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What To Do During Your Gap Year Before Medical School

Gap years offer you the opportunity to gain new experiences, understand new perspectives, and learn new skills while providing you with a break from an ongoing academic schedule. Taking a gap year before medical school has become increasingly common.  

According to data from the AAMC 2021 Matriculating Student Questionnaire, over two-thirds of med school matriculants took at least one gap year before starting medical school. Are you wondering if you should take a gap year (or two or more)? 

Let’s dive into what you should consider before taking a gap year and examples of how you should spend your gap year(s).

Should You Take a Gap Year Before Medical School?

The decision to take a gap year is mostly personal. If you’ve already received your medical school acceptance, taking a year off is largely focused on supporting your mental health and exploring your other interests before continuing your journey to becoming a doctor. 

However, if you’re just applying to medical school and/or preparing for the MCAT, gap years can be a strategic move to strengthen your medical school application. 

Further Reading

🤔 Should I Take a Gap Year Before Applying to Medical School?

🥼 Read About One Doctor’s Journey and Why She Decided To Take Two Gap Years.

Free Guide: How to Become a Competitive Medical School Applicant

Common Reasons Premeds Take Gap Years

  • You weren’t able to take the MCAT during undergrad, you’ve decided to retake the MCAT, or you took the MCAT late in the cycle and would have been at a disadvantage by applying so late
  • Your GPA is not as strong as you’d like it to be or as strong as your target medical schools’ medians
  • You have not completed your prerequisite courses
  • You don’t have enough shadowing or volunteering hours or clinical experience

If you use the time during a gap year productively, it can definitely help you become a stronger applicant. A lot of pre-medical students use this time to improve on their weaknesses, study for the MCAT, conduct research, or gain other relevant experiences. 

Before you decide on taking a gap year before medical school, make sure you’re intentional about what you want out of your gap year and understand what your strengths and weaknesses are as a medical school applicant. 

10 Things To Do in Your Gap Year Before Medical School

If you’re considering taking a gap year, here are 10 potential opportunities to explore to help you strengthen your medical school application and broaden your experiences: 

1. Research

For a premed student, gaining research experience is one of the most common ways to spend your gap year.

If you’re especially interested in attending a top medical school, doing research fellowships in these institutions during your gap year can be tremendously helpful for networking.

When pre-medical students hear about research, they sometimes start groaning and worrying about having to do laboratory grunt work and basic cell cultures. This doesn’t have to be you!

If you plan on doing research, pursue a project that relates to your interests. Basic science research experience is certainly a great idea for some prospective applicants, but if you’re passionate about a specific area like health inequity, for example, you might pursue public health and epidemiology research.

Or maybe you’re interested in the intersection of healthcare and AI. You can explore research regarding how software tools can improve physician workflow pipelines.

Ultimately, when it comes to the medical school application, having a strong, coherent theme in your overall activities that aligns with your passions can make you stand out and help you in answering important ​​medical school interview questions. 

2. Study for the MCAT

Prepping for the MCAT while juggling undergraduate courses can be very overwhelming. If you haven’t taken the MCAT or you’re not satisfied with your current score, a gap year is a perfect chance to dedicate more time to MCAT prep and focus on getting your target MCAT score with fewer distractions. 

If You’re Taking the MCAT for the First Time

If you’re lost on how to begin your MCAT prep, start with a diagnostic exam. Check out Blueprint MCAT’s free half-length diagnostic MCAT exam, Study Planner Tool, and other resources when you create a free account.

If You’re Retaking the MCAT

Take this time to thoroughly analyze your previous study patterns and review your practice exams. It’s not enough to just study “harder.” You need to think about your past successes and mistakes so that you can study for them specifically. Download our free Guide to Retaking the MCAT or consider getting one-on-one help from Blueprint’s MCAT tutors. 

Sign up to get expert tips and exclusive invites to free MCAT classes and medical school admissions workshops!

3. Work in a Clinical Position

If you want to gain some clinical experience for medical school while getting paid, working as a scribe or an EMT could be your best option. In these jobs, you can get meaningful, first-hand clinical experience in working with other healthcare professionals.

Similar to shadowing and clinical exposure through volunteering, working frontline jobs will give you a good idea of what being a doctor is actually like. This can also be a good opportunity to get a solid letter of recommendation from a healthcare professional that you worked with.

However, while these positions can often be incredibly meaningful and transformative, they can also be stressful and demand a large time commitment. Therefore, be sure that the other aspects of your application are solid before considering these jobs.

Research, meaningful community service, and strong GPA and MCAT scores should be top priority. 

4. Shadow a Doctor

Shadowing is a great way to learn about the day in the life of a doctor. Many people describe shadowing as being a “fly on the wall,” because you’re usually spending your day quietly observing physician-patient interactions as the doctors care for their patients.

This is another opportunity to get a great letter of recommendation. 

If you do get the opportunity to shadow a doctor, make sure that you’re professional, on time, and show genuine interest. In addition, try your best to observe carefully and formulate good questions that show your ability to think critically. 

5. Volunteer

This is a broad category, as there are so many ways to volunteer. Think carefully about what genuinely interests you and how you want to make a real impact. 

A common mistake a lot of pre-meds make is pigeon-holing themselves into health-related positions just because they think it will “look good.” Again, it’s important to have a coherent theme in your overall activities and application, and it will show if you’ve pursued a volunteer activity with your own unique purpose and interest. 

Passionate about creative writing? You can teach middle school students how to better read and write! Or maybe you’ve always been interested in the intersection of medicine and public policy. See if you can work with local legislators to enact health-related reform.

Take initiative and be purposeful when it comes to volunteering. Demonstrate that you’re not doing it just to cross it off of your checklist.

6. Take Classes

While a gap year before medical school can give you the time to step away from academic work, depending on your circumstances and needs, you may want/need to further your education by taking additional classes.

Post-Baccalaureate Programs

If you are in the process of changing your career, missing some prerequisite courses, or looking to improve your GPA, a post-baccalaureate program might be for you. These programs act as a bridge between undergraduate and medical school. Post-baccs typically offer accelerated coursework in basic science ranging from 18 to 24 months.

AAMC provides an extensive list of current programs to consider. Some programs even offer MCAT prep and built-in volunteer activities.  Others are affiliated with certain medical schools and can provide opportunities to network with different programs. 

Specialized Master’s Programs (SMP):

An SMP is similar to a post-bacc program in that it offers opportunities to improve your GPA. However, SMPs are more difficult to get into, and you need to have completed your prerequisites before you can apply.

Specialized Master’s Programs are rigorous and challenging. The courses that they offer will be similar to what you’ll take in medical school. It is a high-risk and high-reward program. If you do well in these courses, it will be impressive to admissions committees, but if you don’t, the (large amount of) money you spent on the program goes to waste. 

Master’s Programs

If you’re interested in a particular academic field of study before entering medical school, you can pursue a master’s program. Many medical school applicants get a master’s degree in health-related fields such as global health, public health (MPH), and health administration.

However, similar to SMP, master’s degrees can be costly. You should carefully consider whether it’s an investment that is actually worth it for you and your med school application. 

7. Participate in Gap Year Programs

There are many paid gap year programs and fellowships offered by the government, non-profit organizations, and more. Here are just a few:


Americorps is a government agency that works with local and national partners to help solve some of the most pressing issues in the country. 

City Year 

City Year is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving public education. 

Fulbright Program

The Fulbright Program, one of the United States Cultural Exchange Programs, is a prestigious and competitive program that is only open to  U.S. citizens. Fulbright scholars pursue graduate study, conduct research, or teach English abroad.

Teach for America 

Teach for America is a non-profit organization that recruits members to teach for at least two years in a public school in a low-income community. 

8. Work in the Healthcare Industry

You may consider working in the industry by, for example, joining a healthcare startup or a healthcare consulting firm, if you have a previous business background. Although this is a nontraditional route, this can definitely make you stand out if you already have great stats and no other major weaknesses in your application.

9. Pursue a Passion Project

A passion project is another way you can stand out. A good example is a student interested in disability medicine who teaches himself American Sign Language and starts a non-profit organization dedicated to helping deaf and hard-of-hearing patients. 

10. Have Fun and Take Care of Yourself

The most important (and overlooked) part of a gap year is to take a breather and have some fun.

It’s easy to overwork yourself and put too much on your plate for your gap year. You’ve got a long road ahead of you, so you should take this time to build sustainable healthy habits.

At the end of the day, a gap year before medical school may be the only time when you’re free from a rigorous academic schedule. Give yourself a break and enjoy the time off from school.

Final Thoughts

Gap years have become routine for undergraduate premed and future medical students. The break can give you a chance to volunteer, develop your passions, and build new skills. You can show admissions boards that you’re serious about your career, gain work experience, and improve your medical school application.

Most importantly, it can give you a chance to gather yourself and recharge before you head into med school. 

Finally, if you haven’t taken the MCAT or you’re gearing up for an MCAT retake, a gap year can help you better prepare for the exam. And Blueprint MCAT can help! 

On average, our students see 15-point score increases thanks to our representative practice and unique use of AI to leverage your strengths and target your weaknesses. Learn more about our flexible Self-Paced Course or browse our schedule of live classes.  

MCAT is a registered trademark of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which is not affiliated with Blueprint.