Special Masters Program (SMP) Gap Year Programs Explained

August 17

Table of Contents

Suppose you intend to apply to medical school. In that case, you undoubtedly are aware of the various factors that go into a strong application. To be competitive in the application process for medical school, you need to succeed on multiple fronts, from high exam scores to solid clinical experience.

However, for some students, their undergraduate performance and background are insufficient to make them successful applicants. To strengthen their candidacy, these students may require graduate credentials.

Your path to medical school might be enriched by a special master's program or SMP. Special master's programs are gaining popularity among premed students as more people take a year off before starting medical school. These programs can allow you to obtain more research experience, get more exposure to the clinical setting, and raise your GPA.

This article aims to give you a better understanding of what special master's gap year programs are. We have also included tips on how to choose the best SMPs and the benefits of taking them.

Table of Contents

What is a Special Master's Gap Year Program? 

Special Master's Programs are a group of graduate programs that help medical students like you improve your academic profiles in various ways as you prepare for medical school. 

SMPs may help you raise a low GPA, gain more experience in the biomedical field, conduct research, get more experience with clinical opportunities, or pursue a field of study like public health or global health that will influence your future specialization. 

SMPs often concentrate on biological sciences and are connected to a medical school. SMPs also frequently permit enrollment in first-year medical school courses; some programs place students in classes alongside MD students, whereas others isolate SMP students or combine the two approaches. 

SMPs can emulate parts of medical school besides coursework by facilitating clinical and research opportunities. 

Collectively, these SMP features offer applicants the option to compare their academic standing to that of MD students enrolled in medical school, which benefits both applicants and admissions committees.

How to Choose the Right Special Master's Gap Year Program for You? 

You must first consider what you need and research what various SMPs and postbaccalaureate programs offer. What comes next now that you are interested in special master's programs? When looking into SMPs, remember the program that might be best for you.

Consider the crucial elements of SMPs listed below.

1. Special Master's Program Entry Requirements

Some Special Master's Programs have exceptionally competitive admission requirements. 

Schools typically demand that students have completed premedical courses akin to those taken by applicants to MD programs. (If you have not completed any premed coursework, you must complete a post-back.)

There may be minimal undergraduate GPA requirements for some SMPs. Others set threshold scores and require candidates to take the MCAT or GRE. The application deadline and resources needed to apply vary among programs as well. 

Unlike medical school, no AMCAS or other regulating body streamlines the application process. So, you might need to prepare many personal statements of varying lengths and keep track of your applications as they go through each school's admissions procedure.

What GPA and MCAT score must you have to be accepted into an SMP? 

To be considered, you should have an MCAT score of 500 and a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. The most prestigious SMPs, however, have average stats far above this, despite programs' varying levels of selectivity. 

What happens if your GPA is under 3.0? 

You generally will not have much luck applying to SMPs, especially prestigious ones. 

Nevertheless, some students with GPAs below 3.0 each year are admitted to SMPs, especially those with outstanding MCAT scores and other admissions criteria.

2. Special Master's Program Medical Schools Affiliation

It is crucial to remember that admission to an SMP does not ensure entry later on into an MD program in the case of SMPs that are closely related to a specific medical school.

This does not imply that the connection is just symbolic. SMP students have access to the resources that a specific medical school has to offer. 

SMP students frequently take first-year medical school classes with MD students, participate in networking activities, and form mentorship relationships with academic staff, all of which help them prepare for medical school and strengthen their applications to the MD program.

Students are enrolled directly in first-year medical school courses through Georgetown's SMP at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. Students at Rutgers University collaborate with Robert Wood Johnson Medical School professors on their capstone projects.

Some SMPs, including those at Rutgers University and the University of Cincinnati, offer official affiliation with MD programs, much like post-baccalaureate programs. Through this arrangement, students can start the application process for medical school at MD schools connected to the SMP. 

Linkage programs can lessen the likelihood that students will need to take a "glide year," which is the pause between an SMP and med school if they intend to start med school the autumn after their SMP.

3. Special Master's Program Duration and Available Enrollment Choices

Most SMPs are one- or two-year, full-time programs. Only a few universities, including Case Western Reserve University, allow part-time or full-time attendance. Given the length of MD programs, it is essential to think about how an SMP might fit into your lengthy academic ambitions and timeframe. 

Not everyone should spend a year earning a master's degree, especially those qualified for medical school and with excellent GPAs and MCAT scores. 

Additionally, it is crucial to remember that completing an SMP may not necessarily entail losing a year from the period allotted for submitting your application. 

Through your program's MCAT test preparation, admissions interview preparation, and other advising services, you may be able to jump ahead of other med school applicants who do not have access to or time for these tools on their timeline.

4. Special Master's Program Costs

SMPs are pricey, much like other graduate programs. Later, it would be best if you also considered the cost of medical school tuition

Fortunately, SMPs have strong financial assistance departments and know the high fees.

Many SMPs located at public universities also provide in-state tuition to students. In addition to financial aid, several SMPs also offer chances for fellowships and scholarships. Review the tuition and financial assistance details on program websites before submitting applications to various SMPs.

5. Special Master's Program Peer Group

Remember that different programs will draw and nurture various cohorts when considering SMPs. For instance, Eastern Virginia Medical School is dedicated to inclusion and diversity throughout its campus community. These programs' class sizes also vary, impacting how much individual attention each student receives.

While some SMP students find taking classes with first-year MD students beneficial, others prefer to learn solely with fellow SMP students. Resources from related master's programs on campus might be shared with other SMP programs. Prospective students should consider the kind of dynamic that works best for them.

6. Special Master's Program Assignments, Studies, and Clinical Practice

The SMP curricula vary according to the program's philosophy and partner medical school. Some institutions, including Boston University, try to mimic or duplicate a significant element of the academic experience of first-year medical students.

A few SMP programs, like Drexel University, might provide chances for remote learning or video streaming classes. A thesis or self-directed capstone project must be finished to graduate from another school group, including Brown University

Some SMPs, including the University of Pittsburgh, advise students to obtain clinical or shadowing experiences in the biological area. Students who want to improve their academic standings and resumes for upcoming medical school applications may find these options appealing.

As an alternative, some programs could not care about students who wish to participate in clinical or research possibilities. They argue that SMP students should prioritize raising their grade point averages. Schools in this category could need substantial volunteer or clinical experience before admission.

7. Special Master's Program Support for Medical School Applications

Special Master's Programs know that attending medical school is your long-term objective. SMPs include med school application support, such as expert advising, MCAT test preparation, or admissions interview practice, and the linking possibilities and medical school affiliations stated above. 

Numerous SMPs also promote extensive programs for student advice that encourage students to form mentorships with academic staff, career counselors, and other healthcare experts. 

Students at Tufts University can use premedical workshops to strengthen their applications to medical schools and a group of advisors known as "academic partners." Premedical advice is promoted by Loyola University Chicago from the beginning of the curriculum till after graduation.

8. Special Master's Program Admission Rates for Medical Schools

It is challenging to locate precise statistics on the proportion of Special Master's Program graduates admitted into medical schools due to their particular makeup. 

The fact that some graduates might decide against applying to MD schools in favor of other career paths, including the biomedical sciences, complicates the situation.

What are the Benefits of Taking a Special Master's Gap Year Program?

It is important to remember that there is no one path you must take while you get ready for and submit an application to medical school. That is okay if your route takes a few deviations along the way. 

One way to strengthen your application is to enroll in a special master's program during a gap year. Additionally, it may help you broaden your knowledge base and resume.

Here are the benefits of taking a special master's gap year program:

1. You Can Have Connections to Medical Colleges

A particular medical school is associated with a few unique master's programs. 

When the SMP is finished, some programs provide conditional acceptance to a medical school if the student passes all the prerequisites.

You should consider this because it would spare you from applying to any further medical schools. This is to ascertain whether the affiliated medical school is one you would genuinely want to attend. It is crucial to conduct a thorough study. 

Consider their reputation, tuition prices, graduate success rates, location, and other factors. Even if you complete certain SMP degrees successfully, it does not mean you will be admitted to a medical school. 

Nevertheless, being enrolled in a special master's program and having experience with clinical practice may give you an edge.

2. You Can Acquire Research Expertise

SMPs are a fantastic way to get the necessary research experience. If the program you select is thesis-based, this is especially true. In this instance, the curriculum includes all you need about research.

Special Master's Programs linked with medical schools are a fantastic opportunity to discover research experience you will enjoy, even if you are enrolled in a coursework-based program. Ask the professors in your program if they require assistance.

3. You Can Build Volunteer Opportunities

Some curricula include community service, while others allocate time for students to look for volunteer opportunities independently. 

For their students, some organizations set aside days to volunteer. This introduces prospective medical students to employment and service options outside the school's curriculum. Building up your AMCAS job and activities section is a fantastic opportunity.

4. You Will Have Better Opportunities for Networking

Due to their connections with medical schools, several special master's programs can connect you with illustrious practitioners and academic members. Thanks to this exposure, you can learn more about the many medical specialties and your chosen professional path.

These people may guide your research projects, act as mentors, and supervise your thesis, which could benefit you as a medical practitioner. They may even agree to provide a letter of recommendation for you to apply to medical school.

5. You Can Have Flexible Options

Many specialized master's programs provide significantly more flexible schedules than undergraduate degrees or medical school curricula. 

While upgrading their applications to medical school, master's programs usually permit their students to hold a whole- or part-time job.

6. You Can Increase Your GPA

If you want to improve your GPA without repeating any undergraduate courses, a master's degree may be your best option. 

Remember that your undergraduate and graduate GPAs are calculated separately by AMCAS.

If you choose not to improve your undergraduate GPA, SMP will give you another opportunity to impress admissions committees. 

Suppose your GPA is below average after you graduate from college. In that case, you might consider enrolling in a master's degree in a field in which you have expertise. 

Additionally, having a campus address may be advantageous when seeking entry-level research jobs that pay little money.

7. You Will Have More Time to Prepare for the MCAT

A unique special master's program will give you more time to study and prepare for the MCAT exam if you have not taken it before or want to enhance your score.

Some courses might even provide MCAT preparation courses. Knowing a good MCAT score and when to start studying for the exam can help you prepare for the test.

What are the Possible Disadvantages of Taking a Special Master's Gap Year Program? 

While a special master's program has advantages and benefits, some downsides could be listed below.

1. Special Master's Programs Can Be Expensive

Whether you enroll in an SMP or not, the cost of attending medical school is high. Still, special master's programs can further increase your staggering student loan load.

Typically, you would try to enroll in medical school as soon as you finish an SMP. 

The interest on your loans will continue to rise throughout your academic career if you take out unsubsidized federal, state, or private loans and go straight to medical school and residency. This may lead to significant debt.

2. Special Master's Programs Do Not Guarantee a GPA Increase

Sometimes earning an SMP degree successfully will not raise your undergraduate GPA. 

Systems for applying to medical schools, such as AMCAS, distinguish between your undergraduate and graduate GPAs. 

Although your SMP accomplishments will still leave an impression on the admissions committees, they will also be able to observe your poor undergrad GPA.

It would help if you enrolled in SMP for purposes other than raising your undergraduate GPA. Set more significant goals than lifting your GPA because this project is expensive and time-consuming.

3. Special Master's Programs Could Be an Added Pressure

To improve their chances of being accepted into medical school, students choose to enroll in SMPs. The admissions committees consider your degree performance if you completed the master's program. 

The SMP degree may reduce your chances of getting into medical school if you do not perform well. The degree alone won't provide you with a competitive advantage.

4 Special Master's Gap Year Program Application Strategies 

Medical school applications are like those for special master's programs. SMPs also require personal statements and other writings to ensure applicants are a good fit for a given program.

Considering this target audience—university admissions officers and healthcare professionals—our in-depth medical school personal statement guide offers tried-and-true techniques for crafting compelling personal statements. 

For these readers, private information should have an engaging beginning, recount the applicant's medically relevant unique background, and a conclusion summarizing the statement's main points.  

Because of these factors, it is crucial to adhere to the following guidelines when writing your SMP personal statement and any supporting essays:

1. Make sure your secondary essays and personal statements are institution specific.

Make sure each personal statement is customized to match the requirements of each SMP program on your list. 

Longer personal statements may be required by some schools than others. Additional essays or brief responses may be necessary for other programs.

Check out our guide to medical school secondary essays for more details on responding to these extra essays, like the ones you will encounter on your applications.

2. Do not focus on the negative aspects of your academic record and résumé.

The SMP admissions committee has access to your complete application. It is aware that getting into medical school is your ultimate objective. This indicates that they are aware of your academic weaknesses and are interested in reading more of your personal narrative in the written portions of your application.

It is acceptable to discuss why you might have encountered academic challenges or failed previous attempts to gain admission to medical school, but make sure your reader understands that you have a plan for the future by incorporating those challenges into your story rather than coming off as defensive about them.

3. Be Honest About Your Application 

The SMP admissions staff knows their programs do not fit every candidate perfectly. They are aware that they are a step toward your ultimate objective. SMP admissions panels typically read the personal statement of a candidate preparing to apply to medical school, which may be a challenging time in life.

This is particularly true if the applicant either already applied to medical school and was turned down or knows they do not have the grades to be accepted there. 

4. Be specific about your goals and intentions.

It would be best if you were not afraid to pursue your long-term objectives. Feel free to briefly describe your professional goals for medicine after enrolling in an SMP. This is particularly true if the program you are applying to has a formal affiliation with one of the MD programs on your list.

In other words, if your long-term goal is to go to medical school, you do not need to keep it a secret.

What are the Best Special Master's Gap Year Programs? 

Have you now decided whether you are taking a special master's program? If so, you have to identify the different kinds of special master's programs to choose from. 

There are quite a few options, and depending on your interests and other circumstances, you can select from the following:

1. Academic Enhancers

Special master's programs academic enhancers (AE) are designed for premedical students who want to strengthen their applications to medical schools. 

By enrolling in pertinent science-based courses, expanding your exposure to clinical practice, and getting beneficial research experience, these programs may help you improve your GPA. Remember that your undergraduate GPA may or may not take SMP courses into account.

2. Career Changers

Students who desire to work in medicine but do not major in science in college are called career changers. 

Students in special master's programs and career changers take the prerequisite courses required for entrance to medical schools.

3. SMP for Educationally and Economically Disadvantaged Groups 

Educaitionally and Economically Disadvantaged (EED) programs provide students with the training they need to become strong candidates for admission to professional schools. These initiatives seek to expand chances for underprivileged students and diversity in the medical sector.

4. SMP for Underrepresented Minority Students  

These kinds of initiatives aim to overcome the disparities in medical education. 

They allow medical students like you to improve their effort and gain the knowledge and expertise required for success. These initiatives seek to expand chances for underprivileged students and diversity in the medical sector.

Additional FAQs – Special Master's Gap Year Programs Explained 

How Do Medical Schools Look at Special Master's Programs?

SMPs are well-received by medical schools, but their most significant advantages come after they are finished. 

While many students submit their applications to an SMP and then immediately submit their applications to medical school, you must consider this option.

You will not get your first set of grades until the end of the semester if you enroll in an SMP in the fall, for instance. 

Therefore, the best time for students to apply is after completing a full academic year in an SMP. It might not be best to use medical school during your first year of an SMP. It is wise to get advice beforehand.

Who Should Enroll in a Special Master's Program?

Students with GPAs below 3.50 must think about enrolling in an SMP. Most programs demand a minimum GPA of 3.00. 

A special master's program may also be helpful for students who are taking a gap year or who have neglected science for a while.

We do not advise SMPs as gap year experiences for students with high GPAs. 

Depending on your strengths and shortcomings, you would benefit more from participating in research, community service, clinical work, or other intellectual endeavors.

How Long Does It Take to Finish Special Master's Programs?

You can pursue several master's degrees. While some SMPs provide thesis tracks, others merely require coursework to pass. Although programs often have established curricula, you can select courses based on your requirements and interests.

The typical length of time to complete a thesis master's degree is two years. Coursework takes one year, and thesis writing and research take up the other. 

Coursework-based programs last for around a year. Each program's curriculum varies, but each can assist students in strengthening the parts of their weak medical school applications.

You're no longer alone on your journey to becoming a physician

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!