You’re approaching the end of your undergraduate career and deciding whether to take time off after undergrad. Perhaps you applied to schools and didn’t get in (where you want to go), or for some other reason, you’re considering taking time off between undergrad and med school. What should you do in that time? How much time should you take off? You are not alone with these questions. A number of students in med school take time off after undergrad – some worked in industry jobs, others work on a nonprofit or volunteer, some backpack through Europe, others get a graduate degree or a post-bac. But what about you?
Step 1: Identify why you want to take time off
Is it to retake the MCAT? Is it to beef up your application due to a low GPA? Are you just burnt out after undergrad or do you want to indulge in a different experience before heading off to more school? Your motivations for taking time off will come up in med school interviews so make sure you take full advantage of that time.
As you think about your reasons for taking time off, consider what is most important to you and beneficial to you as an individual and applicant. Consider including volunteering, research, work experience, etc… to keep yourself active. An idle year or two will stick out in your application and interviewers will likely ask you more about your time off. Be confident in what you will gain from your time off and be ready to stand by the activities you choose to pursue.
Step 2: Decide what to do during this time
Now that you’re sure time off is right for you, what should you do? Activities future med students typically undertake include:
- Career Building
- Post-bac. These programs are geared for individuals who perhaps did not have the highest GPA/MCAT in undergrad or are coming from non-science fields and have not completed their premedical coursework. These are excellent programs geared towards giving you the foundations to apply and be accepted to medical school.
- Graduate degrees. There are several programs that individuals pursue prior to medical school to gain experience and a broader knowledge base. Masters of Public Health and Public Policy are common for those looking to go to medical school.
- Work experience. Many students choose to get work experience in a variety of industries prior to pursuing medical school. Engineering, business consulting, and scientific research can segue into med school and be a great way to explore other interests.
- Outreach/Personal Fulfillment Experiences
- Research or other volunteering. This demonstrates a commitment to science and health which is a key factor in the admissions process. It’s also a great networking opportunity since many individuals working in these fields have connections to doctors, med schools, and other med students.
- Study, work, or volunteering abroad. This is a great opportunity to broaden your horizons with a totally new experience. It’s often a humbling test of your commitment to medicine and can enhance both your passion for your career and your application.
- Relaxation (this is ok!)
- You don’t have to be sick or experience trauma to justify a break. Students who choose to take a break can still be incredibly successful in the admissions process and in med school. The key is to take the time to ensure it’s right for you and that you can justify it. You should also take advantage of that free time to pursue other interests, hobbies, or other experiences above to stay active and keep sharp. Couple relaxation with one of the activities above to make a good case that your break was reenergizing to your health as a student.
Step 3: Stay Organized
While you’re taking time off after undergrad, remember to make a list of your mentors in college and to ask for letters of recommendation. Don’t put this off until you’re ready to come back and apply; the longer you wait, the less chance they’ll be able to write a great recommendation with specificity.
Caution: Remember that your MCAT scores expire eventually, so don’t take off so much time that you have to retake the exam!
The most important thing is to not stress out about taking time off. The average age at matriculation for schools is around 25, so you’re not alone. As long as you plan and spend your time wisely, you will be well-positioned when you’re ready to attend. Use your time to grow as an individual and your experiences will compound to make you a better applicant, and eventually a more compassionate and effective physician.