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  • Writer's pictureVik M

Perspectives on Gap Years by Admissions Officers

University of Southern Florida Medical School Head of Admissions

I don’t understand why so many students are taking gap years. It used to be that you only took a gap year when there was a severe deficiency in your application. Nowadays, I have sophomores telling me they have already decided to take gap years. If you know you need to take a gap year, why not fix your application now rather than later.

Stanford Medical School Admissions Officer

You know what is surprising to me is that Vanderbilt has a lot of students applying to medical school right out of college. (The tone and implication being that gap years are becoming more common and expected from this admissions officer)

While a comprehensive discussion on if you should take a gap year or not as a pre-med can be found in the Pre-Med Prep course, what I would like to do here is layout the two competing schools of thought about gap years. Indeed as the USF head of admissions said, the norm used to be that the majority of applicants would apply to medical school directly out of college. He brings up the main point of this way of thinking. If you know your application will be deficient in a certain category, why not work on it now instead of later? However, I find this way of thinking as increasingly old school and out of touch with the times. While certainly one should not be using gap years as an excuse to slack off now, the modern medical school admissions field is different than how it was in the past.

As captured by the Stanford Medical admissions officer, gap years are becoming increasingly more common. For example, in 2021, 58% of incoming matriculants to Vanderbilt School of Medicine had taken time off after undergraduate. And, this honestly boils down to two factors: competition and time. With more students applying, the applications becoming more competitive, and the number of medical school seats staying the same, to stand out, medical school applicants are increasingly finding they need gap years to improve their application and have time to fit in what they need.

For example, a common competitive gap year activity is to do a post-bac at the NIH. Or, another example is a lot of students take on clinical jobs to improve the number of clinical hours they have on their application.

Overall, at Pre-Med Prep, we know there is no "one" answer to if you should take a gap year or not. It will boil down to your situation and application. But, we do promote having awareness of all the options and paths you can take. If you have a personal question about gap years, sign up for 1-on-1 advising to get your questions answered!

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