Even before COVID, an increasing number of students were taking gap years to take a break or improve their application competitiveness. Plus, the time off gives many students the time and space they need to apply to medical school with more focus. Still, there are still many students who apply straight through without missing a beat.
Applying to medical school is an exhausting and challenging experience. Avoiding a gap year before medical school requires exceptional organization and strategic planning. Students that avoid a gap year must handle all the intricacies of the year-long application process while in their junior and senior years of college – from taking the MCAT, to secondary essays, to interviews. That can be a lot!
Nonetheless, it can be done! Here are a few tips to help you during each year of college if you are planning to apply straight through to medical school.
Plan Your Coursework to Prepare for a Heavy Junior and Senior Year
Applying straight through means that you will have to take the MCAT during the summer before or during your junior year. The MCAT requires a lot of time and can often take up as much time as a typical college course. Start thinking about your course load early and plan to dedicate a summer or a semester to MCAT studying. If you decide to take it during the school year, try to find a balance between your regularly scheduled classes and the MCAT. It is tempting to want to place all of your efforts on the MCAT, but don’t let your other grades slip!
Keep Track of Your Undergrad Experiences
As a result of not taking a gap year, you will be applying to medical school alongside applicants who have had additional years of experience. So, be sure to get sufficient and meaningful experiences while in college. This can be a challenge if you are taking on a lot of classes each semester or if you have other commitments such as family or work. However, it is important to demonstrate your commitment to medicine in the three years that you have. In this case, longevity can be your ally.
Don’t have the bandwidth to explore ten different clinical experiences and shadowing opportunities? No problem! Get involved in one to two experiences early on and stick with them. This is equally, if not more, valuable.
Save, Save, Save for Medical School!
Applying to medical school is expensive! Being a college student, rather than a full-time employee in your gap year, can limit your access to funds and thus limit the number of schools you can apply to. Start saving your money early in college and think about fee assistance opportunities that you may be eligible for. Your college campus may have scholarship opportunities and free materials for you to use, too. It’s never too early to dig up financial resources.
Check in With Yourself Regularly
Your college years will be packed with experiences, opportunities, applications, exams, and interviews. Be sure to check in with yourself often and show some mercy!
If you are not feeling ready to take the MCAT at a given time, readjust your schedule and take it when you’re ready. If your course load is too much one semester, take a breather and lighten the load for the next one. It’s important that you don’t burn out. Taking a gap year is still an incredible opportunity, so don’t be afraid to change your mind and pursue that.
Common Questions Students Have About Gap Years
Here are all the answers you need to know about taking a gap year (or not taking a gap year) before heading off to medical school.
Do medical schools look down on students that take gap years?
Nope. Gap years are often encouraged. However, if you can demonstrate maturity and have a strong application compared to other students who may have had a few more years of experience, you’ll be fine as a straight through applicant.
What if I change my mind and want to take a gap year after all?
Many medical schools allow their accepted students to defer their acceptance for a year. This is essentially when the school holds a spot for you in their next class so that you can take a year to work, do research, travel, or something else, before medical school. It’s not offered everywhere, and you’ll need a really good reason for deferring– but it’s an option!
Is there a cost difference for applying straight through versus taking gap years?
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that taking a gap year gives you a chance to earn some money and be in a better position to afford the cost of medical school. However, if your gap year consists of a masters or post-bacc program, that will cost you. The baseline cost of applying to medical school from one cycle to the next is largely unchanged with the exception of natural inflation.
Still have questions about taking a gap year? MedSchoolCoach has a team of admissions advisors who have all served on admissions committees. They are available to help coach you on what to do during gap year, and to boost your chances of getting into medical school. Look them up!