How to Explain a Gap Year During Medical School Interviews
In the last decade, it has become much more common for applicants to take a gap year (or multiple) before completing their medical school applications. According to the 2020 AAMC survey of matriculating students, only 33.7 went directly from college to medical school. The number of students taking gap years is steadily increasing, and the time to gain additional experience is often seen as a benefit to many admissions committees.
What you do during your gap year and how you discuss how you used that time productively can be used to actually strengthen your application. A gap year can actually set you apart from other applicants, and also give you an opportunity to explore the healthcare industry further.
Why Do Students Take a Gap Year Before Medical School?
Students may take a gap year for numerous reasons. Often it is to pursue further research or medical exposure opportunities while taking an academic break. Sometimes, a gap year is needed in order to fulfill the requirements needed to get into medical school or strengthen your medical school application. These could include:
- Time needed to finish prerequisite courses
- Needing more time to obtain shadowing or volunteering hours
- Significantly lower than average MCAT scores or GPA
- Receiving your MCAT score late in the application cycle, therefore being more competitive in the following cycle
- You’re feeling burnt out from school or want to take some time to pursue some interests before starting medical school.
However, although all of the above reasons are warranted reasons to take a gap year, you need to be careful in how you present what you’re doing during your gap year to admissions committees.
What Can I Do During My Gap Year?
There are many options for students who are looking to take time off between college and completing their medical school applications. What you do depends on what you are looking to get out of your gap year(s).
If you have a low GPA or MCAT score you might want to consider enrolling in a Post-bacc program or a special masters program that will help boost your GPA and give you time to retake the MCAT.
If you want more patient exposure to stand out, you can pursue professional medical experience in the role of a scribe, medical assistant or EMT. These jobs can provide a steady income while giving substantial patient exposure. You can also get patient exposure volunteering in a hospital or shadowing during your gap years, while also pursuing other opportunities.
If you would like to make your application more competitive or enjoy research, you may want to dedicate a year or two to doing research at your university, a different university, or an institution like the NIH. This is great for students interested in conducting medically relevant research, and you may even end up publishing a paper, which would set your applicant apart!
Presenting the “Why” of Your Gap Year in Your Medical School Applications
In your admissions essays for your medical school applications, if you don’t know what you’re doing yet, be honest. Explain what you are planning to do and more importantly why you want to do it. For example, if you plan to work as a research assistant for a year, but haven’t found a lab yet, you can say that. Furthermore, you should follow it up with why you want to pursue a year doing research, why you hope to learn, and what type of research you are interested in. If you plan to take a post-bacc program discuss what you are hoping to get out of it, why you are excited to dedicate time to these prerequisite courses, and what else you will be doing to explore your interest in medicine.
It’s important to be able to discuss both in your essays and with admissions committees why your gap year activities are important to you and will further your development as a future physician. Be sure to reflect on why you are passionate about these activities beyond what you believe medical schools expect from a premedical applicant.
Ideally, in your gap year, you are pursuing numerous things that you are passionate about. If you are trying to retake courses or the MCAT, it may help to have another activity during your gap year that shows that you were continuing to explore your passion for medicine such as shadowing or volunteering. However, the most important thing is that you can explain what you did during your gap year, what you have learned, and why it was beneficial to you as a medical school applicant.