Stepping away from formal education for a year or two used to be something only done by high school graduates, but more students have started taking a gap year between college and medical school. There are certain scenarios where this makes sense, but it could also work against you if you don’t think through things carefully. Besides, why put your dreams off any longer if you don’t have to?
To figure out whether taking a gap year before medical school would be helpful or harmful, analyze your motivations and the strength of your application. Keep reading for expert insight that may help you answer the question: Should I take a gap year before medical school?
6 Questions to ask prior to taking a gap year before medical school
Some experts recommend students take a gap year to mature 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 whether taking a gap year before medical school is the right choice for you.
1. 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 weren’t accepted during their first application round. Do these specifics make a difference?
If you haven’t made a proactive decision to take a gap year, then it’s probably not a good decision, according to Thomas. Starting an unanticipated gap year means you’ll be left scrambling to find something meaningful to do during that time.
2. How do you intend on spending your gap year before medical school?
You need to make smart decisions about how a gap year is spent, even if it is planned. Vacationing all year or venturing into other fields could both be 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 in their careers. Just be aware that most research-focused institutions are selective. “Schools that focus on research also tend to focus on high academic metrics,” Thomas reveals.
3. Are you willing to put off your dreams for another year?
You’ve likely been thinking about becoming a doctor for months or years. This means taking a gap year could just be delaying your dream career. Not only are you one year further from making a difference in patients’ lives, but you’re also forfeiting a full year’s salary as a physician.
4. 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 511 on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). A significantly lower GPA or MCAT score might be problematic.
Talk to admissions departments to figure out which types of postbaccalaureate programs they recommend you take to help boost your GPA. And you can always retake the MCAT to aim for a better score.
5. Will you still be able to secure great letters of recommendation?
Postponing your medical education journey puts you at risk of losing touch with instructors once you complete your undergraduate career. This can be troublesome when attempting to secure excellent letters of recommendation for your med school application. This delay could lead to a smaller pool of potential letter writers, or less personal detail from those who 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 may be an on-the-fence candidate for most American programs. Keep in mind, only 41 percent of those who applied to US medical schools for the 2019–2020 school year were accepted.
International medical schools often review candidates more holistically and are a great option for starting your MD education. “There are a few programs worth considering,” Thomas suggests.
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 including caribbean medical schools 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, only you can decide whether taking a gap year before medical school is the right decision 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 best 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 was originally published in 2018. It has since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2021.