Is taking a gap year before medical school right for you?

During a typical pre-med timeline, students apply to medical school the summer before their senior year. But students who take a gap year delay the application process to the summer after their senior year—giving them time to work on the weakest areas of their med school application before they apply.

Considering a gap year before med school

Some students even take longer gap periods of two years (or more!), which give them the chance to work and save for med school tuition. In fact, the average age of applicants to med school for the 2016-2017 cycle was 24-25.

Learn how taking a gap year before medical school can benefit your application.

1. Improve your MCAT score

It can be hard to prep for the MCAT with a full schedule of classes. Maximize your score by devoting time to an MCAT prep course —without the additional pressures of school obligations.

2. Finish up any missing prerequisites

Post-baccalaureate programs are excellent options for filling required pre-med courses you might be missing. If you were a non-science major, for example, you can take your science requirements on a streamlined schedule.

3. Boost a low GPA with a science-based master's program

If you don’t have an undergraduate GPA that’s competitive for med school, completion of a science-based master's program will demonstrate your competency at the graduate level. You’ll want a full year of course work under you belt before you apply to med school.

There are also Special Masters Programs (or SMPs) affiliated with medical schools that are intended for college graduates who want to enhance their transcript for eventual application to medical school. SMP students often take science courses alongside actual med students.

4. Gain research experience

A full year of working in a lab can be a boon to your med school application. Transfer the time you would have devoted to your primary/secondary applications to an extended research experience.

5. Volunteer or work in a medically-related field

The majority of successful med school applicants have some experience in a hospital, clinic, hospice or other health care setting. If you don’t have medical experience, using your gap year as an introduction to the field is a smart move.

6. Take a break from academics

Med school is an intense—but ultimately rewarding—experience. Before diving into that pressure cooker, take your gap year to get an education in the real world. You could work full time, teach, travel, or commit to a personal project.

7. Set up preceptorships with local doctors

Clinical shadowing, or preceptorships, is another way to gain experience within the medical profession. If you’ve shadowed doctors in only one kind of speciality, the gap year is an opportunity to branch out!

8. Get better letters of recommendation

Your gap year experiences may put you into contact with professors, researchers, and doctors who will get to know and your abilities Building these kinds of relationships in the field can help you if you are missing a key recommendation letter.

9. Do more research on potential schools and career paths

You can browse school profiles by major, location, concentration and more using our med school search. Make sure you have reach, target, and safety schools on your med school application list.

10. Reflect on your goals

Why do you want to be a doctor? If you don’t have a good answer, take the time to think about your background and ambitions. Another year in school or a year out in the workforce can help you decide if an MD is right for you.

The Bottom Line: Consistency is Key

However you decide to spend your gap year, stay engaged in clinical experiences and community service. Med schools want to see that your volunteer efforts extend past your college graduation!


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