A gap year refers to time taken off following completion of college and before starting medical school. There are many reasons why someone may find themselves with a gap year including failure to matriculate into medical school, requiring study time for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), choosing to take time to strengthen their application, or other life changes that necessitate taking time off. No matter the reason for a gap year, there are many ways one can spend their time, while still strengthening their med school application. In this article we will discuss what a gap year is, gap year statistics, medical schools view on gap years, what can be completed during a gap year to strengthen an application, types of programs that can be completed during a gap year and a hybrid four month program, the Accelerated Review Program, that upon successful completion guarantees acceptance into UMHS school of medicine.
Quick Navigation Links + FAQs
- What is a gap year?
- What gap year programs exist?
- What are the benefits of the Accelerated Review Programs?
- What to do during gap years before medical school?
- What percent of medical students take a gap year?
- Do medical schools look down on gap years?
- If taking a gap year, when should the MCAT be taken?
- Do medical schools look down on taking the MCAT more than once?
- What percent of applicants don't get accepted into medical school?
- Getting started in the Accelerated Review Program
What is a gap year before med school?
A gap year is the year that passes between finishing an undergraduate degree and enrolling in medical school. In actuality, a gap year before medical school could last an entire year or several years, based on the unique circumstances of each individual. While some individuals may require a gap year due to life changes, such as illness, others may choose to take a gap year or two to strengthen their medical school application as it is an ideal time to address any application weaknesses. Not all pre med students that take a gap year do so because they were not admitted the previous application cycle; some may have decided to apply to medical school later on in life and need additional prerequisites or want the chance to work and save for med school tuition and applications.
Gap year before med school programs
There are many reasons why pre-med students may choose to pursue additional schooling during their gap year. These include:
- Boosting GPA.
- Enrolling in courses that prepare students for applications to schools.
- Taking courses that prepare for the MCAT.
- Providing opportunities for additional extracurricular activities such as leadership and volunteering.
No matter the reason, many students choose to enroll in another educational program during their gap year and prior to applying to school. There are several different types of programs one could enroll in during a gap year and each has its pros and cons. Programs include:
- Post-baccalaureate (post-bacc) pre medical programs: Post-bacc pre medical programs are often completed after graduating from undergraduate college. These programs are often associated with medical schools. Completing these programs may allow pre medical students to take graduate level courses and raise their GPA. Some schools may guarantee an interview for their medical school program upon completion. However, one must be careful as enrolling in some programs may actually make it harder to gain a spot as a medical student in the associated school as schools may choose to interview post-bacc students last as not to appear biased. Post-bacc programs may last 1-2 years.
- Special masters program (SMP): A special masters program, such as a Masters in Public Health or Physiology, also allows students the chance to raise their GPA while enrolled in graduate level courses. Similar to a post-bacc, they are completed after college and may last 1-2 years. These programs are less likely to be associated with a school that has a medical campus. One con of SMPs is that the degree may be less useful in finding a job based on the degree alone if medical school does not work out.
- Accelerated Review Programs (ARP): An Accelerated Review Program, such as the one at UMHS, may combine the best of all programs. These programs are associated with medical schools and commonly last less than a year, while still preparing students for medical school. At UMHS, the ARP lasts one semester. Additionally, in contrast to post-bacc and special master's programs, upon successful completion of ARP at UHMS, students are automatically granted admission to the medical school. Lastly, at UMHS, the ARP offers more flexibility as it can be completed in person or online. For more information on the ARP program, continue reading below.
How is the Accelerated Review Program from UMHS medical school an advantage over a gap year?
There are many reasons that someone might choose to take a gap year before starting medical school. Once a decision to take a gap year has been made, it’s important to consider different program options and which one is the best way to address one’s needs. As discussed above, there are some drawbacks associated with post-bacc and special masters programs. On the other hand, the ARP carries the most advantages, including:
- A program length of four months instead of one to two years: This reduces the amount of time and money that one needs to invest in preparing themselves for med school. Given that the road to becoming a doctor is already long, most people are interested in getting started as soon as possible.
- Successful completion guarantees acceptance into UMHS School of Medicine: Unlike other programs, students who successfully complete ARP are guaranteed admission to the UMHS medical program. Instead of trying to improve the application to make it strong enough to get admitted to med school, students know for sure that they will be going to med school once the program is complete. This is an enormous benefit of ARP, and a major advantage over most post baccs and master’s degree programs, which often carry no guarantee of med school admission afterwards.
- The curriculum is 100% relevant to medical school: We’ve developed a curriculum of targeted courses, which exclusively teach content that’s relevant for medical students. These courses touch on every aspect of basic biomedical sciences. Even though “review” is in the program’s name, the course content really isn’t a review of content you probably already know – it’s science at a medical school level. In fact, once you complete ARP and enter med school, you’ll likely be ahead of many of your classmates in terms of your biomedical science knowledge.
- Medical school study techniques are taught: You will be taught study skills to help you be successful once you’re a med student. The sheer volume of coursework in medical school is unlike that of undergrad and time-tested techniques of learning so much information must be learned. This is why students who complete ARP often become the strongest med students at UMHS. Many people are smart enough to do well in med school, but simply have never had the opportunity to develop the study skills they need. Most post bacc and master’s degree programs don’t explicitly teach study skills, which can leave promising students struggling to keep up. With the right program, students can acquire these skills, allowing them to thrive academically.
- Rolling admissions, three times a year: ARP has three starting semesters (January, May, and September) each year and accepts applications on a rolling basis. As mentioned, this allows students the ability to not have to wait a full year for the entrance cycle at other medical schools or for other programs.
- Scholarship available to help keep costs down: Students who have finished ARP successfully are eligible for the $9,000 Basic Science Scholarship. The scholarship will be awarded on the basis of merit and will depend on the student’s academic achievement in ARP. The student needs to have received at least a B letter grade in ARP in order to be eligible for the scholarship.
- The program can be taken online or in person: We developed the remote ARP option in response to need, and many of our students have found this to be very helpful.
What to do during gap year before medical school?
There are a number of options that pre medical students may choose to do during their gap year. This includes working to save up money, spending time in a lab on research, volunteering, writing and publishing articles, gaining experience by working in a medical job, enrolling in a masters, post-bacc, or other program, studying for the MCAT, etc. Pre med students may choose to spend their gap year before medical school in one of many different experiences or combine many all while working to improve their application.
- Saving up money: Applying to medical school is an expensive process including studying for and taking the MCAT, medical school applications themselves, and traveling for medical interviews. Many pre medical students may need to work many hours to save up enough money to apply to programs. Other pre medical students may choose to work in order to take out less student loans when actually in medical schools. Working in a medical related field may help to strengthen pre medical students applications while also earning money to apply to medical school.
- Research: Some students will choose to spend time in a laboratory setting working on research projects. Having research experience is viewed favorably on medical school applications. Some research positions may pay pre med students while others may not. Conducting research shows that pre med students have spent additional time learning hands on aspects of science that are not traditionally taught in the classroom.
- Publishing: Conducting research projects should commonly lead to working on publishing articles for pre medical students. However, not all research projects lead to publications. Having publications is a highly sought after application check list item for pre med students when applying to medical school.
- Volunteering: Another necessary component of medical school applications is volunteering. It can be difficult for students to find time to volunteer while in school. As such, many pre med applicants will spend time volunteering during their gap year before medical school to improve their application.
- Studying for the MCAT: One of the most important aspects of the medical school application is a strong MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) score. The exam is rigorous and requires a long time to study for. During a gap year before medical school, pre med students may choose to re-take the MCAT to achieve a higher score. More details on re-taking the MCAT are discussed later in the article.
- Gaining medical experience: Another way to strengthen a medical school application is by gaining experience in the medical field. This can be done by working in a medical environment such as a medical scribe, medical tech or emergency medical technician (EMT). Other pre medical students will spend time shadowing physicians to gain exposure to different medical fields during their gap year before medical school.
- Completing an educational program: There are many different educational programs that last a few months to several years that pre med students may choose to complete after college but before applying to schools. These include masters programs, post-bacc programs and other programs such as UMHS's Accelerated Review Program (ARP). Completion of some programs may allow pre medical students a better chance of admission into medical school. A comparison of different programs is provided here.
Gap year before medical school statistics
In the past, almost everyone who went to med school started immediately after graduating from college. Taking even one gap year was uncommon. However, things have changed over time. Taking a gap year before medical school is now becoming the norm with statistics from The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) demonstrating that traditional and nontraditional premed students are more and more likely to take a year or more off between completion of a bachelor's degree and medical school. In fact, according to the AAMC's Matriculating Student Questionnaire, 62.6% of incoming MD students in 2017 confirmed to have had at least one gap year.
Do medical schools look down on gap years?
No, if students make good use of their time, taking a gap year will not negatively impact chances of getting accepted into medical school. Just make sure to provide an explanation about how you benefited from taking a gap year on your application or during your interview!
Most individuals spend their gap years in ways that strengthen their application such as volunteering, studying, researching, and gaining experience in the medical field. Even if one is not able to do any of the above, simply providing an explanation of the time spent outside of school will suffice for most schools' admission committees. Medical school admission specialists understand that sometimes life changes happen, such as taking care of a sick loved one or having children, which will not negatively impact most student's applications.
When should I take the MCAT if I'm taking a gap year?
The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is a seven and a half hour test required for application to medical schools. It tests over chemistry, biology, reading comprehension, and more. It is arguably one of the most important portions of the medical school application as it allows schools to compare one applicant to another. The test requires months of studying in order for medical students to be prepared. There is no "correct" time to take the MCAT, although many pre medical students choose to take them toward the end of their junior year or just prior to their senior year of college. However, if a pre medical student is taking a gap year, they can take the MCAT during that time. Whether it is for the first time, or being taken again to improve the score, a gap year often allows for extra time to study for the rigorous exam. As long as the MCAT test score is resulted prior to medical schools application, it can be taken whenever pre medical student chooses.
Do medical schools care if you take the MCAT more than once?
In general, yes, medical schools care if students have taken the MCAT more than once, however, this may not mean an automatic rejection by schools. It is most ideal to achieve a good test score after only taking the exam once, however, this is not always the case. It is recommended to take the test as few times as possible.
If pre medical students are not accepted into schools during their first application cycle, they may choose to take a gap year to strengthen their application, including re-taking the MCAT exam. As long as the students does not excessively take the MCAT and schools see an improvement in scores, admissions committee will still consider these types of applications.
How many pre-medical students don't get into medical school?
Matriculating into medical school is a difficult task with many applicants being unsuccessful every year. AAMC, the American Association of Medical Colleges, has provided insights into the number of applicants and matriculants in its 2023 report. According to their recent report, there were 52,577 applicants and 22,981 matriculants to all schools. This correlates to 56.3% of applicants not getting into medical school and 43.7% matriculating into medical school. With over half of applicants not being successful to schools, it is easy to see why so many students find themselves completing gap years.
Getting started in the Accelerated Review Program
Now that you know more about gap years and the Accelerated Review Program, you may want to begin your medical journey at an Allopathic medical school like The University of Medicine and Health Sciences. Please check out this page for an overview of UMHS and to answer common FAQs.
Helpful ARP links:
Callie Torres is a Captain in the United States Air Force and a chief resident at Wash U/Barnes Jewish Hospital in St Louis. She is a freelance writer with many published medical articles as well as multiple peer-reviewed medical publications