No doubt that balancing academics, medically-related experiences, extracurricular activities, and research is difficult enough. Throw in the MCAT, medical school applications, and interviews and the challenge can be truly overwhelming. If you plan on taking a year or more between completing undergraduate education and entering medical school, this is typically referred to as taking—what is variously termed—a “gap”, “bridge”, or “glide” year (or years).
Prior to the mid-1990s, the typical career plan of physicians was to proceed directly from college graduation to medical school. Since it was the accepted path, the average age of first-year medical students was 22. This is no longer the case, however. Today, the average age of first-year medical students is 24 and medical schools welcome the maturity, expanded, and more diverse experiences that are reflected in these slightly-older applicants.
A “gap year” or a “bridge year” spent doing research, other meaningful employment, or completing a post-bac program or masters degree, volunteering or doing research prior to applying to medical school can be a great option! In fact, over 80% of JHU students who apply to medical school take at least one (sometimes more!) gap/bridge year(s).
Reasons to consider a “gap/bridge year”
- You will have an additional year to solidify your GPA. If you apply to go directly into medical school the fall following graduation, your cumulative and BCPM GPAs will include only those courses between your second semester (remember covered grades) through junior year. If you choose to take a gap/bridge year, your senior year coursework will be calculated into your cumulative and BCPM GPAs and may make a notable difference (and typically, students do well in their senior year courses!)
- You will have an additional year of experiences to impact your application. In fact, your entire four-year undergraduate record of both academics and co-curricular experiences will be reflected in your medical school application and therefore enhance your candidacy. It can be hard for a junior to compete favorably with alums and post bacs who have additional life experience or with seniors who have their complete academic history—graduation honors, senior thesis, etc. If you take more than one year, your experiences during your gap/bridge year may also make a difference in the strength, depth, and maturity reflected in your application.
- You will have more time to study for the MCAT. The optimal time to take the MCAT is August or September following the junior year when the test will not conflict with coursework or detract from relevant co-curricular experience. This timing is ideal for applying with a gap/bridge year.
- You very likely will secure stronger letters of recommendation. It can be a challenge to have a full complement of faculty to request letters of recommendation by the end of the junior year. More time to initiative and build relationships with potential recommenders—particularly with science faculty—can make a very difference in the overall quality of your recommendations.
- You will have time to fully prepare for putting together your strongest application. You have essays to write, letters of recommendations to gather, the MCAT to study for, schools to research, as well as the rest of real life to figure out. If you can’t spend the time you need on application prep now (and secondary essay writing this summer), it might be better to start getting organized now, but focus on applying in a future cycle.
- JHU students find very meaningful and productive “gap/bridge” experiences, whether that be employment, service opportunities, and/or other educational experiences.
- Applicants have full access to advising services as alumni, regardless of when they choose to apply. Even if you are not in the Baltimore area, you will apply using the Committee Process and a Committee Letter and have access to advising throughout the entire application process.
A couple more reasons? Here are two more adapted from “Ten Reasons to Consider a Glide Year,” Princeton University Health Professions Advising:
- Life is short! Once you get to medical school, it becomes more difficult to take time off—you’re more likely to have financial concerns, family concerns, and a professional schedule that will keep you from, say, traveling to Africa for six months, or learning to skydive, or pursuing independent research, or going to culinary school. Here’s a great article, “How taking a gap year can shape your life.”
- Your brain could use the break. Hopkins academics are rigorous, perhaps even grueling at times. You may just want some time to take a break from academics after 18 years of school, so that you can return renewed to the rigor of health professions school course work. Health professions school (and the support your alma mater provides in working with you to get there) will still be there for you if you go and do these things and return to the application process later.
The “take away” message: It is critical to apply when you are at your strongest. Will you have a problem finding something meaningful to pursue? No. Plenty of options abound, whether you wish to further your education, conduct research, volunteer, or gain employment.
Please make an appointment with your Pre-Professional advisor to further discuss your bridge year plans. See the links below: