What To Do The Summer Before Your First Or Second Year of Med School

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • We collected advice from student leaders about how to spend summer breaks.

    Your mind may just want to chill right now, but summer is actually a great time to prepare yourself mentally for your next semester of med school—whether you’re a new med student or starting your second year.

    We conducted a brief survey of our Campus Heroes. Our Campus Heroes are leaders at their med schools and have great advice for both incoming med students and those who are transitioning to their second year. Here’s some of the highlights from our community.

    Entering med school as a first-year

    What should you be doing in this summer before your career as a med student starts? Most people suggested that you take some time off to relax! Many of our respondents simply took vacations.

    The “drinking from a fire hose” metaphor is pretty spot on. Most of the content isn’t that much harder than undergrad, but it comes at you fast. ##### – Rachael H.

    Among our community, in fact, 66% of our respondents recommended to do exactly that—nothing. Why, we asked? Katie M. said, “Because your free time is precious starting your very first day, and you don’t get a lot of that time again.” Take a look at these comments from other students:

    • It is your last free summer, med school will bring you to your knees no matter who you are. Enjoy your summer. Even if you prep for med school, you wouldn’t appreciate what you learned or be able to internalize it till you experience it. – Hannah M.
    • You will burn out if you don’t give yourself free time when you can. – Max W.
    • You won’t have another chance to chill like that again
    • You will take on the material as it comes. You can try and prepare but most of it is going to be learning on the go. During school you will have to miss out or cut short a lot of the times with family and friends- soak it in while you can! – S.M.
    • Everything you need to cover is covered during school time. Med school is also very stressful. It’s best to enjoy yourself while you can. – K.P.

    How med school is different than undergrad

    Something else to keep in mind: med school is going to be very different than your undergraduate experience. The volume of work and level of effort required of med students is much higher. You can expect the work to be significantly more demanding. For example,

    • Undergrad is like running a 5k. Short days of classes. The amount of class work is easy to handle. Med school is a marathon. Long days. I never crammed for stuff in undergrad because I consistently studied weeks before the exam, so I already knew how to avoid cramming by the time I got to med school. – Hannah M.
    • So. Much. More. Studying. – Katie M.
    • Med school requires a constant level of effort, instead of short bursts of cramming. – Max W.
    • Much much more time studying. Usually the material covered in a day of lectures would take me at least two days to get through.
    • A lot more work than expected and than anyone can prepare for. Have to hit the books running. – Kenneth
    • The “drinking from a fire hose” metaphor is pretty spot on. Most of the content isn’t that much harder than undergrad, but it comes at you fast. – Rachael H.
    • The pace was rapid, the volume of content was larger, the detail/depth of content was extremely important. – M.I.K.
    • Extremely demanding time-wise and also emotionally challenging. The hardest thing was (and sometimes still is) figuring out how to study and learning how to change (quickly) when a method was not working. In undergrad, I was confident of my abilities to achieve good grades and learn, but I felt the complete opposite in MS1. But it is possible to get through it, even if it feels daunting at times. – Stephanie R.

    You will burn out if you don’t give yourself free time when you can. ##### – Max W.

    What to do as a rising second-year

    A number of our Campus Heroes are rising third-year students, who make recommendations to rising second-year students. Their suggestions were slightly different than the advice for incoming first-years, but many people still said to relax in the summer before second year. K.P. even said, “Travel, have fun…a little research if you can. This is the LAST summer of your life. Literally.” Some other students recommended a combination of relaxation and research, or volunteer in an area that interests you. S.M. told us “I think it is a great time to research and also relax. You won’t have much time to do either of those thing for the next few years. It is really your last long break.”

    A handful of our students recommended studying for Step 1 in that summer before second year. It may not be a bad idea to lightly study just to get a little head start. Some key recommendations about prepping for Step 1 included:

    • Look over micro and pharmacy for step 1 – Kenneth
    • I would definitely spend just 2 hours a day reviewing high yield content like Sketchy, Pathoma, and First Aid. The videos are really easy to watch each night or morning for an hour or two, and it would have definitely helped put me ahead to get another pass at the board-emphasized content. I really wish I had done this! – Rachael H.
    • Research resources available for studying for M2 and develop a plan on how you will prepare for the Step 1 during the year (for example do Anki flashcards throughout the year and have them ready for Step 1 to reinforce knowledge; watch SketchyMedical videos, which I recommend 100%; complete a question bank). – Stephanie R.
    • Start Boards and Beyond, maybe Sketchy
    • SketchyMicro. (Go through it like you are learning for fun. Don’t feel like you need to memorize everything, but get some basic stuff about each organ system down. Then, during the school year, you can go through it again as those topics come up in class and nail down more details). – Hannah M.
    • Buy your boards prep resources and set up your Cram Fighter account so you can hit the ground running. Other than that, NOTHING! Take that time to relax and prepare for all the work you’re going to put in beginning the first day of M2!


    While these quotes represent only a handful of students’ experience, the summary of the advice is this: Summer is great for downtime, but it’s also a great time to stay sharp and prepare. It is all up to your personal preference. If you can mix in some good relaxation time but also lightly study or get mentally prepared and organized, you’ll be setting yourself up for success in your med school career.

    About the Author

    Erica Forrette is the former Director of Marketing at Cram Fighter.