What to do during a “Gap Year” Prior to Medical School

Balancing school, clinical and community service work and research is difficult enough. Throw in the MCAT, med school applications and interviews and the task can be truly overwhelming. A year spent working, volunteering or doing community service prior to applying to medical school,  known as a “gap year,” can be a good option for some applicants caught in a time crunch. If you decide that taking a year off before med school is the best route for you, then spend that time addressing  areas relevant to your application that you did not have a chance to explore during your undergraduate years.   In addition,  you can also earn money to finance your medical education and further develop outside interests.

My focus in this entry is on taking a year or more prior to medical school to spend on activities other than a post-bac program. For applicants who don’t have the necessary pre-requisites for medical school or who need to strengthen their academic credentials, a post-bac or special master’s program is a good route. You can read about these here.

Here are some of the major ways in which to spend a gap year before medical school:

  • Research – Working in a lab or volunteering in one on a part- or full- time basis is an excellent way to explore another facet of medicine and to enhance your application. Research jobs can be hard to come by for one year only, but a volunteer position can turn into a paid one. If basic research does not interest you, consider a position helping with a clinical study.
  • Clinical employment or volunteer work – Time spent in a clinical setting will give you more insight into the field of medicine. You will also have the chance to meet physicians; let them know that you are a pre-medical student and are interested in job shadowing them once or on an ongoing basis. If you end up working in a research lab or other non-clinical environment, then you should still volunteer in a clinical setting regularly. A year or more away from clinical experience could weaken your application.
  • Classes – Even if you have a strong academic record, consider taking a class or two to stay in the study mode for med school. Take a course that you did not have a chance to fit in during college but that will help you succeed in medical school, such as anatomy or physiology.
  • MPH or other degree program –If your plan is to get both an MD and an MPH at some point, you may choose to do the MPH first. Other options are a master’s in public policy or even a hard science degree. In general, an MPH won’t help your application as much as science course work will, so the reason to pursue such as degree should be career and personal interest, not just to improve your application.
  • Travel and other interests – Part of the point of taking time off is to enjoy yourself and do a few things that take you beyond the world of academics and medicine. Get deeper into a hobby or develop a new one or spend some time traveling.

Secondary applications often ask applicants to describe how an applicant has spent time while not a full-time student. You don’t need to have a  nine to five  job; however, you should be able to account for your time. A combination of part time employment, volunteering and classes works well. What committees generally don’t like to see is that an applicant spent a year doing little more than working on med school applications.

On a personal note, I took a year after college to spend working in a research lab prior to starting medical school. That year was a welcome breather from tests and studying and it was nice to get a glimpse of the “real world” before delving back into academia. This path is not for everyone, but if you choose to take it, plan ahead so that you can make the most of your time.

Need the help of an M.D. experienced with medical school applications? Contact Dr. Eaton at (626) 768-2154 or info@prehealthadvising.com for a free 20 minute phone consultation.

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78 thoughts on “What to do during a “Gap Year” Prior to Medical School”

  1. Anis Kadado says:

    To Whom It May Concern,
    If I am to apply in the month of May and take a gap year before i get into medical school 1 year later, how will it serve my application? I would have already applied and sent it my records. Is it possible that my secondaries change much of the image they already have of me? Thank you very much

  2. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Anis,

    One of the major advantages of a gap year is that the schools will have your senior year grades on your application. You will also have time to complete additional activities, such as volunteering and research, during your senior year before you apply. Applying at the end of junior year means one less year of grades and activities. The gap year path is especially beneficial to those applicants who have a GPA that is borderline and need the extra year of coursework to improve their science GPA. This is also a good route for students who decided later in college to apply to medical school or who, for another reason, did not gain much experience in clinical settings. For the gap year, you could include some of your activities on secondaries, depending on the particular questions the secondaries ask. You can also send an update letter to the medical schools that you have applied to informing them of new accomplishments since you submitted your application. For example, if you submit your primary application in June and begin a job in a research lab in August, you could send a letter to the schools informing them about the job.


    Carleen Eaton, MD

  3. Estella says:

    Dear Dr. Eaton,
    I would love to travel the world after graduating from college, but I think that will conflict with medical school applications because I need to be available for interviews or whatnot. Right? Any suggestions?

    Thank you.

  4. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Estella,

    If you apply early in the admissions cycle, your interviews will most likely be in the fall, although they could run into January and February. Schools will usually work with you to find a date that works, but it is to your advantage to interview during the earliest slot available. You can also try to cluster your interviews, but you will need to work out your travel schedule so that you can come back to the U.S. for interviews. This shouldn’t preclude you from traveling, but make sure that you have a way to check your e-mail and phone messages as well as regular mail so that you don’t miss anything. If necessary, have a contact at home who can do this for you and check in with that person regularly.

    The other issue is secondary applications. The best strategy would be to complete as many of those as you can before you leave and then to finish the rest as they come even if you do it from overeas.

  5. Kate Brennan says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I am considering a gap year, but I am not sure where to start. I have always wanted to study abroad, but with the premed course load this was never a possibility. I feel a gap year will provide me with this opportunity. However, I do have student loans from undergrad and the idea of paying to volunteer abroad for a year, while also trying to make loan payments doesn’t sit well with myself, nor my parents. Do you know of any options? Thanks!

  6. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Kate,

    A gap year is the ideal time to travel, but that plan does confront the realities of financing one’s education. Have you considered teaching English overseas? That would give you a chance to travel and you could probably arrange to take some classes at a nearby university as well so that you could earn money and also be a student. If you are mostly drawn to the idea of traveling, you could also work for most of year and then spend the summer before medical school traveling. Whether or not that would work for you depends on how important it is to you to actually do study abroad versus traveling and learning on your own or perhaps taking a class somewhere but outside of a formal program. This year is your chance to breathe a little and do some different things; however, a large debt load can be limiting later on so it is good to think about the longer term implications of how you spend this year.

  7. Alisa says:

    Dear Dr. Eaton,
    I am looking for a research position for my gap year, but nobody wants to hire me for just one year! Would you give me some advice on how to go about getting a research position for one year. Should I just not mention that I plan on only working for one year?

  8. Nancy says:

    Hey Dr. Eaton,

    I am in my first year off after undergrad and I haven’t been accepted to any MD schools yet. As I am planning next year in case i don’t get accepted, I am wondering exactly what to do. I have spent the last year in americorps volunteering at a Doctor’s office. Now they offered me a full time job for next year if I have to reapply. I want to take classes too. Is workign full time with classes good for my 2nd gap year? How do i use the classes i would be taking in september-april to my advantage once my application is already in for fall 2012.

    Thank you!

  9. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Nancy,

    First, assess the weaknesses in your application. That way, you can use this year to your best advantage. Some schools will give feedback to applicants once the cycle is over. Another option is to have an advisor review your application to help you target areas that need to be improved. If the major weakness is your GPA, particularly your science GPA, then taking classes is a good idea. If your MCAT was not competitive, then you need to address that as more classes and experience won’t compensate for that.

    Update the schools with your grades for Sept-April. You can list planned classes on your primary application and then send the schools your transcripts when the grades become available. Although you won’t have the classes completed until the cycle is well underway, the schools will know that you are strengthening your academic foundation and the first semester grades will be out in time to possibly increase your chances of being offered an interview.

  10. Sophia Ciaravino says:

    Dear Dr. Eaton,

    I am planning on applying to medical schools this cycle, however, my science GPA isn’t as strong as I would like it to be. Even though I have just graduated, would it make sense to take summer classes which would go from July 1 -August 15 to help the GPA, or would it be better to get a job? I have an interview for a research position at the hospital I volunteered at during my senior year. I’m not sure how advantageous it would be to take summer classes in which the grades wouldn’t be received until so late in the cycle, as opposed to getting research experience. What do you think would be better?

  11. Dr. Eaton says:

    Although research and clinical experiences are important to an application, the GPA and MCAT need to be competitive for an applicant to gain admission into med school, and if the numbers aren’t where they need to be, strong extracurriculars won’t compensate. For this reason, I recommend that applicants with a low science GPA take upper division classes as needed in order to enhance their applications. You are correct that the grades will be too late to make it into your primary application, but you can send those grades to the schools once you receive them so that they can see your progress and ability to handle rigorous science course work. Also, if this cycle is not a successful one, you will have the grades for next cycle. Without knowing your exact GPA and situation, I can’t make specific recommendations, but the GPA and MCAT are the foundation of an application.

    Would it be possible for you to take the classes in the evenings and also accept the job? Or to delay starting the job so that you do not miss that opportunity? A medically related research position is a great way to spend a gap year and if it is an either/or situation for the classes and job then the decision is a more difficult one.

  12. Brittany says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I am a junior and have decided to take 1 year off between my graduation and starting medical school. I am taking the MCAT in August, and if it is not where I need it to be, I will review more and then re-take it this fall. As far as the rest of my resume, I have a 3.7 overall GPA and a 3.6 BCPM. I have a lot of doctor shadowing experience (240 hours), volunteer at the hospital/ tutor 4th graders, several leadership roles, and have 3 years of experience in the same undergraduate research project. I am trying to figure out what I need to work on before I apply… given this information, I have several questions:

    1. How many total hours volunteering at the hospital and tutoring over the past 3 years are ideal for an application?
    2. My research is in molecular biology, which is often times very hard to get “publishable results” in… Is it okay if I have done all of this research but don’t have any presentations/ publications on my resume? If it makes me look “dumb”/ or incompetent, maybe i should consider doing some lab work in my time off?
    3. I have a pretty rigorous schedule for my senior year… in the event that I feel I should improve my GPA, is this possible to do post-graduation? I was under the impression that once I graduate, my GPA/ BCPM “closes” and I can’t increase it for my applications? Is this true? I potentially would be interested in taking a summer science course at the beginning of next summer so that the grade (hopefully an A) would be added to my gpa…?
    4. What would you suggest that I do with a gap year?

    Thanks so much for your help!

  13. Dr. Eaton says:

    There is not a simple answer to your question about the number of shadowing and tutoring hours that you should have. Also, clinical experience and community service, though related, are not necessarily the same, so I am going to address the clinical experiences separately. 200+ hours of clinical experiences is a good number, but the quality and distribution matter. 200 hours crammed into a few months is not as desirable as doing a few hours a week for a year. The latter shows that an applicant has been planning for a career in medicine for some time and has continuity to his or her experiences.

    While it is very nice when research does yield publishable results, as you know, that is often not the case. That does not devalue your experience or make it look like you were in some way incompetent. It is not uncommon to have research listed with no publications or presentations. Research is not a sure thing and part of what you gained from that experience is an understanding of what it take for advances in science to occur.

    Coursework completed after the primary application is submitted won’t be part of your cumulative and BCPM GPAs on that application, but you can send transcripts to the schools you are applying to with your new grades. The schools then have this evidence of recent academic accomplishments and some do use it in their decision making.

    Use a gap year to gain either more research or clinical experience. Again, you can update the schools with new accomplishments even after the application has been submitted. If you cannot find paid work in those areas, start with volunteer work and that may even lead to paid employment.

    Good luck with your application

  14. Kolton says:

    Dr. Eaton,

    I am currently a second semester junior finishing up my semester of study abroad where I have also taken a few biology courses that will simply transfer to my home university as credit. Up until now, I was very sure I wanted to apply for this upcoming cycle for medical school. Because of study abroad, although I certainly have no regrets, it has pushed taking Physics 2 and General Chemistry II as a second semester senior and I do not have time to take summer classes. I have completed all the other pre-medical requirements as well and have taken many upper-level science courses. In addition, I will have to take the MCAT at the beginning of August since I will need the summer to prepare. However, lately I am worried how medical school admissions will see where I am in terms of pre-medical requirements due to my semester abroad. Therefore, the thought of a gap-year has been tingling in the back of my mind once again especially since I’ve enjoyed living in this country so much and would love to return for a year to teach English, but at the same time still want to apply for this admissions cycle to enter medical school after graduation. What do you think? Would having some prerequisites still left to take hurt my chances?

  15. Dr. Eaton says:

    One concern with not having completed the pre-requisites is the MCAT. The MCAT material is based on the prerequisite course work and not having taken the second semesters of both physics and chemistry could affect your score. Are you deep enough into your MCAT studying to know if you will be able to do well on the MCAT without those courses? I generally do not recommend taking the MCAT without having the needed prerequisites and that is the major issue that I see with your situation. The schools also do like to see how an applicant has performed on prerequisite courses and the two you named are essential, so that could also affect your application, but with a good MCAT and other upper division classes in sciences you still could be competitive. I also recommend that you contact the admissions offices of some of the med schools you are most interested in and ask them directly how they view your situation.

  16. Josh says:

    Hi there Dr. Eaton,
    I just had one question regarding the gap year. Is it possible to apply to medical school my senior year, get accepted, and then enter that school a year late? I realize that if such an option existed it would depend on the school. I was wondering if the option even existed.
    Thank you!

  17. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Josh,

    Some schools offer deferrals, others do not. However, a deferral is not guaranteed and schools evaluate these on a case-by-case basis, therefore, I do not advise that you apply until you are ready to enter medical school.

  18. Gayoung says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I am a rising sophomore, and am considering graduating in 3 years (after completing my junior year) because I can finish all my major and pre-med requirements by then. I want to take a year off after graduating and apply to med school. However, I have several concerns.
    1. Will it be a disadvantage for me applying to med school because i graduate early? I am worried about not having enough activities/experiences to strengthen my application. I want to study abroad, do volunteer work, or work in a hospital/clinical setting during my year off, but I am afraid I would still not be as competent of an applicant in comparison to other people applying to med school.

    2. When should I take my MCAT, and when should I start applying for med school?

    3. I worked in a lab during the spring semester and summer of my freshmen year, but I discovered that research is not my thing. It does not particularly interest me. Should I search for a different lab and continue to do some type of research during my sophomore year? Would this be better for my application? or is it okay to just volunteer at a hospital during my sophomore year and stop doing research?

    Thank you so much!

  19. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Gayoung,

    I would need to know exactly what activities you have done in order to comment about whether or not have enough experiences to present a strong application to the committee, but can say that clinical, shadowing, community service and other experience such as research are an important part of the application. If you would like to discuss your situation, please contact me via phone or e-mail to arrange a free, initial 20-minute consultation. You can contact me here

    You should take the MCAT the spring of the year that you will apply. If you would like to enter medical school in fall of 2013, then you should take the MCAT in the spring, or at the latest early summer, of 2012. The application cycle for 2013 entering class opens in early June, and you should be submitting your application as early in the cycle as possible. The application process takes close to a year, so if you apply in the summer of 2012, you would be applying for the the class starting in fall 2013.

    Research is not an absolute necessity on the application, and you already have some research experience, so if you are not interested in research, your time is better spent doing volunteer work and physician shadowing. Keep in mind, though, that there are other options besides bench research. Also investigate opportunities to assist with clinical studies, as that would give you valuable experience, but is much different than doing basic research.

  20. Jenny Franko says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I am currently a junior in college and have plans to take the MCAT this May. I am fairly certain that I have the credentials to be a very strong applicant (depending on my MCAT score, of course). However, I am still not 100% sure whether or not I want to go to medical school directly after college. If I were to apply as a Junior and get accepted, and then change my mind and decide to take a year off, would this kill my chances when I apply again as a senior? And what exactly is a deferral?

    Thank you!!!

  21. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Jenny,

    Some schools offer an applicant the opportunity to defer their acceptance to pursue further education, such an MPH, do research, volunteer or do another project. However, not all schools offer deferrals, and the schools that do typically handle deferrals on a case-by-case basis, so there is no guarantee that a school will grant you a deferral.
    I do not recommend applying and then declining an acceptance. When you reapply, schools may want to know why you did not take the acceptance when it was offered. It could look like you either are not prioritizing medical school or did not plan well. I do not have personal experience with an applicant who declined an acceptance at an allopathic medical school and then later applied, but the med school admissions process is long, expensive and very competitive, so I do not recommend that someone apply if they are not sure that they will go that year.

    Good luck with your decision and your applications.

  22. Laura says:

    Dr. Eaton,

    So I am senior having problems deciding if medical school is right for me. I have taken the MCAT and I didn’t do well enough to be competitive. I have considered the PA route, but I do not have all of the clinical hours needed to apply for PA school. Would it look bad for me to get my CNA and then work in a nursing home or hospital for my “gap year” if I decided to retake the MCAT and to go to medical school after all? I am afraid the medical schools may get the wrong idea about my ambitions if I do this for my gap year.

  23. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Laura,
    Working as a CNA will give you exposure to the hospital environment, but if you ultimately decide to apply to medical school, a job as an ER scribe may be a better choice. That would give you much greater exposure to physicians and allow you to see firsthand what a physician does. However, I am not sure if that would count as clinical hours for PA school if you decide to go that route. I don’t think that the med schools would necessarily get the impression that you were not aiming for med school because of the CNA job, but there may be other options for the gap year that would better enhance your application to med school. If you would like to discuss your specific situation, contact me by phone or e-mail so that we can set up a time to talk. I offer an initial, free 20-minute consultation by phone.

  24. Samantha Li says:

    Dr. Eaton,

    I am a senior right now, and I have gotten an excellent MCAT score (42); however, my GPA is below a 3.0. So, I plan on taking a year off. I am also a CNA, and I plan on working in hospitals or research labs. Should I take more classes and try to boost my GPA during my time off? Would this make me a more competitive candidate? Also, I have taken all the medical school requirement classes, thus, I can’t go to postbac programs…So, I am sincerely asking you for your excellent advice about how to make me a better candidate for med school.

  25. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Samantha,

    Congratulations on your superb MCAT score. While that score will be a major asset in overcoming your low GPA, you should also strengthen your GPA. If you plan to take one year off, the grades you receive during your year off will not be on your primary application, though. To enter medical school in fall 2013 you will need to apply during the cycle that will open in June 2012. If you take classes in the summer of 2012 or later, you can update the schools individually, but they won’t be on your primary application or the grades calculated for the primary application. Taking classes is still a good idea, since you can update the schools individually and can put the classes you plan to take on the primary application as planned coursework so that the schools know that you are working on increasing your readiness for medical school.

    You can take courses through a college or university on your own or enter a formal post-bac program. While some post-bacs are intended for career-changers who need the basic prerequisites for medical school, many post-bacs are designed for applicants seeking to strengthen their academic records, but who already have the prerequiesites for medical school. These programs are sometimes referred to as “academic record enhancers.” I describe the various options for post-bacs here

    Good luck with your application, and feel free to contact me if you would like to arrange a consultation by phone to discuss your situation in more detail.

  26. Eric says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton.
    I am a Junior, and I have a question on taking a semester off right before applying to med schools. I am taking the Winter semester off to shadow a physician alongside studying for the MCAT. I plan to take the MCAT in July. Will there be any disadvantages to my admission taking a semester off right before applying to med schools? Thanks. I appreciate your help!


  27. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Eric,

    Taking time off prior to medical school is fine, but schools often ask how the time was spent. This question may show up on secondaries or in the interviews. Consider during some volunteering in addition to the shadowing. I don’t know how many hours a week you are shadowing, and the MCAT studying should be your first priority, but it is also important to account for your time during the semester, and “studying for the MCAT” may not be enough of a response. I have had some applicants who were prodded about time off that was primarily spent studying for the MCAT and filling out med school applications, since these activities are done by most along with school or working. If the time off will help you get a good score, then take it as the MCAT is critical, but the possible disadvantage is the perception that you couldn’t manage the MCAT/applying along with other substantive activities.

    Good luck!

  28. Nick says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    This isn’t specifically about gap years, but thought I’d ask you anyway. I’m currently a junior undergrad and plan on applying to enter medical school in Fall 2014. I have two routes I’m trying to decide on, both which correlate with entering in 2014: graduating on time (four years) and taking a gap year, or participating in a semester-long study abroad program next fall and graduating a semester late as a result. This particular study abroad program I think would benefit me greatly as a person and applicant, but I don’t know how not graduating in four years would be viewed by an admissions committee. What do think?


  29. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Nick,

    Many applicants take longer than four years to graduate for various reasons. As long as you are using the extra time productively, it will not reflect negatively on you. Spending a semester abroad is a good use of that time, so if this is something you want to do, then go ahead. Make sure that you also have plans for work or volunteering lined up for when you return.

  30. Sarah W says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I have taken my MCAT twice already and have gotten lower scores (a 23, and a 26), I have just completed undergrad with a GPA of 3.5 graduating a semester early as a dual major. My GPA is on the competitive side but, and my MCAT scores are awful. I’ve had some personal problems that distracted me from school and help explain my lower MCAT. However, I am thinking of retaking my MCAT in April (I’ve been scoring around a 32 on aamc practice tests) and taking a gap year (hopefully doing research or something in a post bacc program). Do you think this will help my chances of getting into medical school? Or would taking the MCAT a third time be a mistake?

  31. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Your current MCAT scores are unlikely to be competitive for allopathic medical schools. If you are considering an osteopathic school, a 26 may be competitive. If you think that you can achieve a higher score on the MCAT, then retake it. Raising your score to at least a 30, and preferably higher, will put you in a much stronger position. Although it would have been ideal to get a solid score on the first or second try, a good score on a third try is much better than sticking with the lower scores.

  32. Ann says:

    Dr. Eaton,

    I am currently a senior at NYU. I applied last cycle, and I am still waiting to hear back from one school (only interview invite so far, and right now I am on wait list). I believe I may have sent in the application late because they were pretty much complete by September/October/November. I want to take some time to strengthen my application. I have a 28Q (8V, 9P, 11B) and 3.69. My question is does the research have to be medically (bio) based? My major was Language and Mind (linguistics, psychology and philosophy) and my research was neurolinguistics (MEG studying of the brain and semantic composition). I have taken all premeds and also taken biochemistry I. I have clinical experience volunteering at hospitals and serving in third world country. How can I strengthen my application?


  33. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Ann,

    In addition to applying earlier next cycle, you can increase your chances of admission by raising your MCAT score. Gaining research experience will also help your application, but GPA and MCAT scores are the factors that will get your application to the point where research, clinical experiences and community service are scrutinized. You don’t mention how many times you have taken the MCAT, or if you think you could achieve a higher score, but raising your score to at least a 30 will make the biggest difference in your application based on the information you have given here.

    Research does not have to be in the biological sciences, and the neurolinguistics research certainly counts as research experience, but if you are doing a gap year, I recommend either doing clinical research related to medicine or working in basic research in the biological sciences.

  34. Joe says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I’m a nontraditional applicant and recently finished a postbacc at Harvard to fulfill medical school pre-requisites. Three months ago, I moved to Miami to be closer to my family and re-establish residency in the state for application reasons. I was hoping to find a job working as a research assistant to give myself something to do this year but have been utterly unsuccessful finding a position or even any ‘ol job in this abysmal economy. However, I was recently offered a bartender position that I absolutely must take or else starve. My impression is that medical schools would view not working in the medical sector for a year and a half unfavorably, but I have to eat! Do you have any advice for me?

  35. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Joe,

    In the past several years, I have spoken with many applicants in similar situations and know that it is especially difficult for new graduates to find jobs. Take a job unrelated to medicine in order to support yourself (and hopefully save up a bit for med school), but also volunteer in a medical clinic, hospital or research lab. That way, you will keep adding to relevant experiences to your application. With a full time job, you may not have a lot of time to volunteer, but try to arrange a position for once a week. Also, a volunteer position can sometimes lead to paid work, even if it is part time. Then, you may be able to switch to working in a medical office or lab part time and bartending part time.

  36. Roxana says:

    Hello Dr.Eaton,

    I am graduating from a community college this semester transferring to a 4-year in the Fall. I have taken 1 year of General Biology and General Chemistry. I plan on taking Physics and organic chemistry the whole junior year and of course other Biology requirements for the degree (Biology Major concentration Microbiology). When is it the best time to take the Mcat. In the Summer after Junior year or In the Spring of Junior year since that is the second part of Physics & Org. Chem.

  37. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Roxana,

    A spring test date will allow you to get your scores back early in the admissions cycle and give you time to retake in the summer if needed. However, the concern is that you will be trying to study for the MCAT while simultaneously taking multiple science courses, including ones that you will need in order to be ready for the MCAT. Therefore, although an ideal scenario would be to have you take the MCAT in May, waiting until June or July is more realistic. It is better to take the MCAT slightly later and have a higher score than to rush it and end up with a lower score.

  38. John says:

    Hi Dr.

    I am a junior planning to take two years off before matriculating into med school, in order to pursue a masters degree abroad. Because I haven’t been able to leave the country while in undergrad, I feel that doing a masters degree abroad would give me a chance to gain some perspective from being outside the country, and keep me competitive as an applicant. Would my application be weakened if I decide to pursue a masters in a social science such as the history of medicine, as opposed to something in the biological sciences? I haven’t had the chance to take those types of classes during undegrad since I am a biology major. Also, if I do decide to go down this route, is there anything else you recommend I do in order to keep myself competitive as an applicant?

  39. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi John,

    If you pursue a master’s degree in an area outside the sciences I recommend also shadowing or volunteering in a clinic or hospital where you are, so that you have recent experiences related to medicine on your application. Also, if the degree relates to medicine even somewhat, such as social sciences with a focus on history of medicine as you mention, then you can present the degree as something that will help you see medicine in a broader context and thus make you a more effective physician. Taking a year or even two off before med school is not at all uncommon now, just make sure that you continue to stay involved in the medical field in some way during that time, even if it is only intermittently.

  40. Yoo says:

    I am a junior from GWU.
    I am considering a gap year, but I am not sure whether it will be a good choice for me or not.
    If I do get a gap year and continue to work at the research lab that I am currently in, getting paid. I was wondering if making a salary over the gap year will affect my financial aid that I will be getting from med schools?

    What would be the best option for a gap year, considering that I have to support myself financially.

  41. Dr. Eaton says:

    Contact the financial aid office at one of the medical schools you are considering applying to in order to get information about your specific situation in terms of financial aid. For the gap year, focus on jobs that relate to either research or clinical medicine. Continuing in your current research lab, working in a different lab, ER scribe, assisting in a clinic or clinical research are all paid positions that would enhance an application to med school.

  42. Meghan says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I am a Junior at Emory and I recently decided to take a year off before Medical School. My parents do not want to pay for more schooling during that year because my sister will be entering college. So I was wondering what clinical jobs were out there that would take someone just out of college… Please let me know! Thank you.

  43. Isabel says:


    I’m a junior and I’m thinking about taking a gap year before applying to medical school, but I am unsure what to do. I have volunteered in a hospital since the beginning of sophomore year (around 3-4 hours a week), worked as a research assistant during my sophomore year, and spent the summers after my freshman and sophomore years volunteering and shadowing physicians in a hospital in India. My GPA is around 3.75, and I am dual majoring in Neuroscience and Anthropology. I haven’t taken the MCAT yet, but based on practice tests, I’m confident I will get at least a 33-34.
    I was wondering what you thought the weakest part of my application would be. I only had two semesters of research experience, so I was thinking about volunteering or getting a paid research position. However, I don’t really enjoy research and would prefer volunteering or working in a hospital/clinical setting, but I already have a lot more clinical experience than research experience.
    What would you recommend I do to make myself the most competitive applicant I can be?

  44. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Megan,

    One clinical job that is a good opportunity for a premed is ER scribe. ER scribes take electronic notes for ER physicians and are therefore are with the physician throughout his or her shift and get to observe the physician at work. Some premedical students I have worked with have found paid positions at clinics doing some clerical work, but also having patient interaction. The best way to find these jobs though is to start out as a volunteer.

  45. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Isabel,

    I can’t determine the weakest part of your application without actually reviewing your transcript, resume and knowing your actual MCAT scores, but a 3.75 and 33-34 are competitive for med school. It doesn’t sound like it is necessary for you to take a gap year to be competitive, so I am not sure if you want to take a year so that you can aim for top schools or if you just want to have a year off. If you did basic research, but did not like it, you could do clinical research instead during your gap year. That would give you a chance to interact with physicians as well as study participants. Research is an asset to the application, but is not absolutely required, and if you don’t like it much and already have two semesters, look for something more clinical. I mentioned ER scribe in my response to a previous comment.

  46. Farzana says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I am currently a junior and I initially did not plan on taking a year off after graduation, however I am now seriously considering it. My major is biology and current gpa is 3.4, and my science gpa is not that great. I really need the two semesters to bring up my gpa, hoping that I do really well this semester. I am planning on taking my MCAT on January so that I will be able to raise my GPA and have efficient time to study for the MCAT and get a competitive score. This way I will be able to apply early during 2013 by June. There is no way I will be able to get in my scores as an early decision and my GPA is not at all competitive. During the year that I wait for a response, I am planning on doing research, and lots of volunteering. I do have clinical experience however its not longterm. I really need all the advice I can get now, I am really stressed if this is the best idea.

  47. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Farzana,

    If the extra year will allow you to increase your GPA and devote th time you need to get a good MCAT score, then it is a good plan. A strong MCAT is especially important for an applicant with a weaker GPA, so if delaying the MCAT until January will allow you to do your best no that versus rushing to take it this spring or summer, then delaying is a good idea. Without knowing your exact science GPA and background in more detail, I can’t specifically advise you, but based on what you have said, the extra year will put you in a better position as it will give you a year to raise your GPA and pace your MCAT studying.

  48. Richard says:

    Hello Dr. Eaton,

    I am currently a 3rd year in undergrad at UCLA. I have made the decision to take the MCAT next year in order to be better prepared and improve my GPA and app overall. I will need a job (any) during my gap year in order to support myself. Also, I have always wanted to volunteer with animals. How would med schools feel about that? I would love it if I could just get a job and volunteer with animals for a while which is a great interest of mine.

    However, volunteering with animals is not the main priority. I definitely will need a job because I would like to stay in Los Angeles where there is many more opportunities than going back home with my parents. So another option is. I am currently volunteering in a clinical setting and research lab (while doing work study as a lab helper in the research lab also). I am pretty sure I can continue volunteering in either place after I graduate because I have been with them since my freshmen year and have a lot of experience. Researching I am not as sure about continuing because I will need a job and researching takes a lot of time unless I can get rehired there as a full time lab tech and get paid for research (best scenario!).

  49. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Richard,

    During your gap year, try to find a job either in a clinical or research setting. It is fine to also volunteer with animals; med schools expect and want applicants to have outside interests and not to be focused solely on medicine and studying. If you cannot find a paid job in either research or in a clinical setting, continue on with your research or clinical work (or both if you can manage it) while working in an unrelated job as needed. I cannot say which is better (clinical or research) since it depends on the strengths and weaknesses in your application as well as on the specifics of the research and clinical volunteering you are doing.

  50. Palak Patel says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I had a question about the gap year science GPA booster. If in my year off I take classes to improve my science GPA will that help me at all in applying? Cause that means I would have applied beforehand.

    Thanks for your help

    Palak Patel

  51. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Palak,

    Once your AMCAS application is submitted, you can’t update the application with new grades; however, you can send transcripts or an update letter directly to the med schools (except for schools that request that no updates be sent). Waiting until after you have taken the classes to apply would leave you with another gap year, but it would also give you the benefit of having the classes completed and on the primary application. However, some benefit will be derived from the schools knowing that you have classes in progress and getting updated on those. If your GPA is not competitive as of the time you submit your primary application, it may be beneficial to wait until you have finished a year of classes as a post-bac student; however, that depends on your particular numbers and situation.

  52. Camilla Siig says:

    DR. Eaton,

    Thank for this post. I have found it quite useful. I am a student that has decided to take a gap year before applying to med school and obviously want to spend some of this time collecting work experience and volunteering. I understand what sort of things one can do as work experience however, I was wondering if there are any organisations for gap year students that you could recommend. There are many that turn up on search engines however I do not know how to be sure about whether these organisations are reputable or not. Is there anything that you could recommend?

    Thank you,


  53. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Camilla,

    I am glad that this post was helpful to you. I do not post recommendations for specific organizations, but one way to evaluate organizations is to ask to speak with students who have used the organizations. I am not sure if you mean organizations that coordinate volunteer groups abroad or domestically, but in either case, check references.

  54. Mark says:

    I have a question in regards to my gap year as well. I did well on my MCAT after taking a Kaplan prep class and have spent the last year tutoring students in Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, Molecular Biology, and Genetics while in College. I believe I have been successful as a tutor and could do well teaching a class for Kaplan (and have successfully applied for a position), but was wondering about how doing so would look to medical schools. I would likely work part time for Kaplan and work part time either clinically or in a lab setting. I have heard from some people that medical schools often look down upon Kaplan and Princeton Review and other “for profit” organizations and just wanted to make sure that doing so wouldn’t be a major detriment. (I haven’t found too much information on this previously published anywhere on the internet)

  55. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Mark,

    I have worked with numerous successful applicants who have taught MCAT prep courses and this type of experience has value in that you will be teaching and reinforcing your own knowledge of science. Teaching is a skill that is applicable to medicine because as a physician you will have to explain diagnoses and treatment plans to your patients. This is paid work for a for profit company as you mentioned, so it would not count as community service/volunteer work, but there are other ways to gain that. If this is something that you are interested, then do it. I do not think this will be a detriment to your application.

  56. Hinna says:

    Dr. Eaton,

    I am a recent college graduate (May 2012). I applied and got into a bunch of MPH programs and never applied to MD schools because I wasn’t sure that my application was strong enough. However, I just don’t think I can commit two years to an MPH program when it’s not what I want. After reading that an MPH really doesn’t strengthen an application like I thought, I’ve decided not to pursue it.

    My question is – in this gap year, what are my options? I think it is too late to apply to any post-bacc or special masters programs, so how can I strengthen my application? Both my MCAT and GPA are less than stellar, but I have great extra curriculars. I have a job lined up at a hospital for a unit clerk in the nurse’s ward, but will this even look good on an application?


  57. Anthony Dimovski says:

    Dr. Eaton,

    I will be a 2012 graduate and I believe that my verbal section that I just took on my 7/6/2012 MCAT will be subpar( well below practice scores). I have a high gpa, but I do not want to spend money applying to scores feeling very poorly about my MCAT verbal score. A late August retake will do no good for this year’s cycle as most medical school already have applicants selected for interviews by then and my odds will have dropped significantly. I have no problems waiting a year and applying then, but I am very concerned about trying to obtain a research position. Through my experience, I have found paid research positions nearly impossible to come about and I have little confidence in obtaining one even with my good academic performances. I do have limited research experience and will be taking a research class under faculty for credit this upcoming year, but again I am very unsure about obtaining a paid research job. Are their any websites that post research job openings that you know of? I have searched a couple websites posted by my school and very few or none show up. I am willing to go anyway in the country to work and I am asking you for your advice. I do not want to be stuck working at Wal-Mart or Mcdonalds after four years of hard work, volunteering, and thousands of dollars spent on a college degree. I am currently seeking out all options well in advance.


  58. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Anthony,

    I do not have specific websites to recommend for job postings; however, I do have some recommendations for you in your job search:

    1. Contact your professors or other researchers that you know. Let them know that you are seeking a position in research and ask if they have an opening in their lab or if they may know of a colleague who does. A contact is often the best way to find a job of any kind.

    2. Broaden your search to include jobs in industry if you have not already, rather than just focusing on academia.

    Finding one’s first job after college can be a challenge, but the fact that you have some research experience already will help. Continue to get more even if it means volunteering in a lab as you conduct your job search.

  59. Jani says:

    Dear Dr. Eaton,

    I will be a senior majoring in Biomedical Engineering this year, and I have been hesitant about applying because I did not have enough time to study for the MCATs and I feel I may not be prepared to take them yet. I’m currently finishing up an internship for the summer and I have had 2 semesters of research under my belt (Muskuloskeletal lab) and 2 more semesters this senior year. If I do well on my MCATs (plan to take in late August/early September) and my current GPA is 3.76, I have been shadowing a doctor, volunteered in a hospital, and did a mission to Honduras with Global Medical Brigades, is it still plausible to apply this cycle or is it better to just wait to get more experience in to strengthen my application? My plan for that year would be to complete a 5 year accelerated master’s program for Biomedical Engineering. Thank you!

  60. Anna says:

    Dr. Eaton,

    I will graduate college a year early in May of 2013. I am a double major (history & biology) and took all the required med school courses. My GPA is okay (3.86) but I feel that I can raise it back up to over a 3.9 my final year. I have been volunteering in a clinical setting for five years. I am also shadowing a physician over the summer and will continue to do so during my senior year. I have been conducting cancer genetics research at my University since the summer of my freshman year. This summer I got accepted into a paid research fellowship. However, I was supposed to take my MCATS early this summer but honestly I have no time to study for it. I realize that it’s too late to apply to medical schools for the fall of 2013. Therefore, I am planning on taking the MCATS in January 2013. That would give me about 6 months to study for it. However, that would mean that I will have a gap year between college and medical school. I DON’T know what to do during that year. Also, my parents have a problem with me taking a gap year and want me to go to a med school in Europe. ( We lived in Europe for 10 years) I really don’t want to go to Europe and risk getting into a residency program back home. What do I do? How am I supposed to convince them that it is better for me to take the gap year and apply in the spring to med schools? Also, what should I do for the gap year? I would definitely want to work and earn some money since I will have to pay for med school on my own. But who will want to hire me for one year?

  61. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Jani,

    I cannot comment specifically on whether or not you should apply this year versus next as I would need to review your transcripts, specific experiences including dates and hours and other information in order to provide an educated analysis of the situation; however, a late August or early September MCAT will mean that your scores will not be available until late September or early October, by which time interviews are already underway at many schools. That is a factor to consider when deciding to apply this year versus next. Your cumulative GPA is competitive, and you have a good range of activities, but the MCAT and the timing of the application are important factors as well, so it depends on if you want to try for this year but later in the cycle than is ideal or strengthen your application some more and be ready to apply in June 2013 at the beginning of the cycle.

  62. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Anna,

    From the information you have given me, it sounds like you are a strong applicant. You were wise to not rush to take the MCAT when you were not ready, as this is such an important factor in admissions. Taking a gap year has become very common and there are various options for that time. Some jobs, such as ER scribe, are often filled by premedical students and the expectation is only for a one or two years commitment. This type of position would allow you to work in a medical setting and to be open about the fact that you will only be working for a year. There are companies that hire scribes and then place them in hospitals that have contracted with them, or some hospitals have their own scribe programs. Also, some research positions are only for a year as that is the amount of time a PI may have funding to pay for the position or needs extra help on a particular project, or is simply willing ot hire someone short term. Another option is a volunteer program with a stipend such as Americorps. Graduating from a U.S. medical school will make it much easier to get a residency position in the U.S. This is especially important if you end up going into a highly competitive specialty. Although taking a gap year will delay the start of med school for a year, it may be the better choice in the long run in terms of your career.

  63. JaNise says:

    Dr. Eaton
    I will be entering my senior year of college as a chemistry major, biology minor. My current GPA is 2.9 and I want to become a pediatrician. I planned on going to a post-bac program but I am not ready to take the MCAT and this last year of college will be difficult and studying for the test this year dosen’t seem possible. What are your thoughts on me taking a year off to work before doing a post-bac or medical school. I know my GPA is not stellar so my MCAT score needs to be. I am just not ready to apply and get to medical school and fail. I am very serious about becoming a doctor I think I need a year to focus and apply.

  64. Kaitlin says:

    Dr. Eaton,

    I’m planning on taking a year off before Medical School, but I need to find a good job so that I can save up enough money to backpack through Europe the summer before Med School. I already have about 100 volunteer hours at a hospital, am currently shadowing a heart surgeon, and will graduate with a double major in Microbiology and Psychology. Is there any job that you can recommend to me that will allow me to support myself for that year and allow me to save money for my trip to Europe, that is also medically relevant?

    Or would it be alright if I just got a regular job and continued to shadow the heart surgeon during my free time?

    I’m also great at Math and writing papers. I was considering tutoring students during that year to make money. I just don’t know what to do. Any thoughts?

    – Kaitlin

  65. Emma says:

    Dr. Eaton,

    I graduated a few months ago, and I decided to take a year off from medical school due to financial reasons– mainly to help out my family since my mother was unemployed for the past year. My GPA is not so great, but now it might be quite late to enroll in a program in universities. Should I try to enroll in just a couple of classes? If so, what would you recommend? I would really like to show the medical schools that I am applying to this year that I am persistent in being accepted. Aside from this, I have already signed up to volunteer weekly with a local hospital and am currently looking for a job in a healthcare setting. Please let me know what else you would recommend me to do.


  66. Hua Chen says:

    Hi Dr.Eaton,

    I have submitted secondary application for every school for about two weeks. In fact, I started submitting my secondary application since the end of July, but I have not heard back from most of the schools (16 out of 18), and I have heard that other people have received the invites for interviews. What should I do at this point? Do the medical schools just send out the interview invites for the most competitive students? And when do interviews usually peak? I am just getting a bit nervous here. Thanks for the help.

  67. sara khols says:

    I was in the dual admissions program from high school, when I asked my advisor for medical school I was confused when I had to submit everything because I am a senior in college she sent me a letter outlining everything. I spoke to her on August 15 and from that letter it basically said Nov 15 so I took my mcat September 6 and now I have been kicked out of the program because I did not meet the deadline which states before classes resume which would have been August 22. What should I do?

  68. Jacob says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I am confused whether to enter med school or continue working abroad. When I was still in college, I thought I was sure to become a doctor. However, now that I have begun working overseas, I am having second thoughts on becoming one. My parents are persuading me to study medicine but I just don’t know what to do. I am caught up between work and studies. Please help.

    Thank you very much.

  69. Dr. Eaton says:

    Hi Jacob,

    Before you make a decision, consider doing some more shadowing and clinical volunteering as well as speaking with physicians if that is possible to do while abroad. I don’t know how long you’ve been out of school, but if it’s been a while, it may help to get back to being exposed to medicine before you make your decision. Whether or not to ultimately go to med school depends on the career you want for the long term and if medicine is your calling and the job abroad is something you want to do short term, or if that or another career path is more attractive to you. This question is a personal one that each individual needs to make for him or herself.

  70. One outstanding opportunity is the Horseshoe Farm Fellowship. This competitive one year/gap year opportunity is geared to towards outstanding recent college graduates with an interest in community health/community based service leadership. The Fellowship is now in its 4th year and we will be accepting 5 new Fellows for the coming year (application deadline is January 31). Fellows receive an educational grant of $600/month and free housing. Please go to http://www.projecthorseshoefarm.org for more information – we will be updating our website in the next couple of weeks).

  71. Jacob Williams says:

    Hello Dr. Eaton,

    I realize that this thread has lost its recency, however upon reading your comments I feel that you have knowledge and advice that can benefit me. I, as many others in the comments above, have just about definitively decided to take a gap year (by applying to medical school immediately after graduating from my undergraduate institution). All things considered in the medical school admissions process, there are quite a number of issues one can be worried about, but I have a rather unconventional question. Do you know, or are you at liberty to share, whether or not the reputation of one’s undergraduate university has any effect on the admissions process? I’m mainly interested in this question given that two applicants are hypothetically equivalent in all other areas, but one student went to a more sought after undergraduate university. I ask this because I have heard a lot of rumors around my campus (I’m currently in the Ivy League, at UPenn) and I have been searching for some validity to put to (or remove from) these words. Any information you have will be very helpful. Thanks!

  72. Lauren says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    I am a recent graduate from a post-bac program and was looking to apply to DO schools. I did not get a very good GPA in the program but I do have a good academic standing from my bachelor’s degree. I did not fail any classes in the post-bac and have learned how to study more effectively for the types of classes I will encounter in medical school. I am also currently employed full-time as a ER scribe and am getting good connections with physicians and learning a lot from seeing so many patients. So i haven’t completely veered away from the medical field. My question is with this year that I have until I have to apply to medical school, will improving my MCAT score be enough to get me into med school or will my post-bac GPA be my downfall?


  73. Catherine says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,
    My son finished his degree last April with a double major in Biology/Classics with a 3.73 GPA. He scored 36 on the MCAT, shadowed our family doctor, volunteered in Emergency and Surgery at the hospital, worked at a genetics lab dissecting fruit fly larvae for one year and was a teacher’s assistant for a semester. He applied to 17 medical schools (early), but has not gotten one interview. He has received rejections to about half. We had a friend (who is the director of a pre-med program at a local college) review his application with no suggestions, and he was sure he would get several offers. Do you have any suggestions? He is currently working as a lab assistant and really has his heart set on medical school. It is important to point out that this is his dream, not ours!

  74. Manasee says:


    I am an undergraduate junior right now, planning to take a gap year. I wanted to pursue a post-bac program while applying to medical schools, so that I will be able to attend a school as soon as I finish a 1-year program. However, you said that the grades from the post-bac will not influence your application…so how would doing this program be beneficial? I wanted to pursue a masters degree while applying, but I wanted the grades to improve my application and GPA. I guess I am just conflicted as to how this is going to benefit me without having to take another year off.

  75. Manasee says:

    I have a question that has appeared to show up a few times before, however I wanted to fully understand. As a current junior, I have a GPA/SGPA of ~ 3.4/3.5, which is not all that great. My major, Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics, does not count towards the science GPA apparently, which I just recently discovered, adding to my decreased GPA. Given that, I have 2 or 3 classes my senior year which will count towards my science GPA and hopefully increase it, so I would like to take a gap year to include those grades when I apply. Given the situation that my overall GPA does not significantly increase after senior year, what should I pursue in the gap year? Taking an additional one or two classes – where at? Will these be at my current university or at a community college? How will that look when I begin applying (June after my senior year)? I have a well-rounded application otherwise, but want to make my GPA far more competitive. Thank you!

  76. Rohan says:

    Hello ,
    My 11th grade result was not that good . I goted grades ranging from A to C . I have my own reason for that .
    Apart from this my SAT and SAT2 scores are near to perfect , and I am doing well in my school as well (I am in 12th grade now) .

    Should I apply to colleges with my poor 11th grades and satisfactory 12th half term grades ,
    or should I take a year off to do some volunteering work and impress the admission officer with my grades and resume ?


  77. Nick Y. says:

    Hi Dr. Eaton,

    What is the standard protocol for applying to medical schools while having a gap year in mind? I’m a junior chemistry and music composition double-major with a 3.83 GPA and lots of extracurriculars/shadowing/volunteer hours. I also am scheduled to take the MCAT this July.

    I’m wondering when to complete/submit primary applications because I have been informed that people who take gap years don’t apply to med school until after they graduate college. Please let me know your thoughts and advice.

    Thank you!

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