Gap Year Before Medical School: Complete Guide

August 17

Table of Contents

Taking a gap year or two off from school used to be something only recent high school graduates do, but more people now take it between college and medical school. 

It makes sense in some circumstances, but if you do not thoroughly consider your options, it could also backfire against you. And if you do not have to, why wait longer to pursue your dreams?

Students utilize their free time in a variety of ways. For example, some non-traditional candidates take a year off to finish their science courses and get valuable skills. 

Other candidates use this period to strengthen their applications and mentally prepare for the seven to twelve years of medical school.

Examine your motives and the strength of your application to determine whether taking a gap year out before medical school would be beneficial or detrimental. 

This article will help you decide whether taking a gap year before medical school is the right option. 

What is a Gap Year?

A "gap year" is the time between finishing your undergraduate studies and beginning medical school. In actuality, a gap year could last a year or more, depending on the individual circumstances of each student.

The need for more time to get more medically relevant experience, improve one's GPA, or improve one's MCAT scores is a common justification for taking a gap year. 

Still, it can also pay off debt or take a break. For example, those who need to re-apply to medical school may be among the candidates who take a gap year.

What Percentage of Students Take a Gap Year Before Medical School?

A 2020 AAMC poll of incoming medical students revealed that 44.1% had taken one to two years off after graduating college. Fewer respondents — 33.7% — went straight from college to medical school.

According to data, the number of medical students with one or more gap years has progressively increased over the past two admissions cycles. 

In contrast, the percentage of students who haven't done any gap years has constantly decreased. So it was evident that taking a year off before medical school is not unusual.

6 Things You Must Consider Before You Take a Gap Year Before Medical School

Some professionals advise students to take a year off before applying to further their development. While taking a break before starting medical school can benefit some students, it isn't always the best option.

To determine if taking a year off before medical school is best for you.

Have You Considered Taking a Gap Year?

Some applicants choose to take a gap year well in advance. Others decide to enroll at the last minute because of a bad MCAT score or because their initial application was rejected. These particulars — do they matter?

Taking a gap year is probably not a good idea if you have not already decided to do so. You will be forced to scramble to fill the time if you start a gap year that was not planned.

What Plans Do You Have for the Year Before Medical School?

Even if a gap year is planned, you must choose wisely. Taking annual vacations or branching out could both be a mistake. It could also mean you would be wasting your time. 

More clinical experience can be beneficial for all applicants. However, for those interested in doing medical studies and reviews as a job, doing research is frequently advantageous. 

Be aware that the majority of institutions with a research emphasis are selective. Med schools that tend to focus on research also focus on high academic metrics.

Are You Prepared to Postpone Your Goals for Another Calendar Year?

You have probably considered becoming a doctor for several months or years. It suggests delaying your desired career by taking a gap year. 

In addition to waiting for the possibility of changing patients' lives by a year, you also lose out on a full year's compensation as a doctor.

What is the Quality of Your Academic Metrics?

When evaluating applications, medical schools take many things into account. You still need high test scores and grades, even if you have unique experiences and a love for medicine. 

According to the AAMC, the average GPA and MCAT scores for approved students were 3.7 and 511, respectively. Therefore, a bad MCAT score or a much lower GPA could be problematic.

Find out from admissions offices what kinds of post-baccalaureate courses they advise you to enroll in to raise your GPA. 

And if you want to improve your score, you may always retake the MCAT.

Will You Still Be Able to Obtain Outstanding Letters of Recommendation?

You risk losing contact with professors once your undergraduate studies are over if you postpone your medical examination. This can be challenging when obtaining outstanding letters of recommendation for your medical school application.

Due to the delay, there may be fewer willing letter writers or fewer personal details provided by those who agree to send letters.

Have You Given All of Your Possibilities a Thought?

Your academic performance may be solid but not exceptional. 

You might be a toss-up candidate for most American programs even if you did well in school and received a strong MCAT score

Remember that only 41% of applicants to US medical schools for the 2022–2023 academic year were accepted.

International medical schools are excellent for beginning your MD studies because they frequently conduct more thorough candidate reviews. 

Even while some foreign programs have a bad reputation, you should not allow that to stop you from looking for respectable ones.

The same standards you would use for any medical school should be used while evaluating your foreign options, including Caribbean medical schools. However, which ones compare favorably to or surpass your options from the United States may surprise you.

What are the Different Gap Year Programs and Opportunities for Medical Students?

When students want to take a gap year before medical school, they frequently ask for suggestions on what to do during that period. 

The most typical answer we provide is, "It depends on what you intend to achieve."

Consider the red flag/s on your CV and whether a specific choice clearly resolves it before deciding how to spend your gap year. 

Otherwise, you will not add any new, favorable information to your application, and the year will probably be a waste.

The most popular alternatives for gap years are covered in the sections below. Remember that you can pursue several options at once during your gap year.

Post-Bacc Gap Year Program

Post-baccalaureate programs allow you to finish required science classes, raise your GPA, and (sometimes) gain the extracurricular activities you lack, like volunteering in a hospital. 

They can be finished formally (by enrolling in a program at a university, for example) or informally (by taking several courses through the extension program of your local institution, for example).

Additionally, suppose you did not develop relationships with instructors throughout undergrad. 

In that case, post-bac courses provide you with more chances to do so and provide you with solid letters of recommendation.

Special Master's Gap Year Program

Entry into SMPs is often significantly more challenging than into post-bacc programs. 

In addition, the courses tend to be more complicated than postbaccalaureate or even Master's in Public Health programs, and they can be taken with first-year medical students.

Therefore, a solid SMP performance could significantly increase your chances of acceptance. 

Receiving a specific SMP GPA even assures you an interview invitation at some medical schools. 

Additionally, similar to postbaccalaureate programs, you can work on developing relationships with teachers to get more substantial recommendation letters than you would from your undergraduate instructors.

Professional Medical Experience Gap Year Program

Years of inactivity can be a fantastic opportunity to compensate for lost patient exposure time. 

Additionally, continuing to pursue medically pertinent activities (such as working as a scribe, EMT, or medical assistant) will show the admission committee that you are dedicated to medicine. 

Furthermore, rather than taking out huge loans before beginning your education, you can earn some money.

Master's in Public Health Gap Year Program

Many aspiring medical students are interested in the public health curriculum. In addition, the program itself can open doors if you decide to work in a field other than medicine. You can also incorporate a "public health angle" into your application materials.

Medical Research Gap Year Program 

Although it is not a formal requirement for medical school, most strong candidates have medical research experience from their undergraduate and beyond. Therefore, research is a kind of unstated demand that fits well with gap years. 

Additionally, putting extra effort into your job and, ideally, publishing a paper or two might help increase your chances of getting accepted if being a top researcher is a key selling point on your application.

How to Maximize Your Gap Year/s Before Medical School 

Once you have decided to take a gap year before medical school, your following action is to focus on what you should do during your gap year. Lean towards improving the areas of your application that you think need attention. 

It depends on your objectives and the areas you need to improve. Avoid trying to stuff your application with several short-term activities. This could harm rather than help you because admissions committees are adept at spotting it.

Here are some best ways to maximize your gap year before medical school. 

Make Your Application Better

You should use the AMCAS application if you are applying to allopathic medical schools. You can spend time enhancing various application components. 

For instance, it is vital to show your career history and related extracurricular interests in the work and activities section. 

Ensure the job and activities section emphasizes quality over quantity and lists relevant experiences. 

Additionally, you can edit or rewrite your personal statement

You will utilize the TMDSAS application for medical schools in Texas. You can improve the employment and activities portion of the TMDSAS and rework the essay about your personal traits. 

You will submit the AACOMAS application for osteopathic medical schools. You can prioritize your experience, personal statement, and achievements parts of your application.

Spend Less and Pay Off Debt

The average cost of attending medical school is USD 255,517 to USD 337,584. These summaries do not include the cost of books, transportation, lodging, and food. 

Unsurprisingly, some candidates choose to take a gap year or two before medical school. They do so to save money and pay off current debt. This could be a wise choice for some people, while it might be necessary for others.

You must consider your current and potential future financial status to decide if it is correct. 

Suppose you can access finance options like loans, grants, scholarships, or parental support. In that case, you might not think the financial gain of delaying starting your profession for a year is worth it.

However, taking a year off can be beneficial if you can pay off or significantly reduce your current debt, save money for housing, and submit grant and scholarship applications.

Prepare for the MCAT

It is not a joke that taking the MCAT takes seven and a half hours. You can have a low MCAT score if you do not know when to start. 

Keep in mind that the MCAT is one of the significant factors in medical school acceptance. 

Before applying to medical school, taking a gap year would allow you to devote more time to studying and preparing for the MCAT, enabling you to work on lowering any unfavorable scores. 

It is preferable to avoid taking the MCAT if you have not already but are aware that duties to your job, family, or other commitments will hinder your capacity to study.

As a general guideline, you should only take the MCAT when you are entirely prepared for it, are consistently scoring well, and are ready to take it.

Take Part in the Appropriate Extracurricular Activities

The strongest candidates are frequently those that are well-rounded and have a variety of backgrounds and experiences. 

Medical school applicants can choose from various gap year choices to strengthen their applications and prepare for the future. 

Clinical experience, research, medical shadowing, and volunteering are extracurricular activities promoting professional and personal growth.  

Clinical Knowledge

Your clinical experience demonstrates to admissions committees that you have engaged with patients and have relevant experience in a clinical context. 

Getting these experiences enables you to learn more about the industry and choose whether a medical career suits you. 

Clinical experience can also assist you in focusing and identifying your areas of interest. In other words, by giving you practical experience and training, activities under this heading help determine your preparation for medical school.


Approximately 60% of students had research experience before enrollment, according to the AAMC. Your analytical and critical thinking abilities will be strengthened via research experience, allowing you to publish your work and establish connections with other scholars on campus. 

Additionally, suppose you want to pursue post-graduate degrees or dual degrees like the MD-PhD. In that case, you must have significant research experience.

Medical Shadowing 

Candidates for medical school should prioritize experience in medical shadowing or physician shadowing

According to medical schools, students should commit a significant amount of time to medical shadowing. 

Although there is not usually a fixed amount of time required, matriculants reported having between 100 and 400 hours of physician shadowing. Use your best judgment while also considering your schedule.

Volunteer Abroad

You may already know how the NHS provides healthcare thanks to your paid or volunteer activities. 

Students who volunteer overseas have a rare chance to experience a new culture while learning about healthcare in another nation.

Understanding healthcare systems in other countries can help you prepare questions to ask during interviews. 

Many students who took a gap year before medical school later on in life praised it as the best thing that had occurred to them. 

Take a Mental Break

It would help to put your mental health first to succeed as a doctor. The same logic applies when watching a safety video while flying: you should put your mask on before assisting others. Likewise, you need to take care of yourself first if you want to serve others.

You might be unable to handle medical school's arduous effort, time commitment, and stress if you felt worn out and burned out. 

In this situation, taking a gap year before medical school is preferable to dropping out in the middle of your studies because of extreme stress.

Whatever our coping techniques — playing the piano, going to the gym, or listening to music — they all help us deal with stress and overcome hardship over time. You must pay attention to your body's and mind's demands. If a break is what you need or desire to get best ready for medical school, do it.

Additional FAQs – Gap Year Before Medical School: Complete Guide

Is It a Disadvantage to Take a Gap Year Before Medical School?

No, taking a gap year is not a disadvantage if you make the most of your time.   

Remember that more applicants take a gap year before medical school than those who do not. Therefore, maximize this opportunity to improve your medical school application.

Should I Mention My Gap Year During My Med School Interview?

Yes, it would help if you always were truthful in your interviews for medical school. However, framing your gap year as a rewarding experience is crucial. 

Do not call it "time off." Instead, discuss how you increase your knowledge and skills to become a better doctor.

What Shouldn't I Do While Taking a Gap Year Before Medical School?

Do not waste your time. You may undoubtedly use this time to indulge in hobbies and activities while recharging your mind. 

Your gap year should not, however, be solely focused on interests outside of your education and career aspirations.

Strike a mix between what is essential and what is not. Then, focus on what would improve your application to medical school.

You're no longer alone on your journey to becoming a physician

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