After signing my housing contract and scheduling my move-in at my university, I was filled with hope and excitement for a change of pace; after six months of being home, I would finally be able to experience college again and see my friends.
As with many things this year, that simply did not work out. I, along with thousands of other college students, will be online for another semester. This means transitioning back into pre-recorded lectures, home-cooked meals, and roommates that walk into your room while you're in the middle of your Zoom presentation telling you dinner is ready. With a global pandemic raging on, this is the new norm. However, some college students now have the opportunity to take a gap year or gap semester. As a pre-med student, what is the right decision?
The most important thing to consider is if your return to the university is guaranteed. Is there a waitlist to re-enroll after your gap year? As a pre-med, you may not want to take more than a year off during undergraduate, especially if you are in the middle of sequential courses that build off of each other like chemistry or physics. You should also consider finances. Will you be able to secure a job during the gap year that will support you? Will taking a gap year put you into unnecessary debt?
If this is not an issue, then we can move on to the next consideration.
A compelling reason for taking a gap year is that you do not want to miss resources you would have access to in-person. Some of these include relationships with professors, in person labs and research, and campus opportunities such as clubs.
These are all valid reasons and I urge you to ask yourself a few questions. If you did continue with the virtual semester, would you be proactive enough to foster these relationships with your professors over Zoom and email? Would you find research or lab experience that challenges you and teaches you new skills? It is important to create these relationships with your professors now as they may be the ones to write your letters of recommendation in the future.
Of course, you will still be able to reach out to professors during an online semester. However, the experience will definitely be different from what you would be getting from an in-person interaction. I found it quite difficult to get close to professors over Zoom, even though I was quite proactive in going to the scheduled office hours. You should consider what type of student you are and in what environments you excel in.
If taking a gap year is something you are really considering, you should also consider what you will be doing during this time. As a pre-med, your main priority should be to make the most use of the year by gaining experience. Be reasonable with your goals and make sure to keep a routine. Many schools are willing to help you find internships for your gap year so reach out to career advisors at your college for help.
For many, this could mean becoming an EMT or medical scribe. Some may study and prepare for the MCAT or get a head start on their applications. Just make good use of your time whether that means making money or gaining experience in the field!
Of course, we only have four years of undergrad before we head off to med school. For many, the thought of having their undergraduate college experience cut short is unfathomable. All the friendships that you are not able to make, the social gatherings you would lose, and even just the free food that college campuses seem to have an unlimited supply of.
For pre-med students, the situation is a bit different in that we still have four more years of schooling after we graduate. Take that as you will! If the combination of the academic factors and social factors are enough to sway you into taking a gap year, reach out to your academic advisor or someone you trust. Planning ahead is key; a gap year can be quite effective and enjoyable if planned in advance! Some may even find time to travel the world (though that might not be possible given the current circumstances).
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