Gap years are becoming more and more popular every year. That being said, what people do for their gap year(s), or how long they take a break varies. One commonality that all of these people seem to share is that during their break, they are able to gain a more developed understanding of the world—a trait that many medical schools appreciate.                       

Some reasons to take a gap year might include:

  1. You don’t have enough hours of volunteering, shadowing, research
    1. It can be difficult to balance extracurriculars with being a full-time student. As a result, taking a gap year to put the finishing touches on your experiences can be valuable if you feel that you didn’t have enough time to do so while attending college.
  2. You want to work on your GPA/science GPA by…
    1. Starting from scratch and pursuing a master’s degree
    2. Taking more undergraduate classes
  3. You want to save some money
    1. Medical school tends to be quite expensive and many students have undergraduate debts to consider. Many times it is possible to defer your undergraduate loans by starting a graduate program, keep in mind that most people will only being growing an educational debt throughout medical school
  4. You want work experience
    1. Whether you work in a healthcare field or not, committing yourself to a full-time job in any field will give you a new set of skills and demonstrate your work ethic.  Additionally, as discussed previously, medical school is not cheap; making money during your gap year(s) is never a bad idea.
  5. You aren’t sure about medical school
    1. It is an expensive commitment financially, emotionally, and socially, so it is important to make yourself aware of what you are committing to and potentially sacrificing by pursuing medical school.
  6. You just need a break from being a student
    1. Take care of yourself! You have probably been in school for 14-15 years straight at this point, it is very reasonable for you to go out and do some of things you haven’t been able to do thus far.

For the most part, medical schools don’t mind too much what you do during your gap year. However, do keep in mind that medical schools will very likely ask you about how you spent your time and what you learned from whatever you did. Thus, whatever you do—make it meaningful. Now, if you are thinking you want to take a gap year(s), but aren’t sure what exactly you want to do, here are some options:

  1. Volunteering
    1. Peace Corp 
    2. Free Clinics
    3. Teach For America
  2. Research
    1. Continuing in a lab you worked with during an undergraduate career
    2. Applying for a research position at another university
  3. Studying for MCAT
    1. If you choose to participate in an MCAT course, do a little research before you make a purchase — what kind of resources does each course offer, how long will you have access, what sort of learning styles does it work best for, etc.
    2. They are obvious brand names for MCAT courses such as Kaplan, and Princeton Review, but there are also a number of less expensive resources that provide just as many quality resources.
    3. If you choose to study independently from external resources, you should organize a study schedule in order to keep yourself on track.
  4. Master’s degree
    1. What you study depends on your goals of further education — are you looking to increase your pre-professional school academic performance, or supplement your professional school curriculum? It’s unlikely that medical schools will frown upon a certain degree, they just may not immediately understand, for instance, why you pursued a Masters in Fine Arts — if this was something you were passionate about, you should be able to communicate that in your application and interviews.
  5. Working
    1. Scribing
      1. Bear in mind that many medical scribe companies require between 12 to 18 months of commitment — this is typically not a position where a “two-weeks notice” is substantial, as physicians don’t want to be constantly switching scribes. As soon as you are hired to scribe, your company will try to start narrowing down your end date so that a replacement can be trained.
    2. EMT, CNA or working as a phlebotomist
      1. If you’re thinking about either of these, again, they are great ways to get patient hours, but you need to take classes in order to become certified. For example, EMT Basic certification courses typically run several months, followed by required clinical shadowing over a period of weeks. EMT Paramedic certification courses typically last over 1 year and require a special prerequisite course in anatomy and physiology for EMS.
      2. For phlebotomy, the classes that are needed to become certified are less intensive and take less time than EMT. Typically, the program lasts about a month, and you can choose to do it on the weekends or during the week. The program includes lectures and drawing blood from the other students in the class. A link for a class like this is linked here: 
      3. For Certified Nurse Assistant training, the training program is 75 hours long and usually lasts from 4-8 weeks. It is split between clinical training and in- classroom lectures with hands-on labs. At the end of the training, it is necessary to take a separate state certification exam, to remain certified for 2 years. A CNA works more heavily in patient care and  interaction than an EMT or phlebotomist, and focuses on assisting patients through daily activities such as bathing or eating.

It is also important to keep in mind that taking a gap year is often becoming a preference among medical school admissions committees. Taking a gap year (or multiple!) allows you to include your senior-year experiences in your application, and these experiences often strengthen your application overall. No matter what your gap year or years consist of, you are likely to grow as an individual in one way or another and, ergo, become a more well-rounded candidate.