“Should you take a gap year before medical school?” “What should you do during the medical school gap year timeline?” These are questions you’ll find yourself asking as a prospective medical student. Getting into medical school is already very difficult, and we don’t expect it to get any easier. Most traditional applicants apply for medical school in their third year of college. However, many others refuse to apply in their third year because they think their application is not strong enough.
Deciding when to apply for medical school is a matter of circumstance and self preference. You may decide to take a few years off school before applying for medical school. That time off is called a gap year. Throughout this article, we will review everything you should know about a gap year before medical school, including reasons why people take it.
What is a Gap Year in Medical School?
Simply put, a gap year is a break from your usual school activities. This break typically lasts for one academic year. People take a gap year before medical school for different reasons. However, the most popular reason is to get more time to work on their application and to pursue personal interests.
Medical school is often so stressful that you’ll hardly have enough time to travel, pursue new skills, or spend time with the people you love once you’ve started. However, gap year offers you the opportunity to do all these things before getting into medical school. It’s becoming more common to see students taking a gap year before medical school. In fact, some students begin to plan their gap year from the beginning, knowing that they’ll need to make certain improvements on their application. Other students find themselves unintentionally taking a gap year because of the little time they’ve probably given to preparation.
The question most students are asking is how they can decide whether they’ll need a gap year. Subsequent sections of this article seek to provide enough information to help.
What Percentage of Medical Students Take a Gap Year?
Perhaps you are considering taking a gap year before medical school but are worried that it’ll affect your academic progress. The truth is that you are not the only one taking this break. In fact, taking at least one gap year has become a norm among many medical school applicants. A 2019 survey of incoming medical students conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges showed that 43.9% of students enrolling into medical school took one or two gap years. Data from the survey also suggested that 13.4% of students applying for medical school took three to four gap years, 7.9% of students took at least five gap years.
Keep in mind that the popularity of gap years among other students doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice for you. However, you have control over how you’ll choose to spend your gap year, and what you do during this time can make a big difference in your long-term performance in medical school.
What are the Benefits of Taking a Gap Year Before Medical School?
You’ll probably hear that there are several pros and cons of a gap year before medical school. However, the degree of benefits usually varies depending on how students spend their time on academic duties. Taking a gap year means that it’ll obviously take time before you become a doctor, but the benefits outweigh this disadvantage in most situations. Here, let’s review some of the common benefits that students stand to enjoy from taking a gap year.
More time to Study for MCAT
This is the biggest reason why students choose a gap year before medical school. There’s always some level of skepticism when preparing for the MCAT. To beat their fear, most students prefer to take more time to prepare for the exam better. Of course, you know that scoring low in your initial MCAT exams will limit your chances of getting into the schools you want. However, you can leverage on the bigger chunk of time provided by a gap year to sit down and prepare better. We recommend making the best of your gap year to study and plan towards achieving a higher score this time.
Increased Opportunity For Extracurricular Development
You’ll also find the gap year before medical school handy if you are not measuring up enough in your extra-curricular activities participation. The time off would offer you enough chances to seek more research opportunities and clinical experiences to boost your resumé. The medical school selection process puts you up against applicants from different backgrounds. Some of these applicants have had their fair share of clinical attachments, hospital volunteering, and research. You want to match them as much as possible and a gap year will allow you to pursue all the exposure you’ll need.
Remember, while filling up your AMCAS activities section, you’ll need up to 15 experiences. Leverage your gap year to give your resumé the upgrade that will stand you out.
More Competitive Work Experience
From everything we’ve discussed so far, you can already see that most pre-med students opt for taking a gap year after their undergraduate studies. Therefore, you’ll almost certainly be competing against applicants with sustained work experience and you know that can put you at a disadvantage if you don’t have any. Taking the time off would give you an opportunity to commit to a job and build the experience that will stand you out. Fortunately, the possibilities are endless for pre-med students. Even if you are not enticed by the idea of working, always remember that the lack of experience can hurt you.
Get Real-World Experience
Of course, you’ve spent so much time pursuing your studies as an undergraduate. Transitioning into medical school would mean giving more time to studies. However, taking a one or two years gap before medical school will help you gain a proper perspective of the “real world.” There’s an academic bubble that mostly comes with college and students often get a false sense of security from it. A gap year offers you the opportunity to learn to be more independent. During this time, you can get involved in “adulting” activities like cooking for yourself, paying bills, and buying groceries. This can also be the perfect time to tick some things off your bucket list.
The clinical experience and patient exposure that you’ll take during this time would not just boost your profile, but they’ll also earn you money. Medical school tuition is usually very expensive and students will fancy every opportunity to reduce students’ debt resulting from the outrageous figures. Several students use the gap year opportunity to save up for their medical school tuition. If you are still considering whether to take a gap year or not, think about your financial situation to know if you would benefit from working for one or two years.
Ample Time to Consider Your Career Choices
Unless you are dead set on going to medical school, you’ll often find yourself thinking about other career options during your college years. Fortunately, a gap year would offer you the opportunity to think your career choice through. This could be the perfect time to take a step back and try your hands on other things. You could start writing a novel or working in an engineering lab to see how these careers feel. If after trying them, you think they are boring career choices compared to medicine, great! The last thing you’d want is to leave any regrets because entering medical school may mean sacrificing every other hubby.
How to Spend a Gap Year Before Med School? What Should You Focus On?
Despite the numerous benefits of taking a gap year before medical school programs, some students still shy away from it because they think it’s a waste of time. Yes, you are taking one or two years off your academics, but there’s so much to achieve during this time. In case you are wondering how to make the most out of this period, here are a few things you can focus on.
Take additional coursework
Thanks to the constant changes in the educational setting, there are now additional courses that can help you fulfill the prerequisites of medical school or any other school. Attending these classes can also help you build on the knowledge you’ll need to strengthen your GPA. Different options exist as far as additional classes are concerned. Students opt for options like pre-med postbaccalaureate programs, personal classes, or master’s degrees before entering medical school.
Learn how to budget
You can also leverage the period between college and medical school to learn how to manage your money. Financial management is a very important life skill that you’ll need throughout medical school. Why wait for medical school when you can leverage your gap year to create a monthly budget and learn how to use several money management tools.
We all have interests and hobbies. Unfortunately, medical school is so stressful that students often forget about pursuing their interests and passion throughout medical school. You don’t have to wait till after medical school to explore your interests. Many people cultivate other interests and hobbies during the gap year. Leverage this opportunity to master something creative, social, or athletic. These can be the activities you’ll fall back to when you need physical and mental refreshing.
Does a Gap Year Look Bad for Medical Students?
No, a gap year doesn’t look bad for medical students, and it won’t hurt your chances as long as you use your time productively. First, you’ll need to examine your reason for taking a gap year. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish during this time. Of course, a gap year before medical school will slow your academic pursuit down and delay the time you were supposed to graduate and start practicing. But it’s totally worth it if you are taking it for the right reasons.
You shouldn’t just see a gap year as a time off. Ensure that your reasons are valid and that you can demonstrate to the admissions committee why taking it is beneficial for you in the first place. Whether you are taking a gap year to gain experience in the medical field, improve your MCAT scores, participate in research, or volunteer in community services, a gap year would be great for you if you can explain how your activities are beneficial to your academic pursuit.
Wrapping Things Up: What to Do During a Gap Year Before Medical School
It’s becoming increasingly common to see students take a gap year before medical school. Non-traditional medical school applicants are also seeing the value of taking time off before committing to the 7-12 years of medical school education. Gap year comes with a lot of benefits for prospective medical students and some students take more than one year off school. Whether you’ve been planning a gap year from the start, knowing that you have improvements you’d like to make in your application or you find yourself unintentionally taking a gap year, you want to know how to do it right.
Fortunately, we’ve researched for you and provided you with all the information you’ll need about a gap year before medical school. We’ve also included some of the important benefits and reasons why people choose to take a gap year, so you can examine yourself and decide whether it’ll be great for you.