Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year Before Medical School
July 3, 2019
Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year Before Medical School
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.