Is a Special Master’s Program Before Medical School Helpful?

smp medical school

Undoubtedly you are aware that applying to medical school is an extremely competitive process. There are many wonderful and motivated students who find themselves with a GPA that is less than ideal for medical school admission.

It’s important to look at your credentials with a critical eye. The average GPA for medical school admission has been rising along with the average MCAT.

Enrolling in a Special Master’s Program (SMP) is one way to strengthen your academic record and improve your chances for admission. Most programs average between a year and two years. Some schools require a thesis or capstone project.

A special master’s program can specifically benefit the follow types of students:

  1. A student who has completed all of the medical school prerequisites but needs academic enhancement to be a more competitive medical school applicant.
  2. A medical school reapplicant who has identified GPA as the biggest factor contributing to admissions outcomes.

A special master’s program (SMP) is a post graduate program specifically designed to improve a medical school applicant’s academic credentials.

One or two years in length, students often take courses alongside current medical students. Special master’s programs (SMPs) allow students to show they can succeed in a rigorous scientifically-based curriculum.

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Below are some benefits of an SMP program:

  • A strong performance in a SMP will help demonstrate you can handle a rigorous medical school curriculum and increase your chance of admissions to medical school.
  • You will likely be able to secure new letters of recommendation from the program.
  • You may be able to conduct some research or find new opportunities for clinical experiences
  • You will benefit from taking classes with other students who share your goals.
  • Some programs offer the possibility of linkage with medical school(s).


Below are some negatives about SMPs:

  • SMP’s can be costly, averaging between $20,000 and $30,000 or more.
    If you enroll in a SMP and do not excel, you may hurt your chances for admission. The goal should be to achieve a GPA of 3.60 or better.
  • Timing becomes an issue (see below)
  • If you need to take the MCAT, think about how you will study at the same time you are taking graduate level coursework.

How Medical Schools Look at SMPs

Medical schools look at SMPs quite favorably; however, the greatest benefit of a SMP comes after completion. While many students apply to a SMP and soon after submit their medical school application(s), it is critical you think this decision through very carefully.

If you enroll in a SMP in the fall for example you will not receive your first set of grades until the end of the semester. Therefore, for the greatest benefit, students should apply after they have earned a full year of grades in an SMP. Applying to medical school during your first year of an SMP might not result in the most benefit. Seeking guidance in advance is a good idea.

Who Should Enroll in a SMP?

Students with a GPA of less than 3.50 should consider enrolling in a SMP. Most programs require a GPA minimum of 3.00. Students who are taking a gap year or students who have been away from science for a long time may also benefit from a SMP.

For students with strong GPAs, we do not recommend SMPs as gap year experiences. These students would be better served engaging in research, community service, clinical, or other scholarly work depending on candidacy strengths and weaknesses.

Special Master’s Programs vs. Post-Baccalaureate Programs

  1. Post baccalaureate programs are generally designed for students who were non-science majors or non-traditional students. Post-baccalaureate programs offer students the opportunity to complete the pre-medical school course requirements.
  2. SMPs are designed for students who have already completed the prerequisite courses but need to enhance their academic profile by completing a year or more of graduate level science courses.

Where do I find a Special Master’s Program or a Post- Baccalaureate Program?
The best initial resource is to use the AAMC searchable database and select the type of program focus you are seeking such as “academic record enhancers”.

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MedEdits Medical Admissions Founder and Chairwoman, Jessica Freedman, MD
JESSICA FREEDMAN, M.D., a former medical school and residency admissions officer at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is the founder and chair of MedEdits Medical Admissions and author of three top-selling books about the medical admissions process that you can find on Amazon.
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