You’ve been working hard on the pre-med track through college for a couple of years, when you’re faced with an important question: should you apply to go to medical school immediately after graduation? Or would you be better off taking a gap year before medical school? As the medical school admissions process becomes more and more selective, students are increasingly taking gap years before they sit down with their AMCAS applications. 70% of Northwestern pre-med graduates take at least one gap year before medical school, while 52.4% of the 2018 incoming class at the University of Michigan Medical School had taken at least two years off.
The degree to which students benefit from a gap year before medical school varies depending on how they spend their time off. As with any big decision, a useful step to decide the right call for you could be to draw out a pros and cons list. Taking a gap year isn’t all good or all bad. There are benefits to taking one, such as saving up money for tuition or more opportunities to improve your application. But it will obviously take more time before you actually become a doctor. I’ve covered the pros and cons of taking a gap year before medical school in more detail to help you decide if it is truly the right move for you or not.
Pros of taking a gap year before medical school
More time to study for the MCAT
The biggest reason students choose to take a gap year before medical school is if they are skeptical about their chances and want more time to work on many aspects of their application. Often, the MCAT is one of the core factors behind this rationale. If your initial MCAT score was significantly lower than the median numbers for the schools you have in mind, a gap year can provide you with a bigger chunk of time to actually sit down and prepare. Make the most of your gap year to study and ensure that you can achieve a higher score this time around.
More opportunities for extracurricular enhancement
A gap year before medical school could also come in handy if you’re lacking in the extracurricular department. With time off, you’d have more chances to pursue clinical experience and research opportunities in order to beef up your medical school resumé. You’ll be going up against applicants who’ve dedicated a tremendous amount of time to clinics, conducting research at university labs, volunteering at hospitals, and more. A gap year can allow you to think critically about whether you need more exposure to patients or greater time spent on research and publications. Remember, you’ll need 15 experiences to fill up your AMCAS activities section! If your resumé leaves a lot to be desired, you could certainly benefit from a gap year.
The chance to take post bac classes
Face it, college is a very intense four years. Your GPA may be less than perfect, especially when your entire course load consisted of advanced level STEM classes. But, top medical schools expect their students to succeed in the sciences. So, if you want to raise your GPA to compete with the academic skill set of your peers, a gap year before medical school could certainly provide you with the time to take post-bac science classes and boost your profile. If you decided late in the game that medicine is the path for you, taking a gap year for post-bac classes is essential to get the pre-req classes under your belt!
More competitive work experience
As you’ve seen, a significant portion of pre-med students do take a gap year once they’re finished with undergrad. So, if you don’t end up taking a gap year before medical school, you will be competing against applicants with much more sustained work experience. If you decide to take that time off, you will be able to commit full time to a job (preferably in the medical field) and build a more competitive application. There are many possibilities, from working as an EMT to being a research assistant. Even if the working world doesn’t sound enthralling, not enough experience could end up hurting you!
Not only does clinical and patient exposure help boost your profile, you can also use this opportunity to save up money. The average in-state tuition for medical schools is $34,592, and $58,688 for out-of-state students. These numbers are no joke, especially considering that the average medical student’s debt is a whopping $196,520. If you’re debating whether or not to take a gap year, think about your financial situation and if you could benefit from working for a year or two.
You’ve been in school non-stop for at least the last sixteen years. It could very well be time for a break. Taking time off to step out of the intense academic setting might help you get well-rested and refreshed before you enter an even more rigorous setting. A change of pace can end up being the stroke of inspiration you need to ignite more passion for pursuing medicine, instead of adding on to the record-breaking number of all-nighters you pulled in college.
Experience the “real world”
Taking some time off between undergrad and medical school can help you gain more perspective of the “real world.” The academic bubble of college can give you a false sense of security. If you want to grow more independent, a gap year is not such a bad idea. Through “adulting” activities such as cooking for yourself (remember, there’s no more dining halls), buying groceries, and paying bills, you learn to be responsible. If you’re planning to take more than one gap year before medical school, you might also find the time to check things off your bucket list such as learning how to play the piano or traveling around Asia. The possibilities are endless.
One of the most challenging parts of applying to medical school while you’re still in college is balancing the work that goes into the many application components with all the responsibilities that come with being an overworked college student. Taking a gap year can prove beneficial if you feel like you aren’t able to juggle everything at the same time, and would rather wait to get undergrad out of the way before taking the plunge into medical school applications. Without other deadlines and assignments to think about, you can dedicate all of your time to studying for your MCAT, writing your personal statement, and filling out your AMCAS application.
Time to consider your career choices
This won’t apply to you if you’re dead set on medical school and medicine is the only thing you want to pursue in life. But, if you’ve also been considering other career options while you are in college, a gap year could be a good chance to take a step back and try your hand at writing a novel or working in an engineering lab. If you don’t enjoy it and decide that you’d much rather go to medical school, great! What you don’t want is to leave any regrets because once you’re in medical school, any hesitations could end up adding to the already incredible amount of stress.
Cons of taking a gap year before medical school
Longer time to become a doctor
One of the most obvious reasons that people usually oppose taking a gap year before medical school is because they don’t want to lose precious time. Medical school already takes up many years of your life and most people want to get it out of the way as soon as possible and start their residency. The earlier you go to medical school, the quicker you graduate, get into the MD profession, and start earning that paycheck.
Not using your gap year strategically could hurt you
If you spend your gap year before medical school sitting at home enjoying non-stop movie marathons instead of gaining meaningful work experience in medicine, admissions committees are not going to be impressed. A question a lot of schools ask in their secondaries is, “If you took a gap year, what did you do?” You need to have something clear to show for it. To grow into a competitive applicant during this intense process, you have to demonstrate your commitment to medicine. If there is a gap on your resumé with obvious areas where you could have added more experience, your gap year could very well end up hurting you.
You could get used to the freedom
Let’s face it - it’s been a while since you’ve taken a break. So, in taking a gap year, you could end up loving the life of no responsibilities and complete freedom. If you are determined to become a doctor, this could discourage you from getting all your application components together once it’s time to submit the AMCAS application because you might just not feel like going back to school. Your career and drive can be hurt in the process, and you definitely do not want that. Re-thinking your career choices may be a good thing, but it won’t necessarily lead to you becoming a doctor!
You could end up spending more than you save
Remember how taking a gap year before medical school can help you save for the high price of tuition? Well, depending on how you utilize your gap year, you might just spend more money than you save! If you choose to travel abroad, or commit to an unpaid internship, you will not be saving any money. Instead, you will possibly have to spend money on rent, groceries, and bills and carry a financial burden before your medical school classes even begin.
Rejection after a gap year could set you back
If you decide to take a gap year, and don’t have an impressive profile when you apply, the chances of getting rejected are high. If you’re completely fixated on the MD dream and won’t give up until you’ve gotten in, multiple gap years would push you even further back. You could have applied earlier and if you were rejected, used the following year to reapply. So before you take a gap year, consider the quality of the application you can prepare when you’re ready to apply at the end of it, because it should be nothing short of excellent.
You might grow too attached to your job
If you’re one of the lucky few recent graduates to find the perfect first job immediately after college, you might want to keep pushing back on the medical school dream. In this case, it’s important for you to set an amount of time you want to spend working and remind yourself of the many years that will go into medical school.
Ultimately, whether or not you should take a gap year before medical school depends entirely on your priorities. If you’re happy with the quality of your numbers and extracurricular experiences and don’t want to waste time, applying the summer after your junior year could definitely benefit you. But, if you’re lacking in these departments and want to spend more time on your application components when you don’t have to worry about midterms and finals, a gap year before medical school is a good idea. Choose wisely, and don’t write off a gap year. Our medical school admissions committee members say that typically, no one regrets a gap year. The discoveries you make about yourself during your time off could end up defining your application.
“Students can use a gap year before medical school to become stronger candidates. A gap year can give the student more time to study for the MCAT without the stress of classes. They can also use the time to add extracurriculars to their resume.How do you answer a gap year medical school question? ›
In your admissions essays for your medical school applications, if you don't know what you're doing yet, be honest. Explain what you are planning to do and more importantly why you want to do it. For example, if you plan to work as a research assistant for a year, but haven't found a lab yet, you can say that.Are gap years looked down upon by medical schools? ›
Many successful applicants have taken a break before hitting the books again and be better for it on the other side. In fact, some medical schools are now encouraging students to take a gap year. Even admissions committees are seeing the benefit it can provide to future applicants!What are the pros and cons of taking a gap year? ›
- ✅ PRO: It's a great way to learn new things, outside of your comfort zone. ...
- ❌ CON: Travel preparation can be stressful. ...
- ✅ PRO: It's a break from traditional education. ...
- ❌ CON: If you don't set goals, it could potentially waste a lot of time.
- ✅ PRO: You'll return home with a new sense of maturity and confidence.
According to a 2019 survey of incoming medical students conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges, 43.9% students who enrolled in medical school took one to two gap years. Of the students surveyed, 13.4% also took three to four gap years and 7.9% took five or more gap years.What percentage of students go back after a gap year? ›
And as for the worry that a temporary step away from formal schooling might cause people to abandon the academic track altogether, some 90% of gap-year takers return to college within a year.What is the best answer for year gap? ›
I wanted some time away from academics to figure out what career path would be best for me, so I took time off before college." As long as your answer is honest and well-spoken, the interviewer will understand where you're coming from!What should I answer about gap year? ›
Internships or Part-Time Projects: Taking some time off to learn new skills by interning is an effective way to describe your reasons for a gap year. Hence, it will form a responsible impression on the recruiter because everyone wishes to upskill and keep up with the market standard.What is the best answer for education gap? ›
At present times, having education gap in a resume is not a problem if the candidate has confidence in their aptitude and problem-solving skill and communication. Best reason for gap in education in an interview is to share experiences and activities that account for professionalism.Is taking a gap year a disadvantage? ›
The Con: Gap years can be expensive.
From flights to housing to program fees and food, there are a lot of budget considerations to take into account during a gap year. It can add up quick! Depending on the type of gap year travel you choose, you could be looking at some sizeable costs.
If you are taking a gap year in between graduating from undergraduate work and applying to medical school, it is best to take the MCAT by early May of your senior year to get your score before submitting applications in June. This will also give you an opportunity to retake the MCAT if necessary.Are gap year students at a disadvantage? ›
CON: It can be very expensive. If you're planning to travel during your gap year, depending on your destination and the duration of your trip, the likelihood is that costs will quickly mount up. Without the proper planning and organisation, a gap year abroad has the potential to take a huge financial toll on you.Do you think taking a gap year is a good or bad idea? ›
While some people are hesitant to pursue a gap year for fear of starting college “late”, a gap year is actually a great way to prepare yourself for college. In fact, studies have shown that students who take a gap year often have higher GPAs and are more involved in campus life than students who don't take a gap year.What are the risks of taking a gap year? ›
When you get out of the mode of studying, your academic performance may suffer. Students who take a gap year are less likely to graduate, even when they enroll in college. Students who take a gap year are about half as likely to graduate with a Bachelor's degree.Does taking a gap year hurt your chances? ›
Taking a gap year before college (or university) won't affect your admission chances if you use your experience wisely. Make sure you understand when and how to mention your gap year when applying for college. Taking a gap year before college means you'll get to enjoy the best of both worlds.What is the toughest year of medical school? ›
Year one is the hardest year of medical school.
Many students will likely disagree, but the first year is widely recognized as being the most difficult. The majority of the first year of medical school is spent in classrooms and labs and requires an enormous amount of memorization.
Those entering medical schools who are committed to completing the program are 81.6 percent to 84.3 percent. So, what is the dropout rate for medical school? In a standard, single four-year program, that would put the medical school dropout rate at between 15.7 percent and 18.4 percent, confirms the AAMC.Do most med students take a gap year? ›
According to a 2021 study conducted by the American Medical Association, 68.5% of first-year medical students surveyed took gap years.Where do most gap year students go? ›
- Thailand. With sixteen million foreigners flying into Thailand each year, there's no wonder it's top of the list for gap year students – it's a pretty special place.
- Australia. ...
- USA. ...
- South Africa. ...
- Peru. ...
- Vietnam. ...
- Brazil. ...
- India. ...
In one survey, the two most common reasons students gave for taking a gap year before college were to recover from academic burnout and to learn more about themselves. A gap year not only gives you time to recharge and refocus but also allows you to learn more about yourself on your own terms.
Amazing Fact #4: 90% of students who take a gap year return to college within a year. Conclusive evidence, then, that having an awesome time after high school doesn't make you a dropout.Why a gap year is the best decision? ›
During a gap year, you can explore personal interests, discover new passions and give yourself space and time to think about what you want to get out of life. An extra year could be just what you need to make sure you're going into a degree that'll suit you and your future plans best.What are 5 things you can do during a gap year? ›
- Travel the world. One of the most popular things to do on a gap year is travel. ...
- Volunteer abroad. ...
- Have authentic experiences. ...
- Learn a language. ...
- Boost your CV with an internship abroad. ...
The trick to addressing academic gaps is being genuine and transparent about the break, and highlighting how it contributes to a student's growth or learning. Therefore, it is important to offer concrete proof like skilling or work certificates, photographs and written material that testifies the rationale.How do you answer a gap interview question? ›
- Honesty is the best policy. No matter why you've had a career break, it's hugely important to always be open and honest about the length of time off and the reason why. ...
- Clearly explain and plan your reasoning. ...
- Turn it into a positive. ...
- Get direct advice from professionals.
If you have to explain your employment gap during your interview, rehearse in advance, show confidence, and don't badmouth your former employer. Some valid reasons for an employment gap are family reasons, illnesses, and injuries, taking time to discover yourself or pursue your education, and even a failed business.How do you explain one year gap in an interview? ›
- Illness. ...
- Family emergencies. ...
- Taking time out for family & children. ...
- To study further. ...
- Finding the right career.
A career gap can be a voluntary decision or may be a result of other external factors influencing it. Generally, an employment gap of fewer than 9 months is more acceptable. You can get a job after 3 years of career gap by focusing on skill development and gaining part-time work experience.How do I explain a gap in my career? ›
- Time spent looking for a new job.
- Being laid off because of organizational changes.
- Taking time off to be a stay-at-home parent or caregiver.
- Taking time off for a medical leave.
- Time spent furthering your education.
- Time spent gaining certifications or licensing.
You want to be truthful without going into unnecessary detail. A basic template for your answer could be: “I [reason you were not employed]. During that time, [what you did during the gap]. Returning to work was top of mind during that period and I'm ready to do that now.”
Explain the “Why” Behind Your Gap Year Plans
Potentially talk about what you're hoping to get out of the experience. Allow your passion to come through and really light up your answer. Medical schools like to see students who have passion and take initiative in pursuing those passions.
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.How to talk about gap year in personal statement medicine? ›
Working there enhanced my ability to work as part of a team, as well as giving me an insight into others' hardships and the satisfaction of making positive changes to someone's life. I decided to take a gap year to continue my work with the Red Cross as well as to gain more work experience.