The Pre-Med/Pre-Health Advising Office wants all students who are passionate about working in the healthcare industry to be admitted to a graduate program in their chosen field. The office encourages students to remember that the ultimate goal is admission. A timeline is a method for gaining admission; it is not the end goal. As such, students should keep their timeline for gaining admission flexible and make sure that it is setting them up to reach their goal.
Why Take a Gap Year?
Gap year(s) offer applicants the one thing they often need the most—time. As a baseline, medical schools seek candidates who have not only strong grades and strong MCAT scores, but also a history of meaningful community service and a commitment to clinical experience. Since going straight through to medical school means applying ideally in June after the conclusion of junior year, it commonly requires students to juggle MCAT and application preparation with junior-year courses. This, for many students, can lead to a lower MCAT score, lower grades, or both. PA school applicants can face similar challenges in trying to accrue 500 to 2,000 hours of clinical experience (minimum) with strong academics and extracurricular activities.
In addition to giving oneself the time needed to do well, why take gap time?
- To bolster an application that needs to be strengthened in one of the three critical areas-academics (grades and MCAT score), service to UMass and to the community, or clinical experience.
- To develop a competitive research portfolio for MD-PhD programs.
- To make time to study abroad or pursue other cultural/developmental growth opportunities.
- To gain real-world experience or pursue a passion before continuing with education.
What Should I Do during My Gap Year(s)?
Most gaps are between one and three years, but some are much longer. What candidates do during their gap time varies greatly. That said, applicants should prioritize the following:
- Gaining meaningful clinical experience
- Contributing to their community through service (at least two hours each week)
- Participating in things about which they are passionate
- Enhancing any weak areas within their applications, i.e., improving grades through additional coursework, getting more substantial clinical experience, etc.
To elaborate, beyond a continued commitment to clinical experience and service, graduate schools want people who are passionate about the things they do. Whether candidates pursue their passions through full-time jobs, in the clinic, or through volunteer work or another avenue, they need to demonstrate to the admissions committee that they are interesting, charismatic, and engaged people.
Since an application cycle lasts nearly a year, candidates should bear in mind that their final (or only) gap year will not play much role in their admission to school, as the activities pursued in that year will likely occur after the application has been read and a decision on whether to offer an interview has been made. Candidates who have participated in significant activities with their gap time are encouraged to provide updates to schools, which can be especially helpful for those who are getting interview invitations or find themselves on a waiting list. Additionally, the Pre-Med/Pre-Health Office encourages all applicants to assume they will not be admitted to graduate school and to keep working hard (at least) until an acceptance is in hand.
Some concrete examples of gap-time activities:
- Working in a research lab or a clinical lab
- Working as a CNA or EMT
- Going into the Peace Corps or becoming a Fulbright Scholar
- Doing Teach for America, City Year, or AmeriCorps
- Getting a graduate degree
Common Gap Year Myths Dispelled
Myth: If I take a gap year, I will be older than everyone in my class.
Reality: The average age of those matriculating in medical school is 26, and more than 80 percent of UMass Medical School's entering class in 2017 took at least one gap year. The average PA student is 27 years old.
Myth: If I take a gap year, I will lose sight of my dream of becoming a doctor.
Reality: Arguably, a "dream" that could be lost so quickly is more of a passing phase. As such, this is not a common problem. Yes, there are people who take gap time who ultimately decide not to apply to a health professional school, but they are doing so because they have discovered an even greater passion.
Myth: If I take a gap year, I am wasting time.
Reality: You are only wasting time if you choose not to be productive in your time between undergraduate and graduate school. There are UMass Amherst alumni who have made substantial advances in research, traveled the world, done outreach to help disadvantaged groups access healthcare, saved lives as an EMT, and more. Those alumni, who are now in medical school, are approaching their medical education with unique, well-informed perspectives and mentors upon whom they can rely. Those alumni can be thoughtful and invigorated to get what they want out of their education in a way that they likely would not have been had they gone straight to medical school.
Myth: If I take a gap year, I do not have to work as hard as an undergraduate.
Reality: If you are going to medical school, you will be working hard from now until the day you retire from medicine. In particular, if you only take one gap year, your entire application-clinical experience, strong grades, strong MCAT, and dedicated service-should be in a competitive position by the end of senior year. For many, taking a gap year simply affords time during the junior summer to focus on studying for the MCAT, as opposed to trying to balance it with courses during the academic year.
Myth: If I take gap time, I will not have access to the advising support at UMass Amherst.
Reality: The Pre-Med/Pre-Health Advising Office helps both current students and alumni. The office records and distributes key group-advising information sessions to those who cannot come to campus, in addition to offering individual appointments in person, on the phone, and via Skype.