Mind the Gap: Who Should Take Time Off Before Medical School and Why

Mind the Gap: Who Should Take Time Off Before Medical School and Why
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Yael Redelman-Sidi profile
Yael Redelman-Sidi February 8, 2019

It might not have occurred to you that you could or should take a year off before starting medical school, but there can be many benefits, if you're utilizing your time wisely.

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Taking a year off, or a gap year before medical school, is becoming more and more popular. This year allows students to firm up their decision about medical school and participate in some interesting activities. Others use this time to save up cash for the expensive process of obtaining a medical education.

Who Takes a Gap Year?

Many applicants take a gap year for various reason. Some do so because they realized late that they wanted to pursue medicine as a career. Others seek out those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like travel or foreign aid work, that they will be unable to do easily once they are in school. Still others take a year for medical, family or financial reasons.

Will it Hurt My Application?

On the contrary. Many medical schools are now looking for students who have taken a year off to broaden the diversity of their class. The key is to be able to explain on your application why you needed to take the gap year and what you learned from your “time off.” Speaking eloquently about your year off and the value it has added to your life will show the admissions counselors how you will add depth and perspective to the first-year class.

Will This Make Me A “Non-Trad” Medical School Applicant?

That depends who you ask. Many people consider a student who has taken one year off to be fairly young and more similar to their “traditional” classmates than non-trads who have taken several years off. Others will consider anyone who does not go straight from undergrad to med school to be a non-trad, although the distinction does not matter. Schools do not have quotas for non-trads nor do they offer special services for them. They are simply looking for well-rounded applicants with diverse backgrounds and life experiences.

Who Should Not Take a Year Off?

Anyone looking to take a year off to study for the MCAT or to focus on filling out applications should seriously reconsider this plan. Think about what this says to medical schools — you need an entire year devoid of responsibilities to get your act together to score well on the MCAT or to fill out applications. During med school, which is more difficult than undergrad and many jobs, when you will have less control over your schedule, you will need to complete USMLE Step One and Two and apply to residency. Don’t make schools doubt that you are capable of completing this process.

If you think you need a gap year, you should absolutely consider taking one. Just remember that, like everything else in your application, it should be done mindfully and for good reasons.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: MedicineNursing & Healthcare