Trends have a way of shifting over time. We see it with foods, music, and even education. Taking a gap year is a prime example.
Stepping away from formal education for a year or two used to be something only high school graduates did, but more and more students finishing their college education have started taking a gap year before medical school. Some use it as a way to relax and refresh. Others take a gap year because they didn’t get accepted to medical school on their first try.
In order to figure out if taking a gap year before medical school would be helpful or harmful, you need to analyze your motivations and how strong your application is. Keep reading to gain some expert insight that may help you make your decision.
6 Questions to ask prior to taking a gap year before medical school
Some experts recommend students take a gap year in order to grow up a little more before applying. “When they do start medical school, they bring a maturity and a wisdom to the class,” says David Thomas, Educational Consultant and Co-Founder at Forster-Thomas.
While taking a break before attending medical school can be beneficial for some students, it isn’t always the best choice. Ask yourself these questions to find out if taking a gap year before medical school is the right choice for you.
1. How strong are your academic metrics?
Medical schools weigh numerous factors when evaluating applicants. While unique experiences and a demonstrated passion for medicine make a difference, you still need strong grades and test scores. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average metrics for accepted students were a 3.7 GPA and about 510 on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
"If there’s any particular data point that’s making you nervous, then trust your instinct and take the gap year."
You don’t necessarily need to worry if your academic performance is a bit less impressive, but a significantly lower GPA or MCAT might be problematic. “If there’s any particular data point that’s making you nervous, then trust your instinct and take the gap year,” Thomas recommends.
You should also talk to admissions departments to figure out which types of post-baccalaureate programs they would recommend you take to help boost your GPA. And you can always retake the MCAT to aim for a better score.
2. Have you planned for a gap year?
Some students decide far in advance to take a gap year. Others make a last-minute decision due to a bad MCAT score or because they failed to gain acceptance during their first application round. You might wonder if these specifics make a difference.
“Oh, it’s night and day,” Thomas warns. “You should make a proactive decision to take a gap year.” Starting an unanticipated gap year means you’ll be left scrambling to find something meaningful to do over the next year.
"All those jobs that start in May or June all got filled back in March or February."
“All those jobs that start in May or June all got filled back in March or February,” Thomas explains. “So now you’re left with the dregs of the jobs.”
3. How do you plan on spending your gap year before medical school?
We already discussed how unexpectedly taking time off before medical school can be a misstep, but even those who have planned for it need to make smart decisions about how they spend days. Vacationing all year or venturing into other fields are both mistakes, according to Thomas. “You’re not demonstrating your passion and calling for medicine,” he explains.
Gaining more clinical experience can help every applicant. Pursuing research is often beneficial for those interested in conducting medical studies and reviews over the course of their careers. Just be aware that most research-focused institutions are selective. “Schools that focus on research also tend to focus on high numbers,” Thomas reveals.
4. Are you willing to put off your dreams for another year?
Very few medical school applicants decide to become a doctor based on a snap decision. It’s more likely you’ve been thinking about the profession for months or even years. This means taking a gap year could just be delaying the life you’ve been dreaming of.
U.S. News & World Report also mentions slowing down your medical school journey means you’ll be accepting a shorter medical career and forfeiting a full year’s salary as a physician.
5. Will you still be able to secure great letters of recommendation?
You’ll likely lose touch with instructors once you complete your undergraduate career. This can be a bit troublesome when attempting to secure letters of recommendation for your application, because you want recommendations that are excellent.
Med School Pulse says you will need to reintroduce yourself to your writers and update them on what you’ve been doing since you last spoke to one another. This delay could lead to having a smaller pool of potential letter writers, or less personal detail from those who do agree to write letters.
6. Have you considered all your options?
Perhaps your academic record is strong, but not stellar. Even if you did well in school and achieved a solid score on the MCAT, you would likely be an on-the-fence candidate for most American programs. Only 41 percent of those who applied to US medical schools for the 2018–2019 school year were accepted.
Don’t forget to explore other options. International medical schools often review candidates more holistically and are a great option for starting your MD education. “There are a few programs you might consider,” Thomas says.
"There are a few programs you might consider."
Some international programs have earned their poor reputations, but don’t let that deter you from seeking out the reputable ones. You should weigh your international options with the same criteria you would any medical school. You may be surprised at which ones measure up to – or even surpass – your stateside options.
Choose your path wisely
In the end, you’re the only one who can decide whether taking a gap year before medical school is right for you. It all depends on your personal needs and goals. Taking some time to think about your future can help you figure out how to proceed.
Maybe you’ve been considering taking time off due to concerns you won’t get accepted to a US program. If this is the case, perhaps you should give more thought to international schools. They provide some unique benefits you might not expect.
Learn more about how to find success overseas in our article, “6 Little Known Perks of Attending an International Medical School.”
* This article has been updated from a previous version to include current facts and figures.
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