By: Bailey Gilmore
Should students take a gap year between graduating from college and going to medical school? For many students, faster does not necessarily mean better.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported the average age of a medical school matriculate is 24 years old, which correlates to about 2-3 gap years between college and medical school. Acceptance into medical school is competitive, with an overall acceptance rate of 43% (2017-2018 statistics), with each school ranging from about 2% to 15%. Taking a gap year can boost your résumé with more time for volunteering, getting research experience, or focusing on studying for the MCAT to make yourself the best applicant possible. At the very least, it allows time to make some money to start paying off those hefty loans that come attached to medical school.
Northwestern, one of the most well-established colleges in the Midwest, reports that approximately 70% of their students who are accepted to medical school take at least one gap year.
However, improving application chances isn’t the only reason gap years are helpful.
“Gap years shouldn’t be all about getting into medical school,” says John Choi, who is currently finishing medical school at Johns Hopkins University and applying to neurosurgery residencies.
“Gap years are invaluable in developing the experiences and mindsets that will help you become a better doctor or better researcher.”
After college, Choi spent 3 years with Teach for America teaching high school science classes. One thing that he realized was the benefit of failure and learning how to overcome obstacles. Many people at the time questioned his decision to go into teaching, which seemed unrelated to being a doctor.
Choi emphatically disagreed, saying that “the insights of teaching and building personal relations extended into the clinic.”
In medical school interviews, he spoke about his teaching experiences in detail. His interviewers were not as interested in what he had accomplished, or the details on his résumé. Rather, they wanted to know what kind of person he became and what passions drove him to do these things that he did.
For the sake of transparency, there are still many advantages of going straight into medical school without taking a gap year. One of the more common reasons is that medical school is already a very long process, so students would not actually become physicians until their early 30s. Additionally, as students, the last 16 years of life has comprised of academics, and taking a year or two off might result in a struggle to readjust to all of the school work. With these in mind, the pros still seem to heavily outweigh the cons.
Elon University reports that although impressively 73% of students with an MCAT score over 507 were accepted into at least one medical school for Fall 2018, 100% of students with those same scores and at least one gap year were accepted into at least one school for Fall 2018. The emphasis placed on Elon’s pre-med success, however, does not only rely on the grades and test scores. From personal statements to leadership positions and research jobs and volunteer work, Elon prides itself in having well-rounded applicants.
Although these statistics are based solely on medical school, similar trends are seen in other types of graduate programs as well. For example, at Harvard Law School, 78% of students were at least 1 year out of college, and 61% of students were 2 or more years out of college. This means that almost everyone attending their school has gotten at least some sort of real-world experience, making their program even more competitive than it already is.
Other graduate programs, like PhD programs and masters, are also very common to find people that have spent a year or more outside of academics and, either intentionally or not, being able to add more to their application than they would have straight out of undergraduate school.
Gap years can open up many doors, filling in the gaps with meaningful experiences outside of school. From doing extended mission trips abroad to working full time in a laboratory or shadowing other professionals in the field, there are plenty of ways to spend a year adding to the list of traits that would make you the student that the medical school’s admissions board is looking for, both in and out of the classroom.