The Medical School Gap Year, Part I: Is it right for me?

With the application cycle coming up, you may have recently heard friends and medical students talk about taking a ‘gap year’ before heading to medical school. The rising average age of matriculating students over the past several decades suggests that it is increasingly common for students to take one or more years off before entering medical school. It’s important to remember that it is perfectly acceptable to take a gap year (or years!), and moreover, it can not only enhance your application to medical school but also help you gain a new perspective on life. However, you need to be deliberate in your approach to the gap year in order to make the most of it.

Over my next three posts we’ll explore different aspects of the gap year, but let’s first clear up what we’re talking about; a gap year does not mean getting accepted to medical school and then deferring for a year – while that certainly happens, it’s not easy to do and not many people go that route. Instead, a gap year is deciding not to apply to medical school in the summer before your senior year of college. By doing so you are choosing to wait until the summer after your senior year to apply to medical school (at the earliest), which will give you the entire year after graduation to do gap-year activities.

The gap year may be right for you for many reasons, but it’s not for everyone. For many students, the gap year is a way for them to take a break from school and pursue personal goals such as traveling, becoming financially independent, or getting married.  For others, the extra year before applying to medical school can be the primary motivator for a gap year – after all, it’s another year of grades and experiences to add to their application. While three years of college experiences may be sufficient for those who have solid grades and meaningful clinical and extracurricular experiences, for many others three years may not be enough. It can simply be a matter of not having enough time in the first three years of college to volunteer, shadow physicians, or conduct research because of other obligations or because of a late start as a premed. Finally, some students may decide to take a gap year simply because they’re not ready for medical school yet.

A disclaimer: All of this may make taking a gap year sound like a dream come true, but remember that waiting a year can be frustrating. Your friends will go off medical school before you and start pursuing the career you want for yourself, or they may enter the workforce, start earning money, and settle down. You may feel like you are in limbo, neither here nor there. If you choose to take a gap year, you need to remind yourself that you made a strategic decision because it was in your best interest. There are many things you’ll need to consider as you make your decision – financial and family issues are certainly factors to consider, as is the fact that you might be putting off plans to have children or get married by taking a gap year – so it is important to consider those closest to you and how they may be impacted by this decision. A gap year is not right for everybody, but it may be right for you.

In the next part of this series, we’ll some of the things you can do during your gap year to take full advantage of your extra time.

  • K

    Hi Shaan,

    This article was helpful but I’m still torn between about doing a gap year and applying now. I think I’m a little late to the game it seems as everyone has finished their applications and I’ve barely looked at schools, let alone prepare for the MCAT. I have about a 3.7 GPA, finished all my prereqs and major, and am moving into my senior year of college. I only just started shadowing this summer as my first experience and will continue to do more next year. The point of the matter is, I feel like I CAN be ready for med school, but every time I reflect on how I’m doing in college now, I feel like I’m not ready. I get too stressed too easily and the procrastination bug has bit me one too many times. Lately, I’ve been thinking that I should take a gap year because mentally I might not be ready and I need to gain that maturity as a adult and acceptance that playtime is over. However, I have a friend who is applying for Dentistry school–he applied early and will apply again regular– and he tells me he does not think a gap year will be beneficial for me at all, no matter what I do. It makes me think as if I’m going to fall behind and lose sight of myself… if I haven’t already. There is also the sense of urgency from trying to get into med school because I’d like my parents to see me and be proud of me.

    I know I sound complicated but I see myself in med school someday. I’d be more than happy if you could share words of wisdom.

    Thank you,

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