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 before medical school 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.
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?
In a recent study by the AAMC, 44.1% of matriculants took a gap year before medical school, 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.
These are some of the benefits of taking a gap year:
Whether you want to boost your academic profile or gain a deeper international understanding, pursuing a gap year may be for you!
If there are pros, there are also cons. Here are some things you should consider:
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.
One of the best ways to decide if you should take a gap year before med school 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 before med school include:
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.
If you’re wondering what to do during your medical school gap year, these options can give you more direction.
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.
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:
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:
The CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) is a situational judgment test that assesses students’ behavioral reasoning. It evaluates behavioral characteristics, including:
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.
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:
There may be variations and additional required courses, depending on the school.
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 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.
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.
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.
We’ve provided several commonly asked questions and answers below to help you decide if a gap year is right for you.
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.
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.
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.
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!
There are many gap year options for med school applicants in terms of activities/next steps, including:
These experiences require time and planning, so your gap year should reflect that.
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 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!