Becoming a Competitive Applicant: The Gap Year
Balancing academics, preparing for the DAT, MCAT or GRE, shadowing, volunteering, and just being an all-around stellar person can be stressful. At times it may seem impossible. One of the best ways to accomplish what seems to be impossible is to spread the challenge over four years, rather than trying to do it all in three. In other words, apply for the program of your choice after four years of undergraduate education, not three. This allows another year for clinical experience and volunteer activities, another year to bring that grade point into the competitive range and another year to prepare for the GRE, DAT or MCAT exam.
Even if you want to apply to medical or dental school after three years, you may not have the GPA or test scores or experiences to be competitive. So if you don’t apply for a health professions school until you graduate, what do you do with the year between when you graduate and when you matriculate, the so-called “gap year”?
Use the gap year to gain valuable experience that sets you apart from the crowd. If you apply right after graduation, you will have just begun the gap year experience when you complete your applications. But when you get that call for an interview, you will have something that distinguishes you from the thousands of other qualified applicants (yes, thousands). You are no longer just another good student; you are now someone with additional maturity gained through experience, and someone with a story to tell.
There are many things that you can do to enhance your competitiveness. These include:
- Working in a job in a clinical field
- Participation in a service program such as the Peace Corps or Teach for America
- doing clinical or basic research
- earning a master’s degree
- attending a post-baccalaureate program (next page)
If you decide to look for employment in the clinical or research sector, the first thing to do is to go to the Office of Personal and Career Development (OPCD). Not only can they assist you with assembling a resume and working on your interviewing skills, they offer job fairs (including the STEM Slam which focuses on jobs in the sciences), they maintain a list of jobs available in relevant fields, and they have a list of alumni willing to assist our students in gaining experience and finding jobs. Make an appointment with a counselor in OCPD during your third year at the latest, and start preparing for that very valuable gap year.
Most students do not want to take a gap year, but for medical school it has become the new normal. Over 60% of students matriculating to medical school have had one or more gap years. The average age of matriculation to medical school is now nearly 25 years.