Should I Take a Gap Year Before Medical School?

March 28, 2024
4 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 2/6/24

Wondering what to do in a gap year before med school? Trying to determine if you should take a gap year to begin with? Read on for the answers to these questions and more!

Taking a gap year is becoming increasingly common. Students use the time off for various reasons. Some non-traditional applicants take a gap year to complete science coursework and gain relevant experiences. Other applicants use this time to bolster their application and mentally recharge before the seven to 12 years of medical training.

This guide reviews everything you need to know about taking a year out, including its pros and cons. We’ll explore how many students take a gap year and provide tips for what to do during your gap year to maximize your chances of acceptance.

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What Is a Gap Year Before Medical School?

The traditional path to medical school is that students apply the summer before their senior year of undergrad. By the time they graduate with a bachelor’s degree, they can proceed immediately to medical school when the semester begins.

A gap year, or multiple gap years, gives students a break between college and medical school. This option is becoming increasingly popular. According to the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), the national average age of matriculated medical students is 24. So, is taking a gap year bad for medical school? 

Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year

In a recent study by the AAMC, 44.1% of matriculants took a gap year, and 33.7% went straight to medical school after college. This means that more matriculated students took time off. So, will a gap year hurt or help your chances of acceptance? There are numerous pros and cons to consider. 

The Benefits of a Gap Year 

These are some of the benefits of taking a gap year:

  • You’ll have more time to prepare for the MCAT and CASPer tests.
  • You’ll have more opportunities to get involved in extracurricular activities.
  • If needed, you’ll have more time to complete the required coursework and retake classes
  • You can use the time to work in a clinical setting to earn more money and pay down debt.
  • A gap year helps prevent burnout and can recharge your mental health.
  • You can spend some downtime experiencing the world. For example, you can travel, learn a new language, and get involved in a nonprofit in a different country. Just ensure you don’t spend all your time traveling frivolously — it’s important to tie your experiences to your professional goals.
  • You’ll have extra time to consider your career options.

Whether you want to boost your academic profile or gain a deeper international understanding, pursuing a gap year may be for you!

pros and cons of taking a gap year before going to medical school

Cons of a Gap Year 

If there are pros, there are also cons. Here are some things you should consider:

  • It takes longer to become a licensed doctor.
  • If you don’t use your gap year strategically to improve your application and instead use it as time off, it will hurt your medical school candidacy.
  • You could get used to the freedom and begin to lose motivation.
  • You might grow too attached to your job and therefore reconsider whether you want to attend medical school. 

If you know that medical school is the right choice for you, some of these won’t apply to you; however, they’re important to be mindful of. 

How to Decide If a Gap Year Is Right for You

One of the best ways to decide if you should take a gap year is to assess where you stand with med school requirements. If you focus on gaps in your application, you can strengthen your candidacy.

There are other reasons to take a gap year. Perhaps you need a mental break before attending years of challenging medical school courses and training. Or, maybe there are extenuating circumstances you need to resolve before applying to med school. The most common reasons to take a gap year include:

  • Bolstering your application to give you a competitive edge over other candidates.
  • Improving your GPA.
  • Improving your MCAT score. 
  • Gaining relevant experiences and participating in the right extracurricular activities. 
  • Completing medical school prerequisites. 
  • Securing letters of recommendation from employers, supervisors, and professors.
  • Saving money and paying off student debt while improving your candidacy.
  • Reapplying to medical school.
  • Overcoming adversity or resolving unforeseen circumstances. 
reasons for taking a gap year before med school

If you fall into one or more of the categories above, taking a gap year would be beneficial. The most important consideration is that the gap year should help you get into medical school, not hold you back. So, if there are glaring inconsistencies or areas that you fall short in, a gap year is the right decision. 

It can be difficult to make a choice like this on your own. If you’re still on the fence and struggling to decide, use our interactive med school quiz to help you figure out if you’re ready for medical school. 

What to Do During Your Gap Year 

If you’re wondering what to do during your medical school gap year, these options can give you more direction. 

1. Improve Your Application

If you’re applying to allopathic medical schools, you’ll apply using the AMCAS application. There are several application components you can spend time improving. For example, the work and activities section is critical to demonstrate your employment history and relevant extracurricular activities. 

Ensure your work and activities section lists substantive experiences and focuses on quality over quantity. You can also rewrite or revise your personal statement. For Texas medical schools, you’ll use the TMDSAS application. In the TMDSAS, you can boost your employment and activities section and revamp your personal characteristics essay

For osteopathic medical schools, you’ll use the AACOMAS application. In your application, you can prioritize your experience, personal statement, and achievements sections.

2. Improve Your Academic Standing and Test Scores

Medical schools are highly selective, and the competition is fierce. Your overall GPA will be reviewed, but your science GPA is especially critical. According to the AAMC, the average GPAs for med school applicants and matriculants are:

Applicants Matriculants
Cumulative GPA 3.62 3.75
Science GPA 3.52 3.68
Non-Science GPA 3.76 3.84

Furthermore, some medical schools may have a minimum required GPA. You should aim higher than the minimum, and strive to exceed the school’s median GPA. You can improve your grades by retaking courses. 

If you struggled for a semester or two, consider retaking them altogether. When you retake courses, many schools combine your previous and new grades for a final average. Be mindful that low marks aren't necessarily replaced with your new grades.  

You should also do your best on the MCAT and the CASPer (for schools that require it). The average medical school applicant spends at least 300 hours preparing for the MCAT. 

The MCAT tests students on:

  • Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems
  • Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems
  • Critical analysis and reasoning skills
  • Psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior 

The CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) is a situational judgment test that assesses students’ behavioral reasoning. It evaluates behavioral characteristics, including: 

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Equity 
  • Ethics
  • Motivation 
  • Problem-solving 
  • Professionalism 
  • Resilience 
  • Self-awareness

You can prepare for the CASPer by taking practice exams and practicing for the MMI (Multiple Mini Interview) format of medical school interviews, as both similarly analyze behaviors.  

3. Complete the Required Prerequisite Coursework

Medical schools have required prerequisite courses students must complete before attending. Every school’s prerequisites are different, so ensure you check before applying. If you need help scheduling coursework or ensuring you’ll complete it in time, speak with a pre-health advisor. In general, prerequisite coursework includes:

  • Organic chemistry, with lab (two semesters)
  • Inorganic chemistry, with lab (two semesters)
  • Biology, with lab (two semesters)
  • Physics, with lab (two semesters)
  • English (two semesters)
  • Mathematics (two semesters)
  • Biochemistry (one semester)

There may be variations and additional required courses, depending on the school. 

4. Participate in the Right Extracurricular Activities

Well-rounded applicants with diverse backgrounds and experiences are often the strongest candidates. There are many gap year options for med school applicants to improve their applications and prepare for the road ahead. 

The following extracurriculars foster professional and personal growth: clinical experience, research, medical shadowing, and volunteering.  

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience shows admissions committees that you have relevant experience in a clinical setting and have interacted with patients. Seeking these experiences shows you the ins and outs of the field and helps you decide if medicine is right for you. 

Additionally, clinical experience can help you narrow your focus and areas of interest. In short, experiences under this umbrella determine your readiness for medical school by giving you hands-on experience and training.

Clinical experience can be paid or unpaid. Paid opportunities include becoming a hospital scribe, CNA, phlebotomist, LPN, EMT, pharmacy technician, or emergency room technician. Unpaid opportunities include volunteering in hospice, as an EMT, in an emergency room, or at a medical center. 


According to the AAMC, about 60% of students had research experience before matriculation. Research experience strengthens your critical thinking and analysis skills, allows the opportunity to publish work, and connects you to an on-campus scholarly network. 

Substantive research experience is crucial if you plan to pursue post-graduate degrees or dual degrees like the MD-PhD.

Medical Shadowing 

Experience in medical shadowing, or physician shadowing, is a key experience that medical school hopefuls should look for. Medical schools highly recommend that students dedicate a substantial number of hours to medical shadowing. 

While there typically is no set number of hours you’ll need, matriculants reported having between 100 and 400 physician shadowing hours. Use your best judgment here (and evaluate your schedule). 


Volunteering shows admissions committees that you’re altruistic. Volunteering is also a great way to strengthen your skill sets while gaining relevant experience. Some schools recommend at least 100 volunteering hours, but many matriculants exceed this number. 

You’re not required to volunteer in a medical setting. For example, you can tutor in subjects like writing or math. You can volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, domestic violence shelter, or nonprofit. 

However, it’s recommended that you have some volunteering experience in a science or health-related location. Visit the AAMC’s recommendations for volunteering to learn more. 

5. Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation

A gap year provides extra time to network with supervisors, employers, instructors, and mentors. After gaining more relevant experiences and connecting with others, you can secure strong letters of recommendation

Recommendation letters showcase your personality, qualities, and skill sets in the best light. Your letters should come from those who know you and your work well and are enthusiastic about helping you reach your goals.  

Medical School Gap Year FAQs

We’ve provided several commonly asked questions and answers below to help you decide if a gap year is right for you. 

1. Should I Discuss My Gap Year During My Medical School Interviews?

Yes, you should always be honest in your medical school interviews. Framing your gap year as a positive experience is essential. Don’t refer to it as “time off.” Instead, you should share what you did to improve your skills and knowledge to become a better physician.

2. What Shouldn’t I Do During My Gap Year?

Simply put, don’t waste time. You can certainly use this time to recharge mentally and enjoy hobbies and activities. However, your gap year shouldn’t only be about personal interests that contribute little to your education and professional goals. Find a balance between rest and substantive, altruistic experiences that strengthen your candidacy for medical school. 

3. Is Taking a Gap Year Bad for Medical School Reapplicants? 

It’s completely acceptable to take a gap year before reapplying to medical school. Use your gap year to address these improvement areas in your application and work on your weaknesses. 

4. Will a Gap Year Hurt My Chances of Acceptance to Medical School?

No, a gap year won’t hurt your chances of acceptance as long as you use the time productively. Demonstrate how your gap year was beneficial to you!

5. How Should You Spend Your Time Between College and Medical School? 

There are many gap year options for med school applicants in terms of activities/next steps, including: 

  • Getting work experience in a medical setting
  • Completing prerequisite coursework
  • Preparing for tests 
  • Conducting research
  • Shadowing a physician

These experiences require time and planning, so your gap year should reflect that. 

6. Is It Bad to Take a Gap Year Before Medical School? 

No, it’s not bad to take a gap year if you make the most of your time. Remember, more applicants take a gap year than not; ensure you use this time to strengthen your medical school application!

Taking a Gap Year Before Med School: One Step Closer to Your Goals 

Taking a gap year is a big decision you should consider carefully. If your application could use improvement or has gaps, like a lack of clinical or research experience, taking a gap year may be what you need to improve your chances of acceptance. 

There are various pros and cons of taking a gap year, so you should assess your candidacy and go from there. Focus on addressing your application’s weaknesses. When you apply to programs, showcase your achievements and growth during your gap year. Good luck!

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