How to Maximize Your Gap Year Before Med School

Sometimes a ‘gap year’ isn’t a year at all. Sometimes it’s more than one year; sometimes it’s less. No matter the case, the period of time between your graduation from college and the time you begin med school can offer a ton of value. 

The idea of a gap year sounds great on paper, doesn’t it? A year reprieve following a grueling and competitive four years of science courses and finals. Well, don’t let the label fool you. While gap years can (and should) be spent taking time to reflect and recover mentally, it is certainly not a time to be idle. 

Your gap year is the perfect time to bolster your med school applications. While it may be tempting to kick back and play rec league basketball, travel and surf, and then gloss over this leisure time with a thin veneer of short-term medical experiences, it’s not worth it. Admissions committees are comprised of smart, experienced individuals and they will easily be able to see through this wasted time. 

In this post, we’ll discuss some good uses of your gap year with activities that will actually add value to your application.

Additional Coursework and GPA Boosting

Although you may have already graduated and have your bachelor’s degree in hand, jumping right back into the fire isn’t the worst idea. Again, your gap year should be spent becoming a stronger med school candidate, and improving your GPA while tacking on some additional courses that your target schools consider optional is time well spent. 

Of course, if you go this route of continued schooling through post-bacc classes, you need to make sure you’re all in and hyper-focused on getting an ‘A’ in your classes. Completing extra courses for the sake of just doing so won’t be enough. The point is to improve your GPA, and generally, the only way to do this is through nailing a top grade in the class. 

Thus, if you choose to pursue extracurricular courses in an effort to boost your GPA and prove to admissions deans that you’ve crushed your hard sciences, keep your course load light – maybe even just one or two courses at a time. This will allow you to focus your attention on these specific classes like a laser and nail that grade you need. 

The MCAT

Similar to completing a few extra courses, spending your gap year improving your MCAT score isn’t a bad play either. 

Say you scored a 510 on your first go round, but you really wanted that 515, which would open up the door to a bunch more of your target med schools based on average MCAT scores of applicants. In that case, that’s a very doable goal and time well spent. 

There are a ton of MCAT prep courses on the market, including the top-rated MCAT Self Prep course if you want to try a more independent approach to prepping. If your first prep course or study approach couldn’t get you over that 510 hump, maybe consider trying a new one. 

In any event, time spent studying for and improving your MCAT score is a worthwhile cause, and you won’t be punished by admissions panels if that’s how you choose to spend your time. In fact, combining an MCAT re-take with a post-bacc course or two (as suggested above) can be a powerful combo.  

Medical Experience

One of the absolute best uses of your time during a gap year is acquiring meaningful and relevant medical experience. Adding some pertinent work or volunteer experience to your application can be a true value add.

One key thing to note, however, is that sporadic, short-term experiences will not get the job done. Short, transitory volunteer gigs just don’t impress. Admissions committees want to see sustained experience that gave you a true opportunity to learn and grow as a future physician. 

My best suggestion – try working for AMR or another ambulance company as a paramedic for a year. For one, this will give you direct observation of the fast-paced environment of emergency medicine, potentially solidifying or making you question your choice to pursue medicine. 

Second, this type of medical experience is absolutely on point, and admissions committees will eat it up. 

And lastly, working for a year as a paramedic offers a good opportunity to make some money and pay down undergrad loans (or save up for med school loans) before embarking on the expensive med school journey.    

Honestly, I know that becoming a paramedic and hooking on with an ambulance company for a year doesn’t sound like the optimal use of your likely gifted mind and skills, but it is a great option to consider. Between the relevant experience and ability to save up, it has the potential to be a game changer. 

Most med school candidates are much more tempted to shadow a physician for an extended period than to take a lower level medical job, like being a CNA or paramedic. And I don’t disagree – shadowing a doctor can be a great experience. However, the only thing I will say with this proposition is: good luck finding one. 

Shadowing opportunities are incredibly difficult to find and land. Even if you know a physician personally, many of them are limited to offering up such opportunities by hospital system rules and privacy laws. 

More likely, if you want something that is more mentally stimulating within the realm of medical experience, trying finding a job in a lab. Admissions committees love seeing lab or research facility experience. Again, these jobs are tougher to come by than paramedic and medical assistant jobs (currently in high demand), but if you can land a solid lab assistant gig, it may be worth its weight in gold.

Conclusion

It doesn’t really matter how you use your gap year, so long as you are being productive. If you try to cover up a year spent backpacking through Europe with a thinly veneered story about “life experience,” it’s not going to get you far. 

Apply the classic smell test to your time spent. If you know your time was spent productively, bettering yourself as a med school candidate and as a future doctor, you’ll have nothing to worry about.

John graduated summa cum laude from the University of San Diego School of Law and holds both a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Masters in Accounting from San Diego State University.

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How we Matched up the Khan Academy Passages with the eCourse Lessons

Each lesson of the eCourse contains links to 1 to 5 Khan Academy science passages for the purpose of providing you with non-AAMC material to practice your science passage reading skills on. By completing all the linked passages within every lesson, you will have finished all the freely available Khan Academy science passages.

To match up the Khan Academy Science Passages with the eCourse lessons, we carefully examined the passage and question content of each one. Then we decided which lesson of the eCourse best correlated with that content. You may notice that some passages don’t match up perfectly with the current lesson. If they don’t match up with the current lesson, they should match up with one of the previous lessons in the module. We did this carefully so that you could practice your science passage reading skills on passages that contain the content you’ve already learned.

Why we don’t recommend non-AAMC CARS practice questions

We recommend practicing CARS by reading non-AAMC CARS passages but not doing the associated practice problems. The reason we don’t recommend doing the practice problems is because the MCAT is written by the AAMC. They have a very unique style in which they write CARS practice questions that third-party companies (try as they might) are unable to replicate. When students spend time on non-AAMC CARS practice problems, they get familiar with the wrong style of questioning, leading them to overthink and incorrectly respond to the questions written by the AAMC. Thus, it is in your best interest to solely practice on AAMC CARS practice questions.

That said, we highly recommend practicing your reading skills on non-AAMC CARS passages. In our Ultimate CARS Strategy Course, we provide you with 1,000 free CARS passages and 100+ homework assignments, giving you ample material to practice on. Reading countless passages while practicing the proper reading habits and strategies will prepare you well to conquer the CARS section as it was written by the AAMC.

Which books do the lessons match up with?

The books we use in each lesson are linked below. We plan to stick with these older editions of the books since very little has changed and the older editions are much more affordable:

First Edition of the Kaplan 7-book Series
First Edition of the Princeton 7-book Series

Do the chapters match up perfectly?

The Kaplan Books, Princeton Books, and Khan Academy Videos were all produced by different authors. For this reason, there are some chapters in the Kaplan Book or Princeton Book that are not even found in the Khan Academy Videos and vice versa. For instance, the Kaplan and Princeton Books have chapters that cover certain experimental procedures that the Khan Academy Videos do not cover.

Our goal in matching up the books with the videos was to correlate the content as best as possible while also covering ALL the content from every resource. For this reason, when nothing in the Kaplan Books matched up with one of the video playlists, instead of leaving the reading assignment for Kaplan blank, we inserted material that did not fit in anywhere else (i.e. one of those chapters on an experimental procedure that was not covered by Khan Academy). So, when the assignment doesn’t appear to match up right, please know that this was intentional.

*If you follow the reading assignments outlined, you will finish the entire Kaplan 7-book series and/or Princeton 7-book series by the time you finish all 10 content modules.

Do the sections match up perfectly?

If the sections assigned in our eCourse do not match up with the sections contained in your content review book, you may have a different edition. The sections should still match up the large majority of the time, but in the rare instance that they don’t, I’d recommend simply reading sections that do match up and saving the ones that do not for a future lesson.

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