Q&A: Bob Rarig, Temple CST Post Bacc Pre-Health Program

Last Updated on October 12, 2023 by Laura Turner

Bob Rarig, Ph.D. (he/him/his) is the Program Director for the Temple College of Science and Technology Post Bacc Program. He directs the admissions process for the various tracks within the program, including a Basic Sciences Track for career changers and an Advanced Sciences Track targeted toward students looking to enhance their academic records. He took the time to speak with SDN about his program and what they look for in candidates.


Tell us about your position at your institution and your role in the admissions process.

Bob Rarig: I direct the admissions process for the various tracks within the Temple CST Postbacc program.

About the Ads

What attracted you to work with this program/institution?

Temple started out as a night school, and so its tradition is one of allowing students to improve their lives through hard work and dedication to learning. As a person who succeeds academically due to effort rather than brilliance, this tradition resonates with me.

What else should we know about your professional journey?

I was a first-generation science student who grew up on a farm, liked chemistry in high school, and only found his academic stride in college. I earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry, something I never even thought of before my Junior year in college. After that, I learned I loved the challenge of making chemistry more approachable for college students, which led me to work with postbacc students and eventually become director of a Postbacc program!

What influences guide you in how you do your work?

I’ve always been a “question asker.”  So, my influences have been and will remain anyone willing to work with me to solve problems, improve how I do things, and think creatively. The three most impactful and brilliant educators I’ve come across personally are my college calculus instructor, my graduate school PI, and an Emeritus Professor at Temple University.

What do you wish people knew about you outside of your academic role?

I am happy to have a friendly discussion and/or argument with anyone about just about any nerdy topic one can think of.

What are the biggest challenges or problems facing higher education and training today? Where do you see higher education in ten years?

Lack of funding is the biggest challenge facing education (not just higher education) in the United States. I hope more money is invested in the public school systems in the near future so that students are better prepared for college, and I hope states prioritize supporting Universities so that questions about the value of education dwindle. I think that people today aren’t questioning if education is important; instead, they’re questioning if its importance is worth the current price tags.

About the Temple Post-Bacc Program

Describe your school/program, its mission, and its relationships with the community.

Having just taken over the Directorship, I am working on an official Mission Statement with my team, but it will resonate with Temple’s history: to give students of any background who are willing to work hard to improve themselves the best environment possible to reach their maximum academic (and hopefully personal) potential and achieve their professional goals, with a priority on a high value of return on their investment of time, effort, and money.

Briefly describe the curriculum and audience your program is designed to help. Why should a student pick your program?

The Temple CST Postbacc Program is a full-time, structured program, with a level of support that we are very proud of. We have customized curricula for pre-medical, pre-dental, and pre-Physician Assistant students. Our pre-med and pre-dent students are provided a completely Postbacc-exclusive course load, and our pre-PA students take several of those courses as well, while taking a few courses alongside Temple undergraduate students. We have offerings for career changer students who need to take the basic science pre-requisite courses for professional school and for academic record enhancers, who have completed the prereqs and need to prove themselves prepared for professional school by taking higher level health-related science courses. Our post-bacc exclusive design, cohort model, structure, academic and professional school application support, and the fact that standardized test preparation through vendors is included in tuition for the program draws many students to the program.

Does your program link with professional programs (outside of the home university)?

We have linkages with LKSOM, SUNY Downstate, George Washington, PCOM, and Temple’s School of Podiatry.

How many students attend your program (in-person versus virtual)?

Our career changer program is 30-40 students per year. All in person.

Our academic enhancer program is 60-80 students per year. All in person.

Are they able to improve their clinical experience or non-clinical community service while enrolled in your program?

We have a student organization through which our students can do outreach and community service projects. Clinical experiences are not an emphasis in our program. Many students who need an academic enhancer post-bacc program in the first place often have that need because they overdid their extracurriculars to the detriment of their undergraduate grades. I am always looking for partners who could allow our students to have a few hours of clinical experience throughout the year, but I do not pull focus from the coursework too much. I encourage our students to pursue clinical experiences before and/or after the program, as they are certainly an important factor in being competitive in professional schools’ admissions processes. 

What are the most common challenges you are addressing in your program?

We get a lot of financial support questions. We recently adjusted our offerings to ensure our students could be eligible for FAFSA support.

What assistance with the application process (specifically essay writing) does your program provide? 

We do a lot of self-reflection sessions to help students craft their personal narratives, which helps them with their personal statements and application activities. They use the Temple writing center for more grammatical and style-based concerns.

Do you prefer students come in with a standing MCAT/DAT/other test result? 

We want to know every score that the student has on a previously taken standardized exam, as it informs us on the value of our program for them in a more detailed way. However, I cannot stress enough for ANY post-baccalaureate student:  there is no such thing as a Post-Bacc entrance exam. The MCAT is to get you into medical school. The DAT is to get you into dental school. Even though you don’t know me, you can do me a personal favor and not sit for either of those tests until you are confident -based on full-length, test-condition-mimicking practice exams- that you’re going to get the score you want/need for applying to professional school, NOT a post-bacc program.

How are you helping students with Casper/PREview/interview preparation?

We have seminars about interview tips and tricks, and we do mock interviews with students when they are invited for official interviews. We do not offer SJT prep beyond our self-reflection sessions, which touch on related themes.

How does your program work with students who are not going into medicine specifically (for example, dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, physician assistant, or physical therapy)? 

Aspiring dental and PA students have their own customized course loads in our program. We have a version of our course offerings for pharmacy and PT. We are happy to provide our offerings to pre-vet students as long as they understand their animal-centric courses would need to be taken elsewhere.

Application Insights

What do you notice when you are first screening or reviewing an application?

I’m looking for an upward trajectory in terms of academic performance, and I’m looking for weaknesses that our program can address effectively. I also want to see something about why an applicant needs a post-bacc program and the origins of a plan of action to address happenings from the past to ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated and that further academic growth is needed for improved academic success.

What stands out to you in a negative way when screening/reviewing applications?

Applicants who do not complete the activities section and submit a resume file instead are an orange-to-red flag for me. A too-short personal statement also smacks of laziness, which is not an attribute that projects well for success in our program or beyond.

What types of nonclinical outreach/volunteer work have the biggest impact on an application, if any?

Any type of community service is good. I know many professional schools aren’t overly fond of / impressed by the ‘tourism’ outreach programs that go abroad, and I have inherited that bias a bit, but it certainly doesn’t hurt an applicant’s status in our admissions process.

What do you enjoy most about working with the admissions committee (post-bacc and professional school admissions committees)?

We all get to see what great work students are doing to make the world a better place, all so that they can pursue a profession that will help make the world a better place. The stories that postbacc applications tell are incredibly inspiring.

What is your school looking for in responses to program-prompted (secondary) essays?

We only have a few custom questions on our application.  They are all self-explanatory, in my opinion.

We get a lot of questions from students who have an international background (such as Canadians, those who lived mostly away from the US but attended a US undergrad program on a visa, or recent immigrants who want to pursue a health professional career here). Do you have specific advice for this constituency who may consider applying to your program?

They should contact the professional schools they are targeting about their situations. We are happy to accept foreign students but cannot guarantee that any given professional school will consider their undergraduate record legitimate. We tell the students exactly that when we accept them. I’ve never known a Canadian to have an issue with being eligible for US schools, but I’m certain there are unfortunate exceptions.

We get many questions from “reinventing students” who are worried that their low undergrad GPA would remain an anchor in application screening and review. Do you have advice for this constituency?

Yes, reach out to us to talk about it or come to one of our info sessions through our website. My best general advice is to avoid graduate-level work if you want to boost your undergraduate GPA metrics.

Mental health challenges, disabilities, and neurodiverse thinking have become more common among applicants. What do you suggest to help these applicants present a desirable application to your program?

If it’s part of your journey to being a better student, person, and/or healthcare professional, include it on your application.

Reforming Admissions

If there was one thing you could make more transparent about your selection process, what would you want to do?

I’d want all students we don’t accept to understand that it doesn’t mean anyone thinks you don’t have what it takes to be a doctor or dentist; it means that you have to develop yourself more before our program is going to be worth your time, effort, and money. We try to communicate this in our letters to them.

Student Services and Financial Aid

Can students get scholarships once they are enrolled in your program?

Not currently.

What unique tools or programs does your diversity and inclusion office have that address recruitment, selection, and retention (students, graduate students, faculty)? How does it report its success to the community? 

This is under evaluation presently. Our faculty knows their post-bacc audience very well, and we have a learning skill specialist on staff.

Final Thoughts

Fun fact about yourself?

I almost dropped out of college in my first year to pursue a career as a professional pool player. I’m glad I didn’t because the pro league folded a few months later.

Favorite question to ask interview candidates?

What is the question you want to be asked the least in a professional school interview?

What question from a candidate would you really want to answer?

What attributes lead to success in your program?

I always hear so many faculty exclaim they could never get admitted given the contemporary admissions process. Going back in time to when YOU were first an applicant, what would you tell yourself about successfully applying to your program? 

I’m not an MD or DMD, but I’d say, “Be the best YOU instead of trying to be the best facsimile of someone you know who got in.”

Shout-out/acknowledge anyone else who has helped make running the admissions process much more smoothly.

It takes a village. I appreciate all of the faculty and staff who go above and beyond to support our program in so many ways, not just admissions. I’m very proud to be associated with such a hard-working group of people. I’d also like to thank those who came before me and set up a process that I just have to optimize instead of build. There are too many names. Thank you all.

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