Hi freshman here,
I’ve loved your blog and found it very helpful thank you! I had a question about premed beyond the academics and MCAT. I went to advising hours today and my Hub peer advisor and I worked through some potential schedules. I have 3, 18 credit semesters if I want to apply for med school summer before senior year. I could take some summer/spring courses and ease it too though, it’s all a possibility. I wanted some guidance on two main things.
- What are both the advantages and disadvantages of taking a gap year? Is it seen badly? Do my chances of getting in go down? What are gap years typically used for? Do we have access to university resources when applying the summer after our senior year or do we lose the university’s help after we graduate?
- I know not to approach this as a checkbox list but just so I know what things to hit on generally so that I can personalize them later, what kind of premed extracurricular should I be trying to get in. Shadowing and volunteering to make sure I know what I’m getting myself into with the med field? What’s the difference between clinical hours and shadowing/volunteering? How many hours is average? (again just to make sure I don’t fall short). How much research do schools look for these days? I am doing UROP rn and idk if it’s cuz of covid and most of my work being excel sheets but I don’t feel like I’m doing anything and I don’t think I like it all that much but again this could be because I’m all alone typing numbers into excel but I guess I’ll try a normal clinical experience this upcoming fall but yeah what’s normal/average commitment wise?
– overwhelmed and kind of scared freshman!
I’m so glad you found our blog helpful and I’d be happy to give you some guidance!
Gap years have become very popular recently, and many students find them helpful. Taking a gap year is almost never viewed as a bad thing. In fact, the average age of incoming medical students is 24 years old (and 56% of UM’s Class of 2020 took 2+ gap years), so it definitely does not disqualify you from being admitted!
To be honest, there are very few disadvantages to taking a gap year, but here are some:
- If you are someone that wants to start medical school immediately after college, then taking a gap year may not be for you. Given that medicine is a long road, some people want to get it started as soon as possible.
- Getting letters of recc from professors may be more difficult if you haven’t taken their class in a while due to having taken a gap year. In order to avoid that, most students keep in touch with their professors during their senior year or after graduating and update them with a resume when it comes time to ask for a recc letter.
- Another downside of taking gap years is not having a plan for what you will do during them. If you choose to take a gap year, you should have an idea of how you will spend it because you may be asked about it in interviews!
On the other hand, gap years have many advantages:
- Can include senior year and post-graduation experiences in your application (whereas in a traditional route, i.e. applying after your junior year, you are only able to describe your freshman-junior years) – This can be helpful to gain more clinical hours, volunteering, leadership roles, etc. However, keep in mind that if you’re taking 1 gap year, you will be applying before your gap year begins (after your senior year), which means that your gap year activities should not hold more weight than your college activities. The application you submit should be strong enough without your gap year experiences. If you take more than 1 gap year, then you can include your gap year activities in your application.
- More time to study for MCAT – If you are taking 1 gap year, you have until your senior year to take your MCAT. This can be beneficial if you haven’t taken all of the recommended prereq classes by the time you start studying (which is highly encouraged because it reduces your studying load). If you are taking more than 1 gap year, you can dedicate a 3-4+ month period solely for studying for the MCAT. This can make a huge difference in your score as though you will have more time and energy to focus solely on the MCAT.
- Time off before medical school – It’s no secret being pre-med is very difficult and takes a lot of hard work and effort. It is also no secret that medical school is just as intense, if not more. Some students say their gap year helped them take a well-needed break from school, hit refresh, and mentally prepare themselves for medical school.
- Save up money – Sometimes, students take a few years off to work, whether it’d be in healthcare or another job, in order to save up some money for medical school.
- Post-bacc programs, Master’s degrees, internships, research
- Some students complete a post-bacc program if they did not have the most competitive college GPA.
- Some students also choose to pursue another degree, such as a Masters in Public Health, Business, etc. This is not required by medical schools but can demonstrate added knowledge/experience that you can bring to the medical field.
- Other students choose to participate in paid internships or research that they are passionate about.
Students who take gap years are just as likely to get into medical school. More experience, knowledge, and maturity can help your chances in the application process and during your interviews. In general, it is highly advised that you only apply to medical school when you are ready and when you believe you can submit your strongest application possible. Also, to answer your question, I believe you can still utilise university resources after you graduate. You can still communicate with Newnan pre-health advisors as well as use resources from the Career Center.
As far as extracurriculars go, here’s a link to a response I wrote that touches on activities and time commitments. Clinical hours typically means actively interacting with patients (as a volunteer, medical assistant, technician, CNA, etc.) whereas shadowing is observing medical professionals (and is typically thought of as passive). Additionally, there is no set number of hours you should spend doing a certain activity. Every applicant has different ranges and medical schools evaluate each application holistically. Nonetheless, here are some rough estimates to help guide you!
- ~ 40 hours of shadowing (not necessarily required since it is more passive)
- ~100 – 150 hours of clinical experience (or patient interaction)
- ~40+ hours of community service/volunteering (in or outside of the medical field)
- ~500 – 1000 hours of research (there’s more detail on this in the response linked above)
I hope that helps! Feel free to stop by our advising hours Sunday-Wednesday from 6-10 pm if you’d like to chat.
Leen, PMH Advisor