Should You Take A Gap Year Before Medical School?

Medical School
October 27, 2019

A gap year. Something to be avoided at all costs, or an amazing way to boost your resume?

Gap years are all the more common nowadays as students attempt to fit all medical school requirements into their four years of undergrad (really three years as most apply at the end of junior year). In fact, the average first-year medical school student is 24 years old, showing that many do not take the traditional route of graduating college at 22 and going directly into medical school.

But what does a gap year look like on your application?

A gap year can be highly beneficial for your application! It is an amazing way to beef up your application and to gain life experience before heading to medical school. In fact, there is only one reason why you would not want to take a gap year.

The Only Reason To NOT Take A Gap Year

You want to do nothing for a year. Because when you are interviewed for medical school, they are going to ask the question, “What did you do during your gap year?” If your response is “nothing” it will not look great. 

It is okay to take a little break, but try to make sure you are doing something productive that you can somehow connect back to your medical journey.

It doesn’t have to be medically related. You may even be second-guessing if the medical field is right for you. But you should be actively searching for an answer. This could come in the form of shadowing doctors or pursuing other interests. 

If you find that medicine is still the career path for you, it shows you thought about your decision and shows a dedication to the field. Both make you look like a good candidate.

Reasons To Take A Gap Year

Generally, there are three reasons to take a gap year.

  • You want to improve your GPA
  • You want to improve your MCAT
  • You want another experience

You want to improve your GPA

If you had a bad first year or two of undergraduate, your overall GPA could have suffered. This may have caused you to not get into medical school or stopped you from even applying in the first place.

If you had a rough start to undergraduate, you want to show an upward trend in your GPA. This shows that you took the initiative to better yourself, and can make you a more competitive applicant. 

You can show an upward trend by applying at the end of your senior year so your senior year grades are a part of your application. It could also mean improving your GPA in graduate school or through a postbaccalaureate program. 

You want to improve your MCAT

If you did not do well on your MCAT, or wanted to wait until you had more time to study, a gap year can help.

For example, you could take the MCAT again your senior year if you did not like your score. Or you could take it at the end of the summer after you graduate. This gives you the added benefit of having more time to study (since you will not have class). 

You want another experience

It could be a resume booster or just something you have always wanted to do, but adding an experience is a must for your gap year.

What you do is up to you, but here are some examples to get you thinking:

  • Graduate School/Postbaccalaureate Program - graduate school or a postbaccalaureate program are popular options because it allows students to gain experience and increase their GPA. Graduate school usually takes two years and you will get a degree. A postbacc is technically a continuation of your undergraduate studies and usually takes one year. Postbaccs don’t award a degree, only a certification. However, there are some graduate school programs that are combined with a postbacc program.
  • Clinical Experience - a great way to get hands-on experience in the medical field. You can do this through scribing, becoming an EMT, volunteering at a hospital, or shadowing.
  • Research - conducting medical research shows your continued interest in medicine. You will likely do this if you go to a graduate program but it can be done outside a graduate setting.
  • Teach For America - with Teach For America, you will become a teacher for a low-income school district. It is an amazing experience that will broaden your worldview. Check out our post on it for more information.
  • Something Non-Medical - Explore your interests! Just make sure you can connect it back in some way to your passion for the medical field. It could be as simple as, “I realized in exploring these other interests that medicine is truly what I want to do in life.”

Most importantly, when you add a unique experience to your application during a gap year, it will help your name stand out among the pool of applicants, and will be a great talking point for your interviews.

Plan Ahead

Like almost everything in life, the more you plan ahead, the better off you are. If you are nervous about your chances of getting into medical school on your first shot, make sure you have a backup plan just in case. Going in with a plan will allow you to make the most out of your gap year if you need to take one, and make sure you are not scrambling to find something to do.

Other than that, there is not really a reason to avoid a gap year. Just make sure you are doing something productive that will add to your application.  

A gap year can be an amazing opportunity for anyone that is willing to try. Life is not a race. You won’t “win” it by becoming a doctor as soon as you can. Soak up all of your experiences as you go and gain as much as you can out of them. 

This will not only make life more enjoyable but also help you on your journey to become a well-rounded physician.

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