While you may be feeling impatient to apply to medical school, ultimately, it will be in your best interest to take your time in completing each step of the application process. You want to do your best! If you try to take a full course load while studying for the MCAT and writing your personal statement, the quality of your work and/or your scores will reflect how overwhelmed you can become. Multi-tasking is a myth. The brain can only focus on one task at a time. In order to apply successfully to medical school, you have to plan for success—each step of the way. Following the example of the Tazmanian Devil will only get sand in your eyes and potentially lead to a disastrous result.
You may want to consider taking a gap year for the following reasons:
• To prepare for and take the MCAT
If you did not receive a competitive score or if you are preparing to take the exam for the first time, give yourself the time and space to focus only on the exam. The feedback I have received from students who have taken the test multiple times is that they had to make time to focus on their preparation. Cutting down on work hours and other activities can be helpful. Most importantly, do not plan on studying for the exam while you are taking classes. Over the years, I have seen it happen time and time again that students hurt either their MCAT score, their grades, or both.
• To create an increasing trend in your GPA
It is essential that you have an increasing trend in your GPA when applying to medical school. This can make or break your chances of acceptance. The selection committees need to see evidence that you can handle a heavy science course load with flying colors. If you have a decreasing trend in your GPA, I recommend taking a gap year to improve your grades.
• To pursue a graduate degree in an area of your interest
If you are passionate about a particular field or research interest, pursuing a Master’s Degree can provide you with the opportunity to further explore that topic as well as help you become a more competitive applicant to medical school since you will gain expertise in that subject. It could also help you establish a network of professional support and guide the direction of your medical education.
• To gain life experience
Many students feel “burned out” after completing their Bachelor’s Degree. Taking a year “off” to catch your breath and refocus your energy can help you approach the application process with more confidence. You can use that time to strengthen your application in a number of important ways—completing a medical mission, volunteering for Teach for America, gaining industry experience, etc.
*Plan on taking a lighter load to accommodate the stress and challenges of submitting your primary application, completing secondaries and interviewing.*
Students who want to give themselves more time to create a more competitive application often take a gap year to better prepare themselves. Applying with a competitive MCAT score, an increasing trend in your GPA, a graduate degree in a field that you love, and/or more life experience are all compelling reasons to take your time and complete each step of the application process at your own pace.
This is not a race! Focus on reaching your ultimate goal, not pushing yourself so hard that you hurt your chances of acceptance or have to reconsider your options.
Alicia McNease Nimonkar is an Accepted.com advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs.