Special Master’s Programs

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Special masters programs, commonly known as SMPs, are masters programs for individuals intending to apply to graduate school, mostly medical school. Programs vary in length from 1 to 3 years with most including coursework that can be used as prerequisites for medical school. This is extremely helpful for individuals who did not complete their prerequisites during their undergraduate years or need to retake a course. In this article we will elaborate upon the concept of Special Master’s Programs and if they are beneficial. 

Many prestigious universities are lauded on their special master’s program, and acceptance is incredibly difficult. Although, if one is accepted into one of these programs, the prestige has innumerable effects on an individual’s academic reputation. Special Master’s Programs are excellent at preparing students for medical school as the curriculum is similar, and in some cases identical, to classes taught in medical school. For example, in the case of Georgetown University’s Special Master’s Program in Physiology the “SMP curriculum mirrors the Georgetown University School of Medicine (GUSOM) new medical curriculum”. With experience with coursework similar to medical school curriculum, you can begin proper study habits earlier which allows an easier transition into medical school. 

There are a variety of different focuses that one can take a Special Master’s Program in. For example, Georgetown’s Special Master Program is more focused in physiology, but the programs differ if you choose the Georgetown Downtown campus (GTDT) or Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC). At Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC), there is more of a focus on community service opportunities. In comparison, Georgetown Downtown Campus (GTDT) is more focused on clinical and community service opportunities. While the program timespan for both locations is 10.5 months, the GUMC location is composed of 31 credits while the GTDT is 32. Comparatively, Columbia provides a master of science in human nutrition. Columbia’s Special Master Program may be more intriguing to an individual who plans to go into rural medicine or gerontology while Georgetown’s program may be more geared towards individuals interested in surgical related programs. 

With such similarities between the coursework between Special Master’s Programs and medical school, an individual can understand how their dream medical school may work out. If one takes part in an SMP program at a university and grows to love the community and environment, they could continue on to apply to their medical school. 

Prerequisites vary with differing programs. The majority require one to take the MCAT, but there are some that do not and take the GRE instead. Prerequisite coursework is similar for most SMP’s, 2 semesters of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biochemistry with their related labs are required for application. Letters of recommendation are additionally a requirement. I recommend preparing your letter of recommendations in advance as you progress throughout your undergraduate years by maintaining connections with your professors. Official transcripts are a common important step in any graduate application, and all transcripts from universities you have been in attendance must be provided. Lastly, a personal statement/ academic statement of purpose is required. Having a meaningful and impactful statement is essential and one should begin writing their personal statement months in advance. 

While Special Master’s Programs are highly beneficial, they may not be for all of us. Most programs are quite costly and the coursework is rigorous. While most Special Master’s Programs are designed for applicants with lower GPAs to apply, acceptance for all is not guaranteed. Some applicants may like to spend their gap year(s) in a less academically rigorous environment. 

While there are many pros and cons to taking part in a Special Master’s Program, it is up to the applicant to decide whether or not taking part in an SMP would be beneficial to them. If one is lacking academically with a low GPA, taking part in a Special Master’s Program may help increase their GPA. On the other hand, applicants who are comfortable with their GPA score may want to venture into other opportunities for their gap year, such as working in a clinical setting or taking part in a volunteer trip. 

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