The Gap Year: Is It Right for You?
After the rigorous academic preparation for health professional school, many students mull over the prospect of a gap year – a year in-between college and graduate/professional school when students attempt to stave off burnout. Striving to get A’s in higher-level science classes, studying and taking the MCAT/PCAT/DAT, being involved in extracurriculars, and even working all contribute to the mental fatigue some students face in their senior year. With all the effort and energy students put towards getting into school, it might not leave too much for succeeding in school.
The Pros and Cons: “The extra year allowed me to do real, authentic introspection,” says Alanna Grafius, OMS-III. “I set concrete personal and professional goals. I felt relaxed and confident in my decision to apply rather than rushed and apprehensive.” Alanna credits the gap year with helping her re-establish her focus to confront the rigors of medical school:
“Medical school challenged me in many ways. I had to learn how to persevere through mountains of information, overcome periods of self-doubt, and work harder than I ever had. I truly believe that the time off was a benefit to my long-term goals because I was able to create a solid foundation. My stable mental health fostered the proper environment to help me sustain a rigorous but rewarding career in medicine.”
However, the gap year is not without drawbacks. While many students experience some difficulty transitioning between the predictability of undergraduate studies to the rigors of medical school, Alanna felt her transition was especially hard. “It was more difficult to focus on studying because I wasn’t used to that lifestyle anymore. Medical school is intense; it is very much sink or swim,” she says. Getting started on the right foot is essential for any student doctor, especially those with aspirations of landing in an uber-competitive specialty.
Admissions and You: One question college seniors often have about gap years: will it hurt my chances? The answer of course depends on what happens during that gap year. If LECOM admitted only “traditional” students, i.e. right out of college, our expected average age would be about 21-22. The actual average is about 25 years old, so many of our students in class right now took some form of a gap year. A major factor that separated them from the other gap year students that did not gain admission was the quality of their year away from school.
“If someone takes a gap year between undergrad and medical school, I would like to see them involved in something related to medicine – either as a CNA, scribe, EMT, or office work. If they are taking the time to prepare for the MCAT, it is still good to see them working and studying to show they can balance the workload,” says Dr. Christine Kell, Associate Dean of Preclinical Education Emerita and Admissions Committee member at LECOM. The extra year also allows for students to explore different avenues of the medical field, and the real-life work experience allows a student to mature professionally. Dr. Kell says that ultimately medical school is a marathon and requires the same determination and perseverance. “The hardest thing about medical school is endurance – that takes commitment and a passion that has to be internal. When we review applications, we look for volunteer experience, work, and personal statements that show students can endure the rigors of medical school.”
Challenge Yourself: Though the gap year allowed Alanna to refocus and re-energize, she also worked full-time and participated in a months-long production of A Chorus Line at a local community theater. If a student’s undergraduate studies were about challenging their intellectual abilities, then the gap year presents an opportunity to challenge themselves outside the classroom. Working as a scribe or EMT, taking the MCAT, starting a volunteer effort, and many other things can show admissions committees that you have the endurance for medical school.
Written by Jordan Koper, Pharmacy Admissions Coordinator