaureate student, we recommend that after reviewing the information here and on the NAAHP page, you make an appointment with the pre-health office to discuss your needs and options.
Taking courses as a non-degree student
Many institutions will allow individuals to register for individual courses even if the student is not enrolled full time or seeking a degree at that institution. This is an option whether you are taking prerequisite courses for the first time, repeating courses, or taking new, advanced courses to enhance your academic record.
Benefits of this approach
- Significant flexibility in where, when, and how many courses you take
- There is no application process beyond enrolling as a non-degree student
- As a non-degree student, you have low priority for getting into classes, so some may fill before you can register
- Institutions provide no financial support to non-degree students
- There are none of the additional benefits that a program might provide, such as advising, a cohort of peers, or support for entrance exam preparation.
Career changer programs
Career-changer programs are designed for students who have taken few to none of the prerequisite courses for their intended professional program. These are not graduate programs, but some offer a certificate of completion. Structured programs have a strong support system, with at least one pre-health advisor and access to professors. They are mostly designed for students who can be enrolled full-time and can complete the program within the required time frame. Unstructured programs may be more appropriate for students who cannot be enrolled full-time and need to take courses at their own pace.
Benefits of this approach
- Structured career changer programs have a vested interest in your admission to professional school and will provide the support and guidance needed to help you towards your goal.
- Successful completion of a full time program (e.g. 3 lab courses per semester) is strong evidence to many professional schools that a student will be able to handle the rigors of the professional academic program.
- A formal application process means there is no guarantee of admission to the post-baccalaureate program.
- Typically there is no institutional financial support. Students attending a career changer post-baccalaureate program must secure all funds themselves, whether through loans, family support, and/or working to earn money for tuition and living expenses.
- There is a cap on federal student loans for undergraduate studies. If you already received federal loans to help finance your Bachelor’s degree, you may find your options limited for federal loans for continued education at the undergraduate level.
Examples of career changer programs
Note that this is not an exhaustive list.
- Boston University Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Pre-Medical Studies
- Bryn Mawr College Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program
- Elms College Postbaccalaureate Premedical Studies Certificate Program
- Georgetown University Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Certificate Program
- Goucher College Post-baccalaureate Premed Program
- Harvard Extension School Premedical Program
- Johns Hopkins Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program
- Scripps College Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program
- Temple University Basic Core in Medical Sciences Program
- Tufts University Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program
- UC Berkeley Extension Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program
- UCLA Extension Pre-Medical & General Science Studies Certificate
- University of Pennsylvania Pre-Health Core Studies Program
- University of Vermont Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program
- Wellesley College Postbaccalaureate Study Program
Academic record enhancer programs
Enhancement programs provide an opportunity for students to strengthen their professional school qualifications by retaking courses to enhance a weak academic record and/or by taking more advanced science courses. These programs usually offer a certificate or a Master’s degree. Students should be cautious about science and health graduate programs that are not explicitly designed around enhancing the academic record of pre-health students, as such programs may not increase professional school qualifications as needed. Discuss options with the pre-health office.
Benefits of this approach:
Some programs may have affiliation agreements with professional schools.
Some programs may offer a graduate degree, which can be useful for career advancement if you decide not to pursue professional school, or if a professional school application is ultimately unsuccessful.
Many programs offer supports in addition to coursework, such as pre-health advising, entrance exam preparation, application support, and/or a supportive cohort of peers.
Most programs are competitive, and for applicants with very weak undergraduate records, additional coursework may be required simply to gain admission to the post-baccalaureate program.
Typically there is no institutional financial support. Students attending an academic record enhancer post-baccalaureate program must secure funds themselves, whether through loans, family support, and/or working to earn money for tuition and living expenses.
Examples of record enhancer programs (not an exhaustive list!):
Most post-baccalaureate programs were designed with pre-medical student needs in mind, although many can effectively accommodate students preparing for entrance to schools of dentistry and veterinary medicine. Likewise, unstructured programs can often serve students interested in any health profession, provided they offer the courses that you need.
If you are interested in a program that is focused on your career of interest, there are a few around the country that are intentionally designed with non-pre-medical students in mind.
Note: Even if you are not a pre-med student, be sure to read the information in the accordion paragraphs above, as it is applicable to all!
- Boston University MS in Oral Health Sciences
- Creighton University School of Dentistry Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Dental Program
- Marquette University Biomedical Sciences Pre-dental Post-baccalaureate Program (BMPD)
- Rutgers Dental Scholars Program
- Temple University post-bac program
- UCLA School of Dentistry Post-Baccalaureate Program
- UCSF Interprofessional Health Post-Bac Certificate Program
- University of Pennsylvania Pre-Health Programs
- Pre-nursing online courses from George Washington University School of Nursing
- Pre-Nursing (and pre-PA) Post-Bac Program at San Francisco State University
- University of Pennsylvania Pre-Health Programs
If you decide to look into post-baccalaureate program options, the most comprehensive database of post-baccalaureate programs is available from the Association of American Medical Colleges. A smaller list, but more useful for looking only at programs housed at schools of osteopathic medicine, is available from the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.