“Should I take a gap year before medical school?” is a question many premeds face. But just because you’re not alone doesn’t make this monumental decision any easier. Do you power through and push on? Is your current application good enough for an acceptance at your preferred schools? Will you regret not taking some time off later in your life?
A gap year is not a setback; it’s an opportunity to build up your experiences and fine-tune your application. It’s far better to wait until you are ready than to struggle through the application process, burn yourself out, and then have to reapply the next year. There will be more expectations on you as a reapplicant, plus you’ll waste a lot of time and money applying twice.
Wanting to take time off before you dive into 8+ years of medical school and residency is another consideration. Have you always dreamed of backpacking across Europe? Do you want to donate some of your time to humanitarian aid before your next round of school? Are there things you want to accomplish with friends or family before you prioritize your career path? Regret is not a burden you want to take with you into medical school.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. The path you take to becoming a doctor is completely your own and depends on your preferences and current circumstances. Let’s dig into some of the reasons you might choose to take a gap year before medical school and the common pros and cons of this big decision.
Reasons to Take a Gap Year
Your Application Has Weak Areas You Need to Improve
It’s time to be brutally honest with yourself. Is your application strong enough to get you an acceptance at your top choice schools? Have you put enough time and effort into your application, and are you positive you don’t have any weak areas?
Have you taken the time to build relationships for strong letters of recommendation? Did you write, rewrite, gather feedback, edit, and review your personal statement? Is it a unique one that will stand out amongst the sea of other premed personal statements? Do you have a varied list of experiences that will entice admissions committees? Is your MCAT score competitive enough for the schools you are applying to?
While it is possible to reapply, the process is more difficult. Don’t go into application season thinking you will try your luck this year with a weak application and simply reapply next year if things don’t work out. Thinking it’s a good idea to gain experience with the application process is a mistake many premeds make.
More is expected of you when you reapply to medical school. Admissions committees will be looking at how you’ve improved your application since the last time you applied, and you’ll need to specifically address being a reapplicant. What have you learned since you applied last time? How has your application improved? If you weren’t ready for medical school before, why are you now?
These are all questions and implications you can avoid when you apply only once. And in addition to those expectations, you’ll very likely be burnt out on the application process. It could take you a full year to find out whether or not you were accepted into medical school, and by then, you need to be focused on reapplying.
We always recommend premeds enter the application cycle with a strong application they are confident will earn them acceptance. It is possible to improve areas of your application along the way, especially if you seek outside help from mentors or a tutoring service, but overall, you need a strong application across the board to compete with other applicants.
If you know you have a weak area of your application, taking a gap year to address it can ensure you get into the schools of your choosing the first time around. It’s far better to spend a year gaining more experience and fine-tuning your application than to waste your time and money applying twice.
Carefully consider the strength of your application and what you might be able to improve. Would another year do you good? What would you be able to accomplish for your application during your gap year? Again, there is absolutely no shame in taking another year to improve your application. In fact, it illustrates self-awareness and can give you an edge against hasty applicants who choose to rush through the process before they are ready.
Your Application Won’t Be Ready In Time
You may have a stellar application nearing completion, but that won’t do you any good if it’s not ready on time. What does ‘on time’ mean? When it comes to applying to medical school, on time means as soon as possible.
When you look at the technical deadlines on the AAMC website, you’ll see that you have all year to apply, but this is far from reality. In order to compete with other applicants, you must submit your application as soon as the portal begins accepting applications, which is late May to early June.
This is due to rolling admissions. Medical schools review applications as they come through, moving from one phase to the next. If someone with an application equivalent to your own submits theirs in June and you submit yours in September, they will have a notable advantage. By September, the early applicant will already have completed their secondaries and will be beginning the interview process. Schools will be considering them for acceptance before you’ve even submitted your application.
We strongly advise all premeds to apply right away—at the beginning or middle of June. If something happens and you need to submit your application a little bit later in July or perhaps August, it is still possible to find success, but any later than that is questionable.
Once you get to the end of the summer, it’s far better to take a step back and refocus your efforts so that you can apply right away at the beginning of June of the following year. Rushing through the application process late in the game will hinder your chances of acceptance and could force you to be a reapplicant. By then, you’ll be behind once again and exhausted from the previous year’s application cycle.
If you’re notably behind or running out of time, don’t rush things. The wiser choice is to take a gap year and apply on time with confidence for the following cycle. You can use your gap year to further prepare yourself, improve your application, and ensure you have all aspects of your application ready as early as possible.
In order to excel during the application process, premeds must be in the right headspace, have a clear plan in place, and submit materials early. Learn more: Am I Ready to Apply to Medical School?
You Want to Travel or Take Other Personal Time
The decision to take a gap year may be a personal one rather than academic. Medical school and residency will take at least eight years to complete, and you will have very little free time. And once you become a doctor, you’ll be jumping into a complex career full of long or irregular hours.
If you have a deep desire to travel, donate your time, or complete some other project, taking a gap year may be your ideal chance. So long as you are able to submit a quality application on time (early) for the following cycle, taking a gap year can prove to be an asset for your application.
Exploring a part of the world, offering up your time to help others, or pursuing a passion of yours gives you something else to talk about in your application, secondaries, and interviews. Those types of learning experiences can actually make you stand out as an applicant. What did you learn from these experiences, and how are you a more well-rounded individual?
While you may feel pressure to push on with the application right away to stick with your peers, take time to assess your own goals and aspirations. Starting your career one year later isn’t all that different in the grand scheme of things. Having regrets will only make you resentful, and it could distract you from putting your best foot forward in medical school.
Gap Year Pros and Cons
Taking a gap year is a personal decision, and there are many pros and cons to both options. It all depends on your specific situation, whether or not you are ready, and what you hope to accomplish before jumping into medical school. Here are some common pros and cons to consider.
- You can ensure your application is ready as soon as application services open.
- You can take time to improve weak areas of your application.
- You can retake the MCAT if you don’t have a competitive score.
- You can continue to build connections for strong letters of recommendation.
- You can pursue missing extracurriculars to create a more well-rounded Work and Activities section.
- You can take time to recharge and prioritize your mental health.
- You can find a job and make some money to offset the staggering cost of medical school.
- You can travel, donate your time, or pursue other interests before entering medical school.
- You may lose momentum taking a year off.
- You won’t enter medical school at the same time as your peers.
- It will take one year longer to become a doctor.
- You could get used to the freedom, which will make it difficult to return to the rigors of medical education.
- You may spend more on experiences and travel than you’re able to save.
- If you don’t use your gap year to improve weak areas of your application, admissions committees will take notice.
Making Tough Decisions
Struggling to make a tough decision? Whether you’re narrowing down your final list of schools or deciding whether or not to take a gap year, decision making strategies will help you make informed decisions you can feel good about for years to come.
Read our 7 Strategies for Better Decision Making.
Med School Insiders offers one-on-one advising that pairs you with a physician advisor who best fits your specific needs. It’s our goal to help you create a future that aligns with your vision. We can help you craft an ideal medical school list, provide advice on whether or not a gap year is the best option for you, and more.
With time off, you'd have more chances to pursue clinical experience and research opportunities in order to beef up your medical school resumé. You'll be going up against applicants who've dedicated a tremendous amount of time to clinics, conducting research at university labs, volunteering at hospitals, and more.Does it look bad to take a gap year before med school? ›
No, it's not bad to take a gap year if you make the most of your time. Remember, more applicants take a gap year than not; ensure you use this time to strengthen your medical school application!Is it better to take a gap year for medical school? ›
The wiser choice is to take a gap year and apply on time with confidence for the following cycle. You can use your gap year to further prepare yourself, improve your application, and ensure you have all aspects of your application ready as early as possible.Is it harder to get into med school without a gap year? ›
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.How do you answer a gap year question for medical school? ›
In your admissions essays for your medical school applications, if you don't know what you're doing yet, be honest. Explain what you are planning to do and more importantly why you want to do it. For example, if you plan to work as a research assistant for a year, but haven't found a lab yet, you can say that.What percentage of med students take a gap year? ›
Fact: Taking at least one gap year is the norm.
More than half (59.9 percent) of 2015 matriculating medical students indicated in the AAMC's “Matriculating Student Questionnaire” that there was a gap of at least one year between their college graduation and matriculation to medical school.
Although GPA is tremendously important, one bad semester or a string of bad grades doesn't necessarily mean rejection from med school. It can mean an applicant has to readjust, improve and adjust their goals to focus more on their GPA.What is the hardest year in medical school? ›
The third year of medical school is by far the hardest, current and former med students will almost always agree.How many gap years do most medical students take? ›
The truth is that the average applicant is 24 years old, meaning that most candidates actually take TWO gap years. Shocking, I know. Often times, it's because these candidates need to improve their MCAT scores, show an upward trend in their grades, or find a way to stand out.When should I take the MCAT to avoid a gap year? ›
You should take the MCAT for the final time no later than August of your application year. For example, if you want to enroll in medical school for Fall 2024, you will need to take the test no later than August 2023.
So, how hard is it to get into medical school? According to the AAMC, over 55,000 applicants applied during the 2022-2023 application cycle and only 22,000 matriculated. That's an acceptance rate of only 40%, which is an increase from the previous cycle but still less than favorable odds.What percent of med school students don t finish? ›
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the attrition rate for medical students in four-year programs falls between 15.7% and 18.4%.Does a gap year look bad? ›
A gap year looks bad on your college and job applications.
You'll walk away from your experience with countless stories for your personal essays and to tell in interviews. You'll also learn hard and soft skills that will help you succeed in school and in the workforce.
Many premed students use the gap year to make up for what they see as their weakest application credential. A gap year can afford the opportunity to retake the MCAT, enroll in a postbac program to improve your GPA, volunteer, or gain clinical exposure. During a gap year, some premed students become EMTs.What three questions should you ask yourself before taking a gap year? ›
What do you plan to do with your gap year? Would you use your gap year to work, or to rest? Would you prefer to stay home or travel? Figure out how you'd most like to spend your time off school, and start making a plan.Why do medical students take a gap year? ›
Frequently, the reasons for a gap year center on an applicant's need for more time to become a stronger candidate by getting more medically-related experiences, or strengthening their GPA or MCAT scores, but it can also be a time to pay down debt, or simply take a break.How many med students get rejected? ›
In fact, many students who apply find themselves in your shoes. Every year, over 50,000 students apply to medical school, but 60% are rejected. What are the best next steps to take after a medical school rejection? Let's go through the process of reapplying to medical school step-by-step.What is the average age of first year medical students? ›
Most med students are around 24 years old when heading into their first year. The average graduating age is 28, but it's never too late to go to med school. Non-traditional applicants often fear it may be too late to attend medical school. It's important to know there is no age limit to attending medical school.How many doctors take gap years? ›
According to a 2019 survey of incoming medical students conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges, 43.9% students who enrolled in medical school took one to two gap years. Of the students surveyed, 13.4% also took three to four gap years and 7.9% took five or more gap years.How many C's are acceptable for med school? ›
In general, pre-med students are advised to retake courses in which they have earned a 'C. ' In reality, one or two 'C's will not rule out medical school for anyone, especially for otherwise high-achieving students.
Medical schools need to make sure you're going to finish medical school. A 3.5 GPA is probably good enough to get through medical school. But when you're dealing with a student who's trying to overcome early struggles, they like to see a little bit more.Is a 3.3 GPA good for medical school? ›
"However...they don't need to have a 4.0.” While perfect grades are not required for medical school admission, premeds "would want to be in the mid-3.0 range and higher to feel relatively competitive," Grabowski says. Still, it is possible to get into med school with a mediocre or low GPA.How many fail medical school? ›
Findings vary depending on circumstance, but overall, roughly 81.7 to 84.1 percent of four-year medical program students graduate, explains the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). In contrast, around 96.0 percent of medical students in six-year programs graduated.What is the most stressful year of medical school? ›
Year one is the hardest year of medical school.
Many students will likely disagree, but the first year is widely recognized as being the most difficult. The majority of the first year of medical school is spent in classrooms and labs and requires an enormous amount of memorization.
How Many Hours Should a Medical Student Study? Some medical students study anywhere between 8-11 hours a day during their exam period, with most students hovering around the 3-5 hour mark on a normal day.Is it worth getting a masters before med school? ›
Yes, a master's degree can increase a candidate's GPA to further their medical school application, but there are other less time-consuming ways to do this.How long does the average medical student study? ›
Most medical students spend 6-12 hours every day either in class or studying, so if you do not enjoy learning, you should have major second thoughts about going to medical school.What is the oldest age to get into medical school? ›
There is no age limit for medical school. You can become a doctor in your 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s. In the end, medical schools want students who will make good physicians.Does taking the MCAT 3 times look bad? ›
Like reapplying to medical school, retaking the MCAT does not inherently look bad. That said, you should strive to take the MCAT as few times as possible.What month is best for MCAT? ›
Aim to take the MCAT as early in the year as possible, preferably no later than mid-May before AMCAS application submissions begin in early June. Completing the exam earlier will allow you to complete your AMCAS application early, and the earlier you submit your application, the better.
When is the latest I should take the MCAT? You should plan to take the MCAT for the final time between January and April of your application year. For instance, if you'd like to enroll in medical school in August 2025, you'll want to take your MCAT during the first four months of 2024—that is, no later than April 2024.Why do so many people quit pre-med? ›
Chemistry remains one of the biggest reasons why students drop out of pre-med. Until medical schools stop requiring chemistry prerequisites, students will need to not just study hard, but study well. There is a workaround the pre-medical requirements, however.Why do so many people get rejected from med school? ›
Low GPA and MCAT Scores
The most obvious reason for a medical school rejection is a low GPA or MCAT score. Either can hinder an applicant from making it past the first round in the admissions process, as many schools screen out applicants who don't meet a school's minimum cut-off.
They concluded that only 16.5% of students who intended to major in pre-med graduate college with the required coursework for medical schools. Attrition rates are highest initially but drop as students take more advanced courses.How many medical residents drop out? ›
According to a Brain and Neurological Disorders study published in 2022, median residency attrition rates are estimated to range from 0.46% among dermatology residents to 7.53% among psychiatry residents. Their work demonstrated stark resignation-rate differences between specialties.How many med school graduates don t match? ›
Typically, less than 10% of U.S. medical school graduates experience the much greater disappointment of not matching at all.Can an average student survive medical school? ›
The average student can get into medical school. They can do better on their tests, they can raise their GPA, they can score higher on the MCAT, write a better personal statement, they can volunteer more hours and spend more time working in healthcare. They can work harder than everyone else.What are the disadvantages of gap year? ›
- The Con: Gap years can be expensive. ...
- The Con: You might be totally on your own. ...
- The Con: You might lose momentum. ...
- The Con: It's easy to feel like you're falling behind. ...
- The Con: It's hard to keep in touch with friends. ...
- The Con: Gap years require a ton of extra planning.
Many universities view gap years favorably but they shouldn't be taken solely to enhance a college application. When sharing your gap year experience on your application, be sure to make meaningful connections between how your time abroad relates to your academic life.How long is too long for a gap year? ›
It can also be a break during or after college or graduate school—or at almost any other time. Although termed a gap year, the time period can be longer or shorter than 12 months. The concept of a gap year is flexible in other ways, too. “Gap year is a state of mind,” says career counselor Marianne Green.
The majority of successful med school applicants have some experience in a hospital, clinic, hospice or other health care setting. If you don't have medical experience, using your gap year as an introduction to the field is a smart move.How to decide if you should take a gap year before medical school? ›
- Your GPA or MCAT score is significantly lower than what most MD and DO schools will accept.
- You will not have completed your medical school prerequisite courses by the time that you would enroll in medical school.
- Transition Back to School Could Be More Difficult. You are already in the “school” mode of life. ...
- Feel Behind Your Peers. When you go to school after your year off, some of your peers will be a year ahead of you. ...
- Lost Momentum. ...
- Expensive. ...
- Requires Planning.
Many people take their gap years between high school and college. However, current college students, graduates and even working professionals can also benefit from some time to recharge, refocus and reinvest themselves in their passions. There's no wrong time to take a gap year.What is the best answer for year gap? ›
- Talk about what you have learned: What skills did you gain while on your gap year? ...
- Talk about how your experiences have helped you get to where you are now: How has taking time off improved your ability to handle stressful situations?
You won't enter medical school at the same time as your peers. It will take one year longer to become a doctor. You could get used to the freedom, which will make it difficult to return to the rigors of medical education. You may spend more on experiences and travel than you're able to save.What is the average number of gap years before medical school? ›
The truth is that the average applicant is 24 years old, meaning that most candidates actually take TWO gap years. Shocking, I know. Often times, it's because these candidates need to improve their MCAT scores, show an upward trend in their grades, or find a way to stand out.Does taking a gap year hurt your chances of getting into college? ›
Taking a gap year before college (or university) won't affect your admission chances if you use your experience wisely. Make sure you understand when and how to mention your gap year when applying for college. Taking a gap year before college means you'll get to enjoy the best of both worlds.What should you do during a gap year before medical school? ›
- Take additional coursework. ...
- Get more clinical experience. ...
- Prepare and take the MCAT exam. ...
- Reflect on “why medicine.” Take time to think about why you're pursuing a career in medicine and write down your thoughts. ...
- Build healthy habits. ...
- Learn to budget. ...
- Do something unrelated to medicine.
Around 82% to 84% of all four-year students will graduate. But almost 96% of six-year medical students graduate. The variation of people who fail out is large. It's between 7% and 35% based on yearly graduation rates.
The third year of medical school is by far the hardest, current and former med students will almost always agree.How old is the average first year medical student? ›
Most med students are around 24 years old when heading into their first year. The average graduating age is 28, but it's never too late to go to med school.How many students don't return after a gap year? ›
According to the Gap Year Association, 90% of students who participate in a formal gap-year program enroll in college within a year. This means that 10% do not return. The student will have to reapply for financial aid next year.What percentage of students go back after a gap year? ›
And as for the worry that a temporary step away from formal schooling might cause people to abandon the academic track altogether, some 90% of gap-year takers return to college within a year.When should I take my MCAT during gap year? ›
When to Take MCAT Gap Year? If you are taking a gap year in between graduating from undergraduate work and applying to medical school, it is best to take the MCAT by early May of your senior year to get your score before submitting applications in June.How do you explain gap years in medical school? ›
A "gap year" is the period of time between the end of your undergraduate education and the start of medical school. In fact, a gap year might be a year or more, depending on each person's particular circumstances.Why is a gap year not beneficial? ›
“One of the biggest negatives is lost earning potential,” Weyhaupt said. “Delaying even one year of increased wages from having a college degree will have a cumulative effect over your lifetime.” Students who decide to take a gap year could also lose academic momentum.