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You’re about to graduate and feel like you’re not ready to apply to medical school.
Maybe you have a low GPA, want to boost your resume, or take more rigorous classes to better prepare you for medical school.
After two years in a DIY post-bacc, I decided the next best step for me was to do a master’s program.
A master’s program is a great way to show admissions committees you can handle the academic rigor of medical school, especially if you’re a low GPA applicant like me!
Many biological and biomedical science master’s programs provide MCAT prep, clinical exposure, volunteer and research opportunities, and excellent academic advising.
So, your reason for wanting to do a master’s program before medical school doesn’t have to be solely academic.
Though specific master’s programs serve as a linkage to medical school, these programs are called Special Master’s Programs.
What is a Special Master’s Program?
Special Master’s Programs (SMPs) are accelerated graduate-level programs designed to enhance your academic credentials and increase your chances of admission to medical school.
These programs are a great way to bolster your resume and demonstrate your academic abilities at a higher level.
SMPs are typically 1-year programs that involve rigorous coursework where you’ll be exposed to the same material as first-year medical students.
Special master’s programs are affiliated with medical schools and will guarantee you an interview or conditional acceptance if you meet the program’s minimum requirements upon completion.
Although the guaranteed interview/conditional acceptance is a huge reason premed students do SMPs, there are other pros and cons.
- How To Ask a Professor for a Strong Letter of Recommendation
- Everything You Need to Know About Doing a DIY Post-Bacc
- 5 Ways You Can Overcome a Low Premed GPA
Pros of Doing a Special Master’s Program Before Medical School
Affiliation with medical schools
Special master’s programs are affiliated with medical schools and will guarantee you an interview or conditional acceptance contingent on meeting the program’s minimum requirements.
The minimum requirements are usually to maintain above a 3.0 and submit an MCAT score above the 40th percentile.
Although each program will vary, this is the standard I’ve seen most.
When researching special master’s programs, ensure the program is affiliated with a medical school.
This will be indicated on the master’s program’s website.
You can also check the AAMC Post-Bacc Database, which lists post-bacc and master’s programs to determine their affiliation.
You’ll have to individually click on each school and scroll down to view the school’s affiliations.
Here’s an example from Colorado State University’s 1-year Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences Program:
Gain research experience
Although you can get into medical school without research experience, most students applying to medical school have participated in some laboratory research.
Doing research exposes you to the process of scientific inquiry and will undoubtedly benefit your medical school application.
SMPs affiliated with medical schools have excellent opportunities to get involved in research.
Often, the professors leading these research projects are medical school faculty members.
This is a great way to network and become a recognizable face among hundreds of applicants.
Sometimes it’s “who knows you,” not “who you know.”
Building connections with your professors may become helpful when you apply to medical school.
Professors at the graduate school are usually faculty members at the medical school.
Your professors can become mentors and heads of research projects and may even agree to write your medical school letter of recommendation.
How awesome would it be to get a letter of recommendation from a medical school faculty member?!
One thing I looked for when applying to special master’s programs is if the program offers MCAT prep.
The SMP I decided on includes a Kaplan MCAT prep course, which I’m super happy about.
I have not taken the MCAT yet, so choosing a program that offers a prep course or MCAT guidance was crucial.
An MCAT prep course would also benefit students who’ve already taken to MCAT but want to retest.
It’s important to note that SMPs are rigorous, and you’ll have limited time to study for the MCAT while in the program.
If MCAT prep is essential to you, ensure that your program offers some type of standardized test support.
Clinical and volunteer opportunities
Some programs incorporate clinical experience and community service into their curriculum to help students build their AMCAS work and activities section.
A great example of an SMP that incorporates clinical community service is Bluefield’s MABS Program.
I wouldn’t count on an SMP to provide you with ALL the clinical experience you need for medical school.
These programs want to see you already have significant clinical and volunteer hours before enrollment.
However, if you have some experience but desire more, this is a perk!
Cons of Doing a Special Master’s Program Before Medical School
SMPs are expensive
Special master’s programs are expensive as hell!! And I’m not talking about a few thousand expensive, but about $20k+ expensive just for tuition!
If you have a low GPA or low MCAT score, it will be less expensive to do classes in a DIY post-bacc and retake the MCAT.
Exhaust all your options first before doing an SMP.
Or, if you’re willing to spend that much money to help you get to where you want to be, go for it!
It’s definitely an investment. Be sure to read the tuition and financial aid information on the program’s website and look into scholarships.
SMPs are high-risk, high reward.
If you do well, you have a great chance of increasing your chances of matriculating into medical school.
If you don’t do well, you significantly hurt your chances and will be almost impossible to recover from.
Doing an SMP is basically your last chance to show you can handle rigorous courses that emulate medical school curriculum.
You’re going to have to work your butt off. It’s basically the first year of medical school but make it grad school.
Word on the block is the 1st year of med school will be a lot easier to adjust to after doing an SMP.
Delays your timeline
Doing a master’s program will inevitably delay your medical school application.
The good news is that you’ll be improving your application by obtaining a master’s degree and demonstrating you can handle the rigors of medical school.
However, if you have a strong upward trend and above a 3.3 GPA, you may want to consider focusing on crushing the MCAT instead.
Studying and retaking the MCAT will be less time-consuming than doing a master’s program.
Graduate GPA is separate.
Doing an SMP will count toward your graduate GPA, separate from your undergrad GPA.
With that being said, if you do not have a strong undergrad upward GPA trend or have a low undergrad GPA, an SMP may not be for you.
For example, I have a strong upward trend in my last 26 credits in my DIY post-bacc (nothing below a 3.5 each semester).
Although my cumulative GPA is 2.9, my post-bacc GPA is 3.3.
I have a lot of credits from my previous college years before I was premed, making it near impossible to get my GPA to budge.
I didn’t quite feel ready to apply to medical school after my post-bacc and felt the need to continue to demonstrate my academic abilities.
Hence why I decided to pursue a master’s degree.
But there are a few more reasons for my logic. Keep reading!
Why I’m Doing a Special Master’s Program Before Applying to Medical School
I’ve had so many people reach out to me on Instagram asking why I’m not applying to medical school yet since I have so much experience.
To some people, my experience outweighs my low GPA, and if I could just crush the MCAT, “I’ll be fine.”
But I don’t want to just “be fine,” I want to put my best foot forward and be able to apply to the medical schools I want to.
Sure, maybe I could apply without doing an SMP, but my school list would be relatively limited because I’d have to choose medical schools with a history of accepting low GPA applicants.
I’m a terrible standardized test taker, and I don’t think I’ll do well enough for my MCAT score to “overpower” my low GPA.
The ideal MCAT score that I’d have to get with my current GPA would be 511+
This is doable, don’t get me wrong, but there are more reasons to do an SMP before applying to medical school.
Let me say that just because I’m doing a master’s program due to my low GPA doesn’t mean you have to.
Many people have gotten accepted into medical school with a low GPA and low MCAT score.
However, they typically have incredible stories and experiences.
You’ll need to assess your unique situation and decide what’s best for you.
So, why will I push back my medical school application and drop thousands of dollars on a master’s program?
Here’s my logic…
Why I’m doing a special master’s program before applying to medical school:
- I’m not sure I’d do an SMP if I did amazing in my post-bacc, but I had two bad semesters due to covid and transitioning to online classes.
- I’m going to be real with you… my overall GPA is 2.92. My post-bacc GPA is 3.3, with a solid upward trend in the last 26 credits. I don’t believe these numbers demonstrate my academic abilities, and I fear ADCOMS may question if I’m ready for medical school.
- If I applied to medical school instead of doing an SMP, I know in my heart I wouldn’t be putting my best foot forward.
- I don’t want to take the MCAT yet, and I’m not ready for medical school. Plain and simple. I know myself, and I feel I’d be better prepared if I did an SMP.
- SMPs provide outstanding mentorship, resources, connections, and research opportunities. I think this is so clutch on top of the guaranteed interview contingent upon meeting the minimum requirements!
- I personally don’t mind pushing back my medical school application another year to get a master’s degree. Yes, it’s expensive, but IMO the pros outweigh the cons.
- Doing a master’s program will allow me to demonstrate my academic abilities further. Therefore if I score lower than my ideal MCAT score, I’ll still have a good chance of getting into medical school, given my story, experiences, and the guaranteed interview.
Why I Did a Post-Bacc After Undergrad
My undergraduate major (neuroscience) did not include all the medical prerequisite classes.
I added a health studies minor to include all the prereqs in my major but ended up dropping it because I was burnt out.
I just wanted my degree already !! Lol.
Additionally, my undergrad was extremely expensive, so I decided to finish the prereqs in a DIY post-bacc at another, less expensive university.
I did six semesters and took 43 credits in a DIY post-bacc. This took me two years and was absolutely worth it.
I retook physics 1, completed the rest of the prereqs, and took several upper-level science classes to help improve my GPA.
I still struggled in my DIY post-bacc (the prereqs ain’t no joke!), but I ended up with a 3.3 post-bacc GPA with a strong upward trend in the last 26 credits.
Ultimately, doing a DIY post-bacc was essential for me!
Wondering if a post-bacc is right for you? Read this blog post here.
SMPs vs. Post-Bacc Programs
The major difference between an SMP and post-bacc program is that courses taken in an SMP are credited toward a separate graduate GPA, while courses taken in a post-bacc count toward your undergraduate GPA.
Students would do a formal or informal post-bacc if they did not complete the prerequisite courses in undergrad or need to boost their science GPA.
Additionally, SMPs grant a master’s degree, whereas post-bacc programs will offer a certificate of completion at most.
So, how do you know if you should seek out a post-bacc or an SMP?
If you did not complete the premed prerequisite courses in undergrad or need to increase your undergrad GPA, look into doing a formal or DIY post-bacc.
If you completed the prereqs, have a GPA on the lower end of the 3.0 scale, and don’t have a strong upward trend, you may consider doing an SMP.
Master’s Programs I Applied To
Honestly, I didn’t think I’d have a shot at an SMP because my GPA is below 3.0, and I didn’t have an MCAT/GRE test score to submit.
I wanted to increase my chances of admission, so I applied to both special master’s programs and 2-year master’s programs.
The programs I applied to for fall 2022 did not require a test score for admission, though they highly recommended submitting one.
I was accepted to several programs, which goes to show an upward trend, great experiences, and your story matter!
10 master’s programs I applied to:
- Bluefield VCOM – Biomedical Sciences MABS rejected
- Boston University – Medical Sciences M.S. rejected
- Chatham University – Biomedical Studies MABS rejected
- Elms College – Biomedical Sciences BMS rejected
- FAU – Biomedical Sciences M.S. (non-thesis) accepted
- LECOM Bradenton, FL – Medical Master’s MMS accepted
- Loras College – Master’s in Biomedical Sciences accepted
- LSU – Medical Sciences M.S. (non-thesis) rejected
- NSU – Biological Sciences in Health Studies accepted
- Touro University, Nevada – M.S. in Medical Health Sciences rejected
Master’s Programs I was in the Process of Applying to:
Applying to these many schools may be a bit excessive, but I wanted to increase my chances as much as possible.
I did not finish my applications for the schools listed below because I got accepted to my top choice before completing essays for these programs.
- Barry University – Biomedical Sciences M.S.
- Johns Hopkins – Master of Health Science MHS
- University of Miami – Biomedical Sciences MiBS
Special Master’s Programs with Linkage to Medical School
- Arkansas Master of Science in Biomedicine
- Bluefield VCOM Biomedical Sciences MABS
- Boston University MAMS Program
- California University MBS Program
- Campbell University MSBS Program
- Case Western Medical Physiology Program
- Chatham University MABS Program
- Colorado State University Biomedical Sciences Program
- Drexel DPMS Program
- Eastern Virginia Medical Master’s
- Elms College Biomedical Sciences BMS
- Georgetown Special Master’s Program in Physiology
- LECOM Medical Master’s Program, FL
- LECOM Medical Master’s Program, PA
- Loyola University M.A. Medical Sciences
- Midwestern, AZ MBS Program
- Midwestern, IL MBS Program
- NSU Biomedical Sciences Master’s Program
- PCOM Biomedical Sciences Program
- Rocky Vista MSBS Program
- Rosalind Franklin University M.S. in Biomedical Sciences
- Rutgers MBS Medical Scholars Track
- Rowan University MBS Program
- Touro University, NV M.S. in Medical Health Sciences
- Tufts University MBS Program
- University at Buffalo MA in Biological Sciences
- University of Cincinnati SMP in Physiology
- University of Pittsburgh Master’s Program
- University of Toledo Medical Sciences Program
- Wake Forest Pre-Health Pathway MS
If you know of any other master’s programs linked to medical schools that I didn’t mention, drop a comment below, and I’ll add them to the list! xo