Is a Pre-Medical-School Gap Year Right for You?
What Is a Gap Year?
A gap year, also known as a sabbatical year, provides you with an opportunity to pursue your passions, explore personal development options and achieve specific goals. Each gap year experience is entirely customizable, and its length and objective can be tailored to your availability and ambitions. An aspiring medical school student may take a gap year after completing their undergraduate studies to focus on their medical school applications.
If you are thinking about attending medical school, the decision to take or forego a gap year is one that deserves careful consideration, as each scenario presents its own pros and cons. Below is an overview explaining both the benefits and disadvantages in more detail.
Gap Year Benefits:
- Enhance Your Application
From securing letters of recommendation to sending your transcripts, the process of applying to medical school is a marathon, not a sprint! Taking a gap year not only provides time to evaluate your applications for any weaknesses, it also gives you time to improve them.
If you need to increase your GPA or MCAT scores, you can enroll in a graduate certificate program to strengthen your understanding of concepts within the medical field. With a typical completion time frame of one year, a graduate certificate is also an ideal option if you would like to retake the MCAT to improve your score.
Volunteer opportunities and work experience can also add depth to your application and resume. If you elect to take a gap year, the increased flexibility in your schedule can enable you to volunteer or intern at a local hospital or physician’s office, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at their operations and allowing you to explore various departments within the medical industry.
- Focus on Your Interviews
Congratulations! Your medical school application captured the interest of the admissions department, and they want to schedule you for an interview. This overlooked and extremely important component of the medical school application process is your first chance to make a face-to-face impression in front of the admissions team.
Answering difficult questions with a detailed response is not the only component of the interview process. You will also need to make travel arrangements and carve travel time, interview preparation and the interview itself out of your busy schedule. Imagine flying to another city for an interview only to be greeted with an important exam immediately after you return home. A mid-semester trip scheduled alongside your current school assignments can add stress to your admissions interview. By taking a gap year, you’ll have time to schedule your interviews without the pressure of any upcoming exams, and as a bonus, you can explore a few new cities at your own pace.
During your gap year, you’ll also have more time to volunteer. This will not only improve your application but also give you an opportunity to personalize your interview answers with insight gained from hands-on experience.
- Explore New Topics and Gain New Perspectives
Take a moment to reflect on what you want to study or accomplish. There’s a great chance you can think of a few subjects to master or goals you want to achieve! The constant demands of coursework can make it difficult to focus on more personal goals, and you may find that you’ve been putting off those ambitions.
Pursuing a gap year will give you the time you need to fulfil your personal goals, which can include mastering a new language, visiting a new country or becoming more independent.
In some cases, combining these desires can help you achieve multiple goals at once. If you travel to a new country, you’ll interact with locals in their native language, which can help you improve your fluency. Traveling will also push you out of your comfort zone, allowing you to gain independence and enhance your self-confidence. You’ll also gain a lifetime of stories to share and discover new perspectives from a different culture.
Gap Year Disadvantages:
Perhaps you have your sights set on attending a health-profession school to achieve your long-term goal of becoming a doctor in a specific medical field, like the occupations listed below. Completing a medical physiology graduate program will strengthen your understanding of the human body: an advantage which can improve your scores on the MCAT and other similar exams, increasing your chances of being accepted into your desired health-profession school.
The Cost Factor
Learning new things and meeting new people are hallmarks of the college experience. Unfortunately, attending college also means paying for the experience — generally through scholarships, grants or student loans.
Enjoying a gap year comes with the risk of being required to repay some of your undergraduate student loans. Since there are numerous lenders available with varying deferment policies, it is important that you fully understand your lender’s specific policy and find out whether deferred payments for aspiring medical school students are available.
Another cost consideration is the impact of losing one year of a physician’s salary. This can make it harder to repay student loans and other expenses.
Readjusting to Student Life
Ahh, summer break! This time away from school presents its own challenges, including researching new career opportunities, planning your next semester and keeping up with the social demands of friends and family. When it’s time to get back into the routine of school, you’ll not only need to register for classes and purchase textbooks — you’ll also need to shift into a more academic mindset. Studying for exams, drafting essays and managing coursework are all skills that may prove more challenging the longer they go unused.
If you have difficulty adjusting back to the pace of school after a summer break, it’s important to note that a gap year will make this adjustment more difficult, as medical school coursework is more intense and your length of time away will be longer. However, if you apply to medical school during the junior year of your undergraduate program, you can keep your academic momentum intact and avoid this readjustment period.
Your New Part-Time Job: Planning and Researching
You’ve decided that a gap year is right for you, bravo! Your family and friends are supportive of your choice, but now it’s time to plan out your year to make the most of this experience on your own.
Having a detailed plan can mean the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful gap year. Between your current work and social obligations, you likely have a set schedule in place for your day, and you’ll sacrifice that built-in routine when you take a gap year.
Utilizing a planner to stay organized by keeping track of your time and research notes is more important than ever. You’ll be responsible for setting guidelines, daily structure and a timetable for what you want to accomplish during the year. Like most big projects, unexpected challenges will arise and staying organized will help you stay on track of your objectives. The list below includes several resources that can help you plan and organize your gap year:
There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to taking a gap year — just what works best for your personal situation.