If you’re considering applying to medical school, you’re probably aware of, and maybe overwhelmed by, how much preparation is required throughout your college years. Don’t worry – we can walk you through every step along the way!
Over the past few months, we’ve written about studying for the MCAT, as well as the importance of amassing research, clinical, and shadowing experience before you apply—plus, of course, there’s the matter of doing all the required premed coursework (and doing it well). So what are you to do if you decide to apply to med school when you’re already well into college, if have not achieved the academic performance you had hoped, or if, for any other reason, you haven’t amassed the experience that would make you a competitive candidate?
Enter: the gap year! Taking one or more years off after college before applying to med school will give you time to gain experience that will strengthen your application. Read on to learn all the benefits that a gap year or two can offer.
Strengthen your academic profile
If, as you head towards senior year of college, you either haven’t completed the required pre-med coursework or haven’t achieved a competitive science GPA, taking a gap year to enroll in a post-baccalaureate program is a great idea. These programs, offered at many universities, all specialize in science coursework, and range from coursework for credit to a full-blown Master’s degree, and from one to two years.
- Career changer programs are for students who decide late in their college career to pursue medicine and need to complete required pre-med coursework; the courses are at the undergraduate level; strong grades could help offset weak grades in college science courses and boost the overall undergraduate GPA;
- Academic enhancer programs are for students who have done the coursework but are looking to boost their science GPAs through a Master’s program. These courses would factor into the graduate-level science GPA, and would clearly demonstrate your ability to handle the academic challenges of medical school work.
Gap years offer plenty of other academic advantages, too. Taking time off, whether to attend a post-bac program or not, means your senior year grades will factor into your med school application, which will give you a chance to improve your GPA. (If you wish to attend med school directly after college, you’d apply at the end of junior year, so senior year grades wouldn’t be counted.)
You’ll also be able to take the MCAT after graduating college, which will give you extra study time and the option to take relevant coursework during senior year. Many post-bac programs give students guidance on preparing for the MCAT, and also suggest ways to engage in medically-related activities at the affiliated university. You might even get preferential treatment from attending a post-bac program: often, they have “linkage” arrangements with so-called “consort” med schools, which give students strong consideration and, possibly, conditional acceptance during their post-bac year.
Gain medically relevant experience
Medical school admissions committees prioritize applicants with significant medically-related extracurricular experience, which usually means a combination of clinical experience, or direct contact with patients; shadowing physicians at work; and original scientific research. (For more information on these pursuits, see our previous blog posts here and here.)
During a gap year, you’ll have the chance to do more involved—and possibly paid—clinical work than you were able to do while in college. If you didn’t work in clinical settings while in school, taking a gap year or two is even more important, as medical school admissions committees place the highest premium on such experience. While working in a medical setting, such as a hospital, hospice, clinic, or nursing home, you might also shadow, or observe, doctors in practice. (Med schools typically like to see 60-100 hours of shadowing before you apply.)
Just as with clinical experience, a gap year will allow you to pursue science research in a more involved way than you were able to in college, or to compensate for a lack of collegiate research experience. Conducting original research isn’t a requirement for medical school, but doing so will typically boost your candidacy, especially at top medical schools connected with leading research universities. Your increased science knowledge will help improve your MCAT score, too.
Prepare financially and emotionally
Beyond giving you pathways to improve your medical school candidacy, taking a gap year will give you time to confirm that attending medical school and becoming a physician is what you really want to do. This is a big decision, so sitting with and exploring it before committing is so worthwhile! If you’re sure you want to apply, taking a gap year will allow you to try on different specialty areas and see how they fit, so as to narrow down the field(s) you’re drawn to. You’ll also be able to earn money to help you through medical school. Vitally, one or two gap years will provide a short break from school to rejuvenate and refresh.
Applying to med school is a complex undertaking! If you would like guidance on any aspect of your pre-med preparation or med school application process, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!