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Planning For A Gap Year

Applying to medical, dental, veterinary, and other health profession schools is very competitive. Prospective applicants often benefit from taking additional time after completing their undergraduate studies to improve their competitiveness and strengthen those portions of their applications that are weaker.

At the national level, the average age of applicants entering medical school is around 24, and almost 25 for those matriculating in dental schools. 

In itself, the term "gap year" is misleading.

While it does reflect a gap between graduation from your undergraduate institution and matriculation at health profession school, the time is actually used for important and significant activities and needs to be viewed as a period of growth, discovery, experience and maturation. You are likely to see various terms used to describe this time - "bridge year," "glide year," "professional development year". There are various reasons you might decide to delay entering health profession school .

Ask Questions

Before you start your gap year(s), you should ask yourself a few questions so you can use that time fully:

  • What do I hope to achieve during this year?
  • What steps have I taken so far to make these goals a reality? What else do i need to do to ensure that these goals come to fruition?
  • If an admissions committee viewed my application to health professional school today, what would their impression be? What would they think I did well? What would they think I could improve on?

Advantages of a Gap Year

There can be many advantages to delaying your matriculation to health professions schools:

  • Having more time for career exploration, especially if you are on the fence or unsure whether a specific profession would be the best fit for you
  • Gaining real world medical experience 
  • Gaining "soft skills" - such as maturity, independence, adaptability, resilience, -all of which will be useful as you pursue further education and professional career
  • Participating in long-term research projects to further strengthen your critical thinking and oral and written communication, which can be beneficial if applying to schools that have a strong research focus or to combined MD/Ph.D programs
  • Improving your GPA and taking advanced classes through a science-heavy post-bacc program
  • Having more time to prepare for the standardized exam
  • Starting to repay your undergraduate loans and/or saving money for medical school

Taking additional time, whether one year or more, not only allows students to enhance their qualities but explore other opportunities while doing so. Some examples of what students have done during their gap year include:

  • Taking additional courses and pursuing an advanced degree to deepen their knowledge of a specific field related to health care 
  • Working as a research assistant on project through National Science Foundation (NSF) or National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Volunteering through a service program like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, the Peace Corps, etc.
  • Working in healthcare as a medical scribe, medical assistant, Certified Nursing Assistant, Emergency Medical Technician, etc.
  • Volunteer in health care settings 

 

Ideas for a Gap Year

If your GPA is not as competitive as you'd like, then completing additional coursework, through a post-baccalaureate program would likely strengthen your academic foundation.

"Post- Baccalaureate program" is an umbrella term for a wide variety of educational opportunities; some are degree-bearing (master's), others offer a certificate, many are one year long, while others may be longer, up to two years.

With a little bit of research, you're likely to find a program that would best support your goals. Many "post-bacc" programs have special relationships, known as linkage agreements, with select medical and/or dental schools. Students enrolled in these programs often can get guaranteed or early interview to linked medical or dental schools.

Applicants who are unsure about their chosen career field or who want to present more competitive application will find it helpful to gain more clinical experience in their intended field.

These clinical experiences can come from a variety of settings (such as hospitals and nursing homes), and positions such as:

  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  • phlebotomist
  • pharmacy technician
  • emergency medical technician (EMT)
  • dental or medical assistant
  • medical scribe
  • community health educator

Depending on the specific field you want to enter, your goal should be to find volunteer and/or work experience in that field where you can interact regularly with patients, as well as other members of the healthcare delivery team.

 

Depending on the specific field you want to enter, your goal should be to find volunteer and/or work experience in that field where you can interact regularly with patients, as well as other members of the healthcare delivery team.

Applicants can also engage in service work for under-resourced communities, either domestically or abroad. This can be accomplished through volunteering with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, AmeriCorps, City Year, Teach for America, the Peace Corps, and local or national non-profit organizations. This type of work gives prospective applicants a chance to show their altruistic side to admission committees.

Engaging with those communities can be profoundly eye-opening experience that will have long-lasting impact on your ability to connect and empathize with individuals who are different than you. Keep in mind that service work isn't about serving your own interests - it's about meeting the needs of the people you're working for.

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