​​Temple University’s Postbac Programs: A Plethora of Possibilities

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Podcast interview with Caleb Marsh

​​Temple University’s Post-Bacc Programs: A Plethora of Possibilities

Learn how to increase your chances of acceptance to medical school or another health professions school. [Show summary]

Caleb Marsh, Admissions Director of Temple University’s CST many postbac programs explores the robust opportunities available to students preparing for medical educations and careers. 

How can Temple University’s postbac programs help you reach your career goals, and what does the Temple postbac admissions team look for in applicants? [Show notes]

Are you considering a postbac program because your undergraduate grades are not exactly what you’d like them to be? Or perhaps because you lack required courses for the education you need to pursue a career in medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, podiatry, pharmacy, or a physician assistant science? Pull up a chair, our guest today is head of admissions for Temple University’s many postbac programs.

Welcome to the 435th episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Thanks for joining me. This podcast is brought to you by Accepted’s free guide, The A-Z of Applying to Postbac Programs, which teaches you how to apply effectively to postbac programs. That includes choosing the programs, writing strong personal statements, securing effective letters of recommendation, and more. Grab your copy here.

Our guest today is Caleb Marsh, Admissions Director at Temple University’s CST postbac programs. Caleb started his higher ed journey at Baylor University where he earned his Bachelor’s of Computer Information Systems and Human Performance, as well as a Master’s in Educational Administration. He began working in pre-health advising at Baylor in 2002 and continued at UT Austin and SMU before becoming Admissions Director of Pre-Health Post-Baccalaureate Programs at Temple in 2018. 

How did you get so involved in pre-health advising with your background in computer science and human performance? [2:14]

I wanted to actually be a coach when I was in college, and you had to pick a teaching discipline. So, I thought, “Well, I can teach computers. I enjoy computers.” But my first job in college was as a student worker in a health professions advising office in which I was introduced to what life as a premed was like, which was very different from the life that I was leading as an undergraduate student. Through it and watching the journey, I just fell in love with working with health professions students and helping them go on and achieve their dreams and goals of going on to things like dental school, medical school and in a sense, being a coach along the way. So, I didn’t deviate too far from the coaching aspect of things, just different sports, so to speak.

Can you give an overview of the post-baccalaureate options at Temple University? [3:19]

Sure. So first of all, I’ll start with the two primary pathways students can take. One pathway is for students that are career changers. So, students that might have been teachers or lawyers or rabbis – all kinds of professions who decided they wanted to go back to school, pick up their prerequisite courses and go to professional school. We have another pathway that is for students that would like to enhance their academic credentials. These are typically people that were maybe premed as an undergrad, and this is kind of the typical postbac student that most people think of. They want to go to a postbac program to try to improve their science grades as an undergrad. That’s kind of the basics, but as you mentioned, we have all these other different and more highly specialized programs within that framework. We help students of course go to medical school, dental programs. We have a pre-dental program, pre-pharmacy, and pre-podiatry tracks as well.

Our three newest tracks are PT, PA, and DMI, which is Diagnostic Medical Imaging. It would be someone who had an undergraduate degree, but wants to go onto a DMI program and needs to just get some remaining pre-reqs and wants to take that pathway on to a DMI program. I guess some of the programs that students may apply to could be master’s programs, but we work with SUNY Downstate to kind of put this DMI program together.

Do you plan to be in person this academic year? How is COVID affecting the programs at Temple? [5:07]

Our entire cohort last year, as many were, was entirely virtual. So, that was something that we all kind of had to adapt to, but we are excited. Currently, in fact, today we have a prematriculation program. Some of our students are on campus taking part in that, but we hope to be in-person. I think we have one class that will be taught virtually, but we hope to be able to conduct classes and hold our program on campus in person.

Are the various tracks having classes together? If it’s chemistry, is it the same chemistry for all three tracks or is it different? [5:49]

A couple of really important points here. Our postbac students take classes only with folks that are in their cohort. So, they’re not in the general student population, that’s a first factor that changes how the classroom is approached. So, it’s strictly just postbac students, but as you mentioned, yes, if they’re taking an Intro to Chemistry course, it’s the same Intro Chemistry course that someone going to dental school, medical school, podiatry school, pharmacy school, they would all be in that together. It’s not taught specifically toward any one profession. Most of our programs are overlapping like that so our students would be in classes altogether. The one that might be a little different would be our PT track and our PA track. If you’re not aware, the PA schools have a lot of variation in their pre-reqs and what they need for admission. Our pre-PA cohorts take classes strictly in their own block. Some of those do overlap with the others, but it’s mostly them in their own cohort.

What about the difference between the advanced track and the more basic class? The one for academic enhancers as opposed to career changers? [7:32]

Great question. Those run completely separate from one another. In fact, our basic core and advanced core, other than maybe some info sessions or workshops that we hold, wouldn’t really have a whole lot of reason to overlap or connect with each other. They don’t have any of the same classes.

It’s definitely distinct and different. The needs of someone who’s already run through the premed gauntlet, as opposed to someone who is just starting out in the pre-reqs are very different.

What is the application process like for the Temple postbac programs? [8:13]

It’s pretty straightforward. Two or three years ago, we decided to join PostbacCAS, which was a national application service for postbac programs. It’s very similar to your AMCAS, AACOMAS, AADSAS applications that our students are used to hearing about. The first thing that the student would do is they’d open a PostbacCAS application. They would go to the website, start to fill that out. It’s actually really great practice for students that will be applying to professional school because it’s a liaison product, which means that it’s basically exactly what they’ll see down the road. They apply, they have to provide an essay, three letters of recommendation and they have to have a complete, and this is an important point, they have to have a completed and verified app through PostbacCAS. Once that happens, they are through. That’s the application component of things and how that works for us.

Are there any supplemental or secondary essays? [9:14]

No. It’s a great question too. Our program has what PostbacCAS calls custom questions. We really only have a few, they’re not nearly as extensive as what a med school might see or a dental school might see as secondary questions. A small paragraph that asks why specifically Temple postbac and then some just other smaller, more specific demographic questions that the app doesn’t ask that we want to know for our app.

What are the interviews like for the Temple postbac program? [9:42]

This past year was interesting because in the past they had been in-person. They would come to campus and we would interview them in person. It’s basically a half-day of interviewing, info session in the morning, an interview with two faculty members, a meeting with the dean, and then we have lunch and a campus tour. It’s structured very much like a lot of professional school interview days are structured, but we had to pivot to virtuals. This past year we did all of our interviews virtually. It basically follows the same structure just without a campus tour and without a lunch and those kinds of things that we can’t provide, but you’ll have a lot of opportunity to speak with the students in our program, us, faculty, and the other applicants during the day as well. It’s a deep dive interview day.

Do you plan to stay virtual for interviews this upcoming year? [10:40]

That’s the plan. We may test some days in person, but there are a lot of things we actually liked about the virtual interviews. It’s easier to find space. It’s easier to get interviewers, and ultimately it puts less of a burden on the students. We know that flights and hotels and things to get to an interview, even if it’s just gas or train tickets or time that you have to take away from work, can be difficult. It’s a privilege to be able to interview in person. So interviewing virtually, we liked that. There’s a lot of good components to that as well.

How many students are from the Philadelphia/Pennsylvania area or out-of-city/out-of-state? [11:14]

About a third of our class is from this area – Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. But we have a lot of students from California, from Texas, from basically everywhere across the country. Almost every state at some point has come through the program so, it is a national program. Doing the virtual interviews does change things a little for some of the things that we had to negotiate today, which was our time difference. If we start our interview at 9:00 AM here, we have to be aware of what that is like when it impacts students on the West Coast. So, we did have to shift our interview day back a little bit just to accommodate wider interview time. But we also have folks interviewing from Korea, from Japan, from around the world. 

Do you also take international applicants? [12:08]

Well, some of them were international, but some of them were people that were from the United States living in Japan or abroad – military folks in those cases.

I noticed that several of your postbac programs have linkage agreements either with Temple Katz (the medical school), and/or other universities. Can you touch on how they work and what the linkages are for? [12:20]

It’s pretty simple, but it has basically three phases. 

The first phase is – and this is not just us, these are professional schools that are on our website have set up these guidelines for us – the first phase is undergraduate performance. So, they may look at things like your undergraduate GPA, your SAT score. Sometimes that can eliminate a person from contention for a postbac because if it says, “Must have a 3.4 to be eligible for this linkage,” then if that person doesn’t, then they may not be eligible for a linkage at that particular school. All the schools have different requirements. 

The second phase is the performance in our program, which is how they do in our classes. And then also at the end of the program, how they do on the MCAT. So, there’s an MCAT minimum threshold as well. Sometimes it’s a total score. Sometimes that’s total score and subset scores, each school again has different things there. 

Then the final piece of a linkage is the interview. So, you still have to be able to conduct yourself professionally and be prepared for an interview at the end of the process, even if all of those other conditions are met. I’ll remind folks, linkage is a great option. It’s one of the coolest features of our program, but it’s not the best feature. It’s just one of many features that are great. And it’s not a shortcut. It’s definitely hard work, definitely condenses things but there are some very specific checkboxes that have to be met for that conditional acceptance to be granted.

So, a linkage may not be exclusively dependent upon your performance in the postbac program? [14:15]

That’s correct. Again, I don’t know, these are always subject to change because they’re contracts that we get from the schools. But PCOM, for example, historically Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has not had a minimum undergraduate GPA threshold. Because of that it can be a popular linkage destination. Even if a student has a 3.2 and may not be able to link to some of the other programs, they have an option for PCOM. I’ll just also say quickly that most of the students in our program don’t apply via linkage. Maybe only a third to a quarter of them do. Part of this is because they want choice. They want to be able to apply broadly to a larger set of institutions other than just that linkage institution. Particularly the folks that may be from other states, they want to go back to Texas, or they may want to go back to California, or they may just want to go back to Maryland. And although Temple’s a great school, they want to be in-state.

According to the video on your site, as part of the postbac program you assist students with study skills and test prep, whether it’s for the GRE or the MCAT. Can you go into that a little bit? [15:38]

Sure. There are two primary ways that this is delivered in our program. One is we actually have a full-time learning skills specialist, Dr. Fair. Her tagline is that people have been told to study, but they haven’t always been taught how to do that. It’s kind of like throwing someone a football and saying, “Go play football,” but you don’t know the rules of football. So she teaches them how to study. That’s one component and that’s actually the prematriculation program that started today, it’s a component of that. 

The other piece is we’ve partnered with a test prep company to teach our MCAT test prep class. It’s an actual in-class lecture. It’s not graded, but it is a lecture. It includes all the things that you would expect of a test prep program to have as part of that. Books, online resources, practice exams and someone to teach that material.

Do you help students obtain clinical exposure during the postbac program? Or do you prefer that they focus on academics during the postbac program and obtain clinical exposure during the year between the postbac program and the start of school? [17:03]

Yeah, that’s a big one. We definitely prefer our students to focus on academics because we know that a lot of times the reason that a student might need a postbac program isn’t because they were necessarily doing anything wrong. They might have just been doing too many clinical hours. They might’ve been spending too much time riding along as an EMT or spending too much time at a hospital when they probably should have been spending more time in the library studying. So we definitely always encourage our students to focus on academics. It’s such a big part of what they do. It’s a rigorous program and we don’t want our students to get distracted from those.

We do have some clinical opportunities. Dr. Stull who is our coordinator, along with Deneen Ciancaglini, have put together our clinical piece. They’re more inspirational moments so that when you’re slogging through this rigorous semester, it’s nice to be able to spend a couple of evenings at the ED shadowing a doctor, and reminding yourself, “Okay, this class is hard, but these patients, I understand why I’m doing this. I want to be able to be here and treat patients like this.” So yes, we provide those for both PA, med, and dent students.

Is it more important for your career changers to get exposure, or do you expect it upon coming in? [18:39]

Great question. The expectation is that if a student says, “I want a career change, and now I want to come to your program,” the expectation is that they have probably done some kind of clinical experience before they end up here at our program because of the fact either A, they won’t get what they would need while they’re in our program if they have none. Or B, after the program, they may not be able to get an adequate amount of time in the application process. So, you’re exactly right. For career changers, that’s something we discuss on interview day and something we screen for in the application process.

For the advanced core that goes to academic enhancers, what kind of academic stats would cause you to be concerned about the student’s ability to succeed in your program? What should students with stats below that number do if they’re interested in building a case for acceptance? [19:27]

Students like that, things that we would consider red flags or yellow flags would be lots of Cs. Anything that’s a C minus, particularly in a prereq, if that’s the case. That could be problematic, even for admission. Lots of Ds and Fs. Any kinds of patterns of negative grades. One D, one F, one C, that will not sink your ship, but patterns of those things are indicative of something else so we look for those kinds of things. We don’t have a minimum GPA cutoff, but a 3.0 is a good indicator. If you can get a 3.0 or higher, you’re in the ballpark of where you need to be. On average, you probably saw this on our website, for most students it’s about a 3.2 average GPA for admission to the program.

If somebody has Ds and Fs, but they feel that it’s in their past and they really want to pursue medicine, how could they show you today? They can’t do a postbac program to get into a postbac program. [20:41]

So imagine there was a student that needed to do this repair work. You’re exactly right, it may not be best to do this repair work through a formalized program like ours. It may be best to go to your local community college, go to your local four-year institution, find out what kind of entry requirements they have for you being a non-matric student. They have all these kinds of different names for them. “Non-matric” is one of them. “Transient Student” is sometimes what they call them. But that would give you the ability to repair one or two of those courses at your own pace before then applying to a rigorous postbac program like ours.

We’ve interviewed students before in which we’ve said, “We like what we see here, but these two grades are problematic. In fact, if you go and you repair these two grades, you make an A in these two courses, we’ll defer accept you until next year.” And they go back to their schools, they do those two things, they fix it, they come back to us, and they come to the program and they do really well.

What do you want to see in your postbac applicants? [22:43]

We mentioned one of the things earlier, which is the clinical piece. It’s one thing to just say, “Okay, I was a lawyer, I quit my job and now I want to be a doctor.” And you say, “Great. What makes you think that? Why?”, and then they can’t really tell you, or they don’t have any clinical experience to back up that decision. Other times it’s very clear. They’ve been shadowing a doctor for the past few months in the evenings after they get off work at the law firm, and this is confirming everything they want to do. That’s very easy, that experience is important. Professionalism is so important. We look at that at an interview day – how a student conducts themselves, how they communicate. So those are all components. To everyone listening, this is important. It’s the open secret of the AAMC core competencies. Go read the AAMC core competencies on their website and it basically outlines many of the things that the health professions programs, as well as our program are looking for that aren’t just academics.

When people complete the postbac program, they’re going to have a year between completion of the MCAT program and beginning medical school. Is this true even with linkage programs or in some cases, can they just go straight in? What do you recommend students do during that year? [23:51]

So, a linkage candidate, if they were successful in meeting all the linkage conditions, would be able to enter seamlessly right after our program into med school the following fall. Then there are some students who actually come into our program as a very, very small number who are in the applicant pool and they apply and they spend time in our program and then some of them even get interviews and then they send their transcript from our program, even after just the fall to the med school to update their files. So, there are some various, usually only maybe a handful that do that, but the vast majority of them do what you described. They have what we call a growth year.

We really want students to be actively involved in doing things that better their application because after that growth, in the midst of that growth year, if they get asked to do an interview, inevitably, that interviewer is going to ask them, “What have you been doing since you got out of the postbac program when you applied?” If they don’t really have anything to say, it’s a bad look, but it’s also bad preparation. So, we encourage students to get clinical experiences during that year, but really, it’s more of a triage situation. We look at what they need and then we try to help them and guide them to get those clinical experiences. Sometimes it’s research, sometimes it’s practical, I just have to get a job and live. And so, we try to help guide them. We don’t do job placement, but we can give basic advice and strategies on how to do that.

What do you see as the big advantage for a student in investing in a formal postbac program, as opposed to doing informal postbac programs and just taking the courses they need to take or retaking the courses they need to take as the case may be? [25:50]

I may be biased because we have a very formal structured program here. It’s cohort-based. I think for us, that cohort model is huge. You’re in there, especially with career changers, you’re not in your classroom, in an intro bio class with 17 and 18-year-old college students. You’re in there with students that might be 24, 25, 26 up to sometimes 37, 38 years old, who have this shared experience of, “We just quit our jobs and we’re going to a postbac program.” If you do it kind of on a DIY basis, you might not necessarily get that cohort feel or have that support within the cohort. You also get the advising services that our office provides. You get the test prep that we mentioned that’s kind of baked into it and you also get the help of our learning skills specialists.

So, there’s a lot of components that may seem like fluff, but if you don’t have them, they’re definitely not fluff. They’re intentional and they’re a lifeline for many of the students in our program that others may not get outside of a formal program.

The example I always use is a gym, it’s like having a personal trainer versus someone just saying, “Go to the gym and work out.” and no one really tells you how to use that machine or gives you a workout plan. Sure, some people can go into the gym and pull that off and come out in shape. But it’s a lot better when you have a team of personal trainers walking you through that process and teaching you how to use the machine, not to hurt yourself, and clapping and cheering you on as you go. We like to see ourselves as that team of personal trainers for your academic health.

What do you see in your crystal ball for postbac programs at Temple? [28:39]

Oh wow, if I only knew. I think we’ll continue to grow. We have a growing program. Of course, there’s always the concern that you don’t want to outgrow what you can provide, while still having that family atmosphere that we really pride ourselves on. I see us maybe expanding into some other health professions as we already have. I don’t know how many more though there are out there that we could expand to, but I think we would really want to focus on growing our PT cohort, growing our PA cohort and growing our dental cohort. These are all cohorts that are very small right now, but we would love to grow those and really want to get the word out that our program isn’t just a med program. It really is a pre-health program. You need to know a pre-health profession you want to enter when you get here but if you have one in mind, we can probably help get you there.

What would you have liked me to ask you? [29:52]

I think one of the things that gets overlooked a lot in this process is, sure students are looking for these checkboxes that will allow them to get from point A to point B and a lot of times they want to do it quickly. But I think what they overlook a lot of times is we want you to get it right, not right away. So, we want you to get back on track, so to speak. There is a culture that our program has, it’s a very family atmosphere, it’s a supportive atmosphere. I think that that gets overlooked a lot of times, but people see it when they come to interview with our program. They leave and they say, “Wow, you guys are so friendly and supportive. I just thought that that was what you were trying to do to get me here. But even when I get into the program, you guys are still supportive and you’re still friendly and open to suggestions and helping out.” I think that that’s one thing I would want everyone to know. I’m blessed to be part of such a great team. We have such wonderful students in our program and we really love getting to know them and making them a part of the Temple family.

Approximately how many students are in the postbac programs total? [31:09]

This kind of goes back to the other point of, we have to be careful to maintain that family atmosphere. The basic course is 40 students so it’s small, but not tiny, but not huge. In our advanced course, 60. So, we usually end up with about 100 students total throughout the program between the two programs and when we have a team of six people with 100 students, it works out pretty well.

Where can listeners learn more about the postbac programs at Temple University? [31:59]

You can visit our website postbac.cst.temple.edu. We have a great video on there that shows what our program is all about from a student perspective. You can listen to me on a podcast, but it’s really great when you can hear it on a video from our students. And so, I would encourage you to go check that out.

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