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A Year Off Before Medical School

Getting into medical school is already difficult and only getting harder. The traditional applicant will apply after their third year of college. If the applicant is accepted, they will matriculate the fall of the year they graduate. Many applicants do not apply at the end of their third year because they feel their application is not strong enough. Nevertheless, there are various other reasons not to apply right after your junior year. According to AAMC, the average age of matriculants in 2012 was 24, meaning that a substantial number of students did not apply with the traditional timetable.

Deciding when to apply is a matter of personal preference and circumstance. Here is a list of pros and cons you should consider before you decide that you are going to take a year off before medical school.


1. A bolstered application

If you apply after your fourth year, you will have one more year to improve your application. If you did not do as well in school during your first two years, you can use your fourth year to improve your GPA. Also, squeezing significant volunteer, research, shadowing, and leadership experience in only three years can be incredibly difficult and stressful. Having an additional year allows you to space your activities and classes out more. Often times, your extracurricular activities are most significant during your senior year. Your senior year may be the year you become the president of your club, write your senior thesis, or get the best volunteer shift.

2. Taking the MCAT later

If you want to apply the traditional way, you will have to take the MCAT during the summer before your third year or during your third year. Taking the MCAT during that summer can be difficult if you have not finished all your pre-requisite courses yet. Also, losing that summer to the MCAT limits research opportunities and various other extracurricular activities you may want to pursue. Studying for the MCAT during the school year is incredibly challenging. You would have to study an additional 2 or 3 hours a day for the MCAT on top of studying for your standard curriculum. Needless to say, your grades and MCAT score could easily suffer if you are unable to balance the intense studying.

3. Additional time to rest and/or mature

Many people use the year off before medical school to work full time, travel, pursue another degree, volunteer (research or clinical) and/or pursue other interests. The year off before medical school could be a nice break from school (if you don’t pursue another degree). An extra year to do all these things does not guarantee that you will become more mature. Being out of college, however, provides opportunities to mature as you engage in the “real” world. This time off could also help confirm and strengthen your decision to pursue medicine. As you learn more about yourself, you may even realize that you do not want to go to into medicine. This would save you a lot of money and regret of having chosen the wrong career.

4. You do not have to worry about school while you are interviewing

If you are a traditional applicant, you may be interviewing on a Friday when you have a midterm that following Monday. This kind of situation can be stressful and burdensome. If you miss a lot of classes because of interviews, your grades could potentially suffer (although your grades do not matter as much if you are accepted). But if you are interviewing during your year off, you could use the interviews as a well-warranted excuse to travel and explore the U.S.


1. You become a doctor one year later

If you become a doctor one year later, you will be a year behind all your friends who applied the traditional route. While they are learning about medicine, you could be relegated to one more year of volunteer, research, or some sort of work that is not as exciting as being a medical student. You also technically lose a year of a physician’s salary. Becoming a doctor takes long enough so you may not want to delay it any further.

2. Boredom

Some people complain that taking a year off before medical school is too long. You might be working at a job that you don’t really care about for a whole year. Resting and traveling can get expensive and doesn’t take a whole year. If you really want to be in school, having a full year off might be too boring

3. Lack of substantial experience could hurt your application

During your year off, if all you are not doing anything important, admissions committees might see that as a red flag. They like to see that you are using your time to do something significant to you. If you are unable to plan out something productive such as researching, traveling, working, or volunteering and all you do is sit at home, then you are probably your hurting your application.

When you are applying, keep in mind that the year off before medical school might be the last extended “break” that you will have. Medical students, besides the summer after M1, do not really have summer breaks. For some, a year is too long. For others, the year is rejuvenating and necessary. You have to know the type of person you are and consider the pros and cons listed and above before you making a decision.


Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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