50 Things About the Gap Year

Originally posted March 6th, 2014 here

If you make the choice (or fate has decided) that you will take a gap year before medical school, no fear! There are many of us taking the 12 or 16 month “break” before starting our medical journey. Once again, I’ll share what I’ve learned (and am still learning) while I’m out of school. If you have any more detailed questions, feel free to ask. These are based off my personal experience, and remember everyone and their experiences will be different!

This “50 things” is a little longer than my previous posts so prepare yourself. You have been warned!

Fantastical Myths

  • You are taking a gap year because you didn’t get into med school the first time. This is true for some, not for all. Plenty of people choose this and it isn’t because we were the unlucky 54% who didn’t get accepted last year (that’s the stat, I’m pretty sure).
  • People who take a gap year don’t know what they are doing with their lives. This is totally untrue! Just because someone takes more time than other doesn’t mean they are indecisive or flaky. Don’t judge.
  • If you don’t start medical school right out of college you’ll be the oldest person in your class. Anyone who says this is someone you should slowly back away from, because this person never researches anything. The median age for MS1s is about 25, so yeah.
  • Anyone who takes a gap year should really be doing a master’s program instead, otherwise you look lazy. I’m not saying doing a post-bac or master’s program is a bad idea, because it isn’t at all. But that doesn’t mean if you chose to not take one you won’t get in anywhere. Your bachelor’s degree is all they need.
  • You’ll forget a lot of what you learned in your undergrad if you take time off. Newsflash, you’ll forget that stuff in 2 months anyways. And seeing as you are about to be bombarded with information at twice the speed with 10x the material, everyone is at the starting line all together.
  • Medical schools don’t like you see that you are taking a gap year. Wrong. Medical schools don’t like to see that you’ve taken a gap year if you do nothing during it. Otherwise, it’s really a nonfactor.


Good reasons

  • If you’re worried about the MCAT taking a gap year can help you out. In the summer between junior and senior year (if you’re on a traditional track) you can spend that entire time studying and take the MCAT during the late summer/fall dates.
  • If you screw up on the MCAT you have time to retake it in during the spring dates.
  • There may be classes you wanted to take, or classes that could strengthen your GPA. You can take it and kill the curve.
  • Everyone has something they really want to do! This is your chance to kick that junk right off your bucket list.
  • There are tons of cool and relevant jobs out there that can satisfy the need to stay on your game and maybe get your some useful contacts.
  • Want to do research in depth? Now you have time to devote to that, and maybe you can even get published (here’s to hoping).
  • Getting letters of recommendation can be a huge pain in the ass, especially if you try to do it in a time crunch. A gap year allows for you not only to have a full array of science instructors (these are required!) to ask, but also to have really definitive dates to collect those letter.
  • Missing some clinical exposure can hurt your application somewhat, but not anymore! Now you can volunteer and even get time to interact with real patients.
  • Interviews will happen over the gap year. This means you won’t be forced to miss classes and it may be easier to just pick up and go if you are informed you have an interview a week away.
  • Take the time to evaluate your mental health and prep yourself before you dive in head first.

Bad reasons

  • Just as it sounds, a gap year means you will be out of school for at least a full year. It can be hard to readjust back into the flow of classes and med school takes no prisoners.
  • There are great jobs out there, so there equally crappy ones. Sometimes you just have to do for money. Some of which are miserable, so having to do that sucks.
  • Or you don’t get a job at all (if you are looking for one). And that sucks worse.
  • Boredom. Not being is school after a fairly rigorous course load can feel like you’re floating in limbo.
  • Non-med folk will constantly be confused when you try to explain a gap year to them. It’s frustrating and annoying, but not harmful.

Things you should totally do!

  • Travel! Go across the country; even get out of the country!
  • Visit your family that you don’t normally get to see. Med school is going to suck up most of your time, so getting away for family events is going to be tough. See them while you still have the chance.
  • Make a savings plan. The extra money will come in handy.
  • But spend some money on yourself! Take yourself shopping; get some cool electronics, or new outfits or really anything. Money doesn’t buy happiness but it can buy you nice things and that’s kinda the same thing.
  • Have you ever seen your favorite band in concert? Do it.
  • Discover new music! Or old music you never knew about.
  • Sleep in until an obnoxious hour at least once. You need to do it so you can complain about missing it.
  • Learn to cook something really cool. And also how to cook something really fast.
  • Get your kick-ass on! Learn self-defense or a martial art. Safety first!
  • Party a little. If you’re like me, you didn’t get too much time to get the crazy college experience (I was totally okay with that). You might want to get in that little extra bit so you aren’t stuck on needed to “live the life” later on.
  • Do something you never thought you could. Run a marathon, learn to snowboard or start a blog.
  • Get some kind of certification. These can help you both in med school and in getting a gap year job.
  • Pay off whatever loans you have. You don’t have to get through them, since you can have them frozen until you are done with med school. But do you really need MORE debt hanging over your head?
  • Take care of your health. This is actually incredibly important. If you’ve been putting off say a root canal, having your tonsils removed or anything in those categories, now is the time to do something about it while you have the time to be accurately assessed and recover.
  • Be super excited to start!

Things you should not do

  • Don’t try to pre-study. If there is a subject you have no background in its okay to learn a little bit about it, but don’t try to self-teach like you’re in a class.
  • Don’t run yourself completely ragged. This is a time to do what you like but also a time to relax. You don’t want to show up to your med school with an action hangover.
  • Try to not get hurt. My dumb ass broke my ankle at the end of spring 2013 right before my graduation and guess what, it still hurts and I’m still not use to dealing with it. New injuries, especially ones that inhibit are a pain to deal with. So stay safe and smart.
  • Don’t complain about how bored you are waiting for school to start. I’m completely guilty of this and I’m trying to stop doing it.
  • Please don’t brag all the time about getting in. Celebrate as need obviously! But this goes for anyone who got into med school, but to hear about it for 12 to 16 months is nothing but obnoxious.

Choices only you can make

  • You’ll need to figure out if you will be living on your own or moving back in with your parents. Living on your own (or with roommates) means paying your expenses on your own and having less money for yourself. Living at your parents’ means…well parents.
  • If you chose to live on your own will you stay near your undergrad school, near your medical school, or somewhere totally different. These are allowed to overlap of course.
  • If you have a significant other, having a gap year can help you make choices about your relationship. Plenty of students rush into med school in a relationship just to watch it fall apart. Having this time will allow you to really consider what they want too, and all the hard decision that come with it.
  • You need to decide where to allocate your time. You can try to do it all, but sometimes you simply can’t. While you can get paid fairly well a full time job won’t allow you to travel extensively and vice versa.
  • Plan on getting a furry friend? Make smart selections here. Can you afford it? Have you have this type of animal in the past? Does it need a lot of attention? Know your pet facts.
  • Masters and post-bac programs look really nice on your application and help prep you for the rigor of medical school. Many people who chose this route use them to get all of their requirements (such as if you are leaving your first career or a “nontraditional” major), need to “fix” a GPA or get more science classes in.  But these programs mean more debt.
  • Are you burned out? You really need to consider this. If you feel tired and lackluster about your studies and feel like you can’t take another class will you really be okay enough in 4 months when you start the intensity of med school?
  • Maybe you’ve been accepted somewhere already. Do you really want to go to that school? This is a tough decision, because a school you turn down will question you if you reapply the next cycle. But you may know you won’t be happy there. Take time to think this out.
  • Do you want to take a gap year? If you don’t THEN DON’T. But if you do want to take a gap year don’t let anyone stop you from doing what you need to do.

4 thoughts on “50 Things About the Gap Year

Add yours

  1. This post was really interesting – I’m just about to finish my undergrad degree and start a gap year and have been freaking out a little about having 15 months (or possibly more) out of education. There’s still just over a month left of my degree, but I have found myself thinking more and more about my gap year and have been feeling the need to plan extensively. It’s nice to hear someone say it’s okay to take some breathing time, even if I knew it deep down already.


    1. I’m almost at the end of my second year, and I’ll say that my gap year was the best thing that could have been thrust onto me at that time. It was something that I really did need and I found out so much about myself.
      You’ll have plenty of time to figure out what’s headed your way and I wish you tons of luck!


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