Community v private college: Post-bacc Edition
July 24, 2019 6:19 PM   Subscribe

I am halfway through an expensive "post-bacc" program at a well-respected medical school, and for reasons also had to take a class at the local community college in the spring. The tuition at the community college was about 60% cheaper than the private medical school where I am seeking this post-bacc certificate, and the professor was far better than any I've had in the private program. Should I ditch the private program and complete the remainder of the pre-reqs at the community college?

The community college tuition is way more reasonable, has free printing, evening hours for classes, and regular tutors in the library that are easy to schedule appointments with. My professor in the spring course I took at the community college was excellent and even met Barack Obama to accept an award for her teaching excellence.

The private post-bacc program does not have consistent tutors available (only students who graduated from the program before, who are applying to medical programs now; so far I'm not impressed with their ability to tutor the material, and scheduling with them is next to impossible). Printing is not free. The tuition is astronomical. The professors for past classes have been less-than and I hear the professors I'll be taking in the fall are also not great educators.

Does the name brand matter? Does it look better to come from a private program rather than a community college for pre-med coursework? Does it look bad to take pre-reqs from a community college? I mean, physics is physics is physics, right? I already know what I need to do to navigate the next year~ or so before the MCATs, and I am really not sold on this private program at the moment. At best, the program offers a supportive ear from the program directors and relative flexibility around test-taking dates (when I've been ill, etc). This program is housed within a great medical school with linkages, but... I am really not sure if I am seeing the value of it at the moment.

I have a bachelor's from an Ivy, a strong academic and professional background, and an affiliation with a different Ivy. I feel like I have plenty of "brand name" schools on my resume and if this program isn't really worth it for anything else than the "brand name", I am not sure it's worth it to me.
posted by erattacorrige to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The brand name on your degree is more important if you're going to look at it that way. I worked at a community college for 12 years and SO MANY uni students did the pre-reqs there. They loved the class sizes and instructors so much more than most of the uni classes.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 6:28 PM on July 24, 2019

Your alma-mater Ivy's placement office should have exhaustive statistics on alumni med school admissions. Call a counselor there and find out if any meaningful number of alumni used community colleges to satisfy their post-bacc pre-med requirements successfully, versus those who have used your current post-bacc and similarly-prestigious post-baccs.

(I'd bet you a dollar that you'll find the community college route has zero record of success whereas the post-bacc route is very reliable.)
posted by MattD at 6:46 PM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am on faculty at a med school and read applications. Others may feel differently, but I couldn't care less about prestige of a post-bacc program. As long as you've passed the prereqs and scored well on MCAT, I pay a lot more attention to letters and essays.

In my opinion, most post-baccs are a way to fleece hopeful premed students and saddle them with yet more debt (average educational debt of graduating med students now exceeds $300k, at exorbitant rates); the one caveat are the linked programs, so if this is one of those where you are guaranteed a spot in their well-regarded med school, stick with it. Unlike a post-bacc, med school prestige plays a big role in getting into a competitive training program and an academic job.
posted by basalganglia at 6:46 PM on July 24, 2019 [14 favorites]

I can’t comment on how this decision will affect applying to med school. But I’ve had the same experiences with community college vs a prestigious university. Many community colleges are FANTASTIC and the instructors put their passion and energy towards teaching, instead of being a researcher first, teacher second, like many university professors. Plus the reduced financial stress will likely help you learn better and perform better during this whole process
posted by horizons at 6:47 PM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think medical schools want to see you demonstrate that you can successfully perform well in science classes as they would be taught at a rigorous upper-tier institution. Your Ivy undergrad might tick that box, but probably only if you were a science major or took (and performed well in) many science classes. I don't think a non-STEM degree (even from a top school) plus community college science classes would likely make you a very strong candidate.
posted by kickingtheground at 6:48 PM on July 24, 2019

Sure switch to the CC. It’s better for you in every way except for Maybe name branding. I am a non-medical academic biologist but I support basalganglia‘s thoughts above.

Ask yourself: do you want to be judged on merit, or upon money, old-boy networks and power structures that you may be able to leverage, even though the experience is sub par in terms of instruction?
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:17 PM on July 24, 2019

Over the past several years, what percentage of alums from your post-bacc program typically matriculate at one of your linkage med schools? That should be one of your major deciding factors. The likelihood of linkage success is far, far more important than the actual prestige of your post-bacc program. With a DIY post-bacc at a CC, you're throwing out the linkage opportunity, and that isn't something to take lightly.

There's nothing wrong with a DIY post-bacc at a community college, but it might not be the best idea if you're foregoing a good chance at acceptance through a linkage agreement and:
  • You may not be a super-competitive applicant for schools where you'd have in-state preference, or
  • Med schools where you would be competitive would have a similar or higher cost of attendance compared to whichever med school your post-bacc is affiliated with
One of the challenges here is that you're fairly far out from having a good sense of what your BCPM GPA and MCAT would be when you apply, so it's a bit difficult for you to use MSAR to gauge your chances at this point.
posted by blerghamot at 8:12 PM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

One thing to consider/clarify before you decide you're going the CC route: ensure that the courses your CC offers are sufficient for the programs you intend to apply to. I did the CC route (not for med school but a similar program) and the O-Chem and Biochem that my CC offered didn't qualify, so I wound up doing those at a state university which required a lot of very early morning pain in the ass commuting several days a week.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:28 PM on July 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

I did my post bacc work at a state school years after I graduated from an Ivy. I did well on the biology GRE (the old GRE Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology Test), got into a great school and got my PHD. The state U had the best university science teaching i experienced. I agree with basalganglia that most post bacc programs exist to fleece hopeful medical students and with Ufez that the CC classes may not be accepted. Do you have access to a state college?
posted by manduca at 5:18 AM on July 25, 2019

Are you hoping to go to med school at the same university that is offering the post-bacc program? If you are then you might want to stick it out there.
posted by mareli at 5:55 AM on July 25, 2019

I teach at a college that is almost entirely undergraduates, but has a small postbac program (~10 students/year). I teach postbacs physics.

I think there are a few things you need to consider when you're thinking about taking classes at the community college.

In my experience, our local community college physics classes are significantly less rigorous than the classes at our college (which are, probably, less rigorous than the classes at a major research university). This is for legitimate reasons, I think -- community college students, on average, are less prepared than those entering 4-year colleges and it's better to cover the core ideas in detail than speed through everything so you've "covered" it (at the expense of student understanding). Also, there's a real difference in trying to teach students to appreciate physics vs. preparing them for the MCAT. Physics is physics is physics, but if the community college course doesn't get to 2/3 of the things on the MCAT, that's going to put you at a significant disadvantage.

More important, probably, than your grades in the postbac program is how well you do on the MCAT. Is the community college program going to prepare you well for the MCAT? I'm pretty confident that our local community college would not, but I also think there's tremendous variation in community colleges. Can you get information on the MCAT performance of students who have taken classes at the community college? If the answer is "they do OK" or "no one has ever taken the MCAT from this community college," then that'd be a bad sign.

Additionally, regardless of the reality, the community college will likely be viewed as less rigorous. In my experience, there's some truth here, but the perception exists independent of whether it's true or not. You can allay those concerns somewhat by doing exceptionally well on the MCAT, but I would think that you would also need straight A's at the community college for you to be competitive for med school admissions. You can probably get away with an A- or two (maybe even a single B+) at the med school associated program, but you almost certainly can't get away with that in the community college program.

I also think, fairly or not, linkages matter. So, if the postbac program you're in now has linkages, that seems like something of a benefit. That said, I do think the linkage thing is a little oversold (students still have to do well in classes and on the MCAT). On the (third) hand, this is coming from someone teaching in a program without linkages, so you can take that with a grain of salt.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:33 AM on July 25, 2019

ensure that the courses your CC offers are sufficient for the programs you intend to apply to.
This is a really good point. I will double-check, especially for programs I am most interested in.
So I am in a major metropolitan city, and the community college here, which has several campuses, is exceptionally nice. I took a community college course in a rural area before, and I noticed there is a distinction between the quality of coursework at my CC here and the one in the rural area. Additionally, I took a course at the CC that was offered through the postbacc program, and compared the coursework, materials, and syllabus to my friend's who was in the PB course. The materials used the same textbook and were otherwise identical between the two schools.
do you want to be judged on merit, or upon money, old-boy networks and power structures that you may be able to leverage, even though the experience is sub par in terms of instruction? I want to be judged by merit, tenacity, self-sufficiency, and resilience.
As far as any advantage of an "old boys' network" etc from private schools, what makes me feel distinctly annoyed is that I found that having an Ivy League degree has not leveraged me any specific benefits. Maybe because I was (am) poor and didn't have time to attend campus functions in undergrad, also never lived on campus because I was paying rent out of pocket and found a room for $300/m which was all I could afford, and I don't have ties to wealthy people outside of the few friends I made at "my" Ivy. Most people know that being rich and having rich friends is the gateway into the world of those types of jobs, privileges, etc. I was too busy working to support myself and doing actual schoolwork to build social capital. So overall my Ivy degree, while absolutely worth my time (maybe not the debt I went into though) has really only helped me in a few fairly esoteric ways, and definitely not in the networky type way.

I am going to look into their alumni grad school advising, though. That's a good idea. I actually did utilize this service a few years back and the alumni office told me to NOT pursue medicine because I mentioned I have depression (which is completely managed!). In the past, my experience was obviously lackluster, but I will schedule an appointment; perhaps they have new staff who are able to actually be helpful.

There is a state school in my area as well and I looked into taking coursework there, but the tuition is actually comparable to what I pay at this private university, so I don't think switching to that would confer any advantage.

I am lucky because I do have an exceptional resume as well as story to tell that I think will be assets to my med school applications. (Like I have a bunch of siblings, none of whom went to college and work blue-collar factory jobs, parents with severe disabilities, was economically disadvantaged going into school, survived several years of childhood sexual abuse AND got the offender sent to prison ON MY OWN when I was IN UNDERGRAD and working 30~ hours a week; started my own business when I was 20, speak several languages, etc etc etc). I think I have a normal degree of anxiety around this process, but simultaneously feel comfortable with my level of competence and resilience in order to achieve my goals, etc. I have achieved a lot in my life, through what my friends call "my sheer will to fight."

It's just what basalganglia said: this program is fleecing people of money and as I mentioned, the quality of the education and resources is legitimately not superior in any way at all compared to what I experienced at the CC. Also, a lot of professors around here teach at the CC and at a bunch of private universities as well, so there really is no difference in quality of education. Hey, you worked years to earn an incredible PhD? The job market is shitty, so you're going to be teaching biochem at the community college and at like 3 different private universities as well. This isn't even a joke, sadly.

(I'd bet you a dollar that you'll find the community college route has zero record of success whereas the post-bacc route is very reliable.)

You're right about this, because the CC is not tracking those who take pre-reqs for medical programs at all. And, the program I am at the private school I've noticed is getting increasingly desperate to prove that it's "worth it." A woman in the year above me in this program, who got a 4.0 GPA in the program, was offered like $70 by the program director to postpone her MCAT test date so she could study a few more weeks. Like...that's bad. Another woman who is an office assistant now who went through the program has applied through like 3 cycles of vet school and hasn't been offered a placement. So...I dunno. It really seems to be a very case by case basis type of thing for each person on this path.

I don't particularly care about in-state v out-of-state at the moment (it's going to be expensive regardless; none of the programs in my state for residents are cheaper by much), although giving up the linkage option would be a shame.

if the community college course doesn't get to 2/3 of the things on the MCAT, that's going to put you at a significant disadvantage.
This is a good point and also true. I have been doing my market research when looking at registering for courses, using what access I have to syllabi from my friends who already went through this private program and comparing it to the department standards at the CC, reading professors reviews online to gauge their teaching skills before deciding, etc. The thing is, no matter what, I will learn the material for the MCAT, whether it takes me another month or year. That's just how I am: my mind is a steel trap when it comes to my most important goals. This is probably the most important goal I have, and I am not going to relinquish it even if a course has a weaker emphasis on X or Y topic and I need to teach myself the material at home.

It does make me a little sad about how class-based and snobby of a society we are, honestly. I was dumpster diving my clothing from the dumpsters around my undergrad campus while my peers were out getting wasted on Friday nights and throwing away perfectly good J. Crew wool peacoats just because a button fell off. I've noticed the education has such a strong correlation to class, it makes me want to cry. I've noticed that the sheer confidence (arrogance?) of my richer peers compared to my poorer peers across my educational trajectory has made more of a difference than actual intelligence. I've noticed that the CC in my area has tables set up specifically for students who may need access to food or housing to keep said students in school, whereas the private university is surrounded by chic restaurants where the medical students go to get trashed and then tip the service staff poorly. Like...

TLDR: I am still undecided but I am considering all the suggestions. Thank you.
posted by erattacorrige at 9:37 AM on July 25, 2019

Do you have a local public 4-year university?
posted by 8603 at 5:14 AM on July 26, 2019

Nvm, I see that it costs the same.
posted by 8603 at 5:39 AM on July 26, 2019

« Older Your incredibly absorbing summer reads: omnivore...   |   Corroded door cable on 2012 Sienna Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.