The Challenges of Being a Post-Bacc Student

In one of my first blog posts, I talked about why prospective applicants should take a gap year(s) before applying to grad school. For those who choose to do so, it can be a great time for discovery and reflection. However, this decision comes with its fair share of challenges. What was most challenging for me as a post-bacc student (i.e., someone who just received their Bachelor’s degree) was not having access to funding for conferences.

In undergrad, I wasn’t able to present at any Psychology conferences, so I wanted to make sure I did so as a post-bacc student. Because my advisor didn’t have funding at the time and I couldn’t apply for funding on my own, going to conferences proved to be very difficult. One lesson that I learned was that conferences are EXPENSIVE! Not only do you have to pay the conference registration fee, but you also have to pay for travel and hotel expenses out-of-pocket, which can quickly add up. As someone who is low-income, this was no easy task.

Another hurdle that post-bacc students are faced with is gaining research experience. Although I was able to stay in my undergrad lab as a volunteer research assistant, I know this may not be possible for everyone. As an alternative, you can apply for lab positions at other institutions/companies or enroll in post-bacc programs. Post-bacc programs are great for students who are not applying to PhD programs until a future cycle. You can get more research under your belt (especially if you were unable to get a significant amount in undergrad) and may also be able to take graduate-level courses. A few that I want to mention are:

  • National Institutes of Health
    • Program: Postbac Intramural/Cancer Research Training Award (IRTA/CRTA)
    • Goal: To provide recent college graduates who are planning to apply to graduate or professional school an opportunity to spend one or two years performing full-time biomedical research at the NIH.
    • Website
    • Application tips
    • Writing a successful application for an NIH program PDF
    • Research or coursework? Only research
    • Tuition required? No
    • Stipend included? Yes
    • Can international students apply? No
  • Yale University Post-Bacc Research Education Programs (PREP)
    • Programs: Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) PREP and ESI PREP (Humanities, Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering)
    • Goal: To help underrepresented students gain the necessary skills to pursue a PhD in their chosen field of study.
    • Website
    • Research or coursework? Both
    • Tuition required? Yes (for courses), but students receive financial support
    • Stipend included? Yes
    • Can international students apply? No
  • University of California, Berkeley
    • Program: Psychology Post-Bacc Certificate Program
    • Goal: To help students who did not major in Psychology as undergrads as well as Psychology majors who would like to gain more research experience in the field.
    • Website
    • Research or coursework? Both
    • Tuition required? Yes
    • Stipend included? Not sure (I would ask about this)
    • Can international students apply? Yes
  • University of California, Irvine
    • Program: Post-Bacc Program in Psychological Science
    • Goal: To help students strengthen their grad school applications in Psychology through coursework and research/internship experience.
    • Website
    • Info session
    • Research or coursework? Both
    • Tuition required? Yes (but you can apply for a diversity fellowship)
    • Stipend included? Yes
    • Can international students apply? Yes
  • Columbia University
    • Program: Psychology Post-Bacc Certificate Program
    • Goal: To help college graduates who did not major in Psychology, but who wish to attend grad school in the field to gain experience in both coursework and research.
    • Website
    • Research or coursework? Both
    • Tuition required? Yes
    • Stipend included? Not sure (I would ask about this)
    • Can international students apply? Yes

NOTE: I would recommend checking out the NIH and Yale programs over the programs at UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and Columbia because of the tuition requirements.

NOTE: All but two of these programs (i.e., NIH IRTA/CRTA and Yale PREP) are for those interested in pursuing a PhD in one of the Psychology sub-fields, so feel free to look for post-bacc programs in your specific discipline!

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