Gap Year Opportunities

Recent years have seen an increase in the popularity of taking a gap year among American students, especially in the interim between completing an undergraduate degree and entering graduate school.

The gap year, which gained popularity in the 1980s among the British, was traditionally taken as an interim year between high school and college and spent traveling the world. Once treated as “a year off” and stigmatized as a privilege of the affluent, today, a well-spent gap year is recognized and respected as an “enhancement” year. While in the past, it was considered a rite of passage exclusively for high school graduates, the gap year is now being touted by faculty at some of the world’s leading institutions as a beneficial option for college graduates before entering medical school.

Notre Dame encourages its pre-med students to treat a gap year as an opportunity to strengthen their medical school applications, acquire new skills, hone the skills they have, broaden the scope of their knowledge and experience, and even finance their studies.

A gap year can improve one’s application and prospects as a medical school candidate. The year may be used to improve one’s GPA or MCAT scores. Seeking an additional degree or taking supplemental courses, such as anatomy, psychology, or physiology, may allow students to hit the ground running as they enter medical school. Additionally, classes in related areas such as health economics and health law may allow students to gain more excellent knowledge about our healthcare system and demonstrate a broad interest in the medical profession.

Gaining practical work experience and more life experience also contributes to a more robust application. Notre Dame pre-med graduate Marc Drake explained, “One of the factors contributing to my decision to take a gap year was the desire to get some hands-on clinical experience. I had volunteered throughout college, but I knew one or two hours a week wouldn’t be able to compare to working full-time.” More and more applicants, like Marc, are spending a year increasing their clinical experience in a hospital or clinic or research experience in a lab.

Service is at the heart of the medical profession, and students pursuing careers in medicine are encouraged to consider the value of human experience. A gap year is an excellent opportunity to broaden one’s perspectives and experiences of the world beyond academia through service, traveling, and immersing oneself in another culture and language.

“What I treasured the most,” Marc reflected, “Were the lessons I didn’t expect to learn from my gap year.” At the top of his list of unexpected lessons was the ability “to see healthcare inequality firsthand and some of the issues patients face engaging the healthcare system; to speak with patients about these issues, and understand the issues from both the provider and patient side.”

A well-spent gap year allows pre-med students to gain invaluable experiences that strengthen their medical school applications and place them in good stead to become better physicians. With limited places and stiff competition, a gap year before medical school could also make a difference in giving pre-med students a competitive edge.