Making the Most of a Gap Year Part 1: Have a Plan

Last updated: 8/8/2020

Why Consider a Gap Year?

There are several reasons as to why someone might find themselves taking a gap year before starting medical school, for example: not meeting age requirements upon enrolment, rejection, uncertainty and commitment-phobia, etc.

Whether or not taking this gap year was a voluntary choice, what you take away from it is going to depend on how much energy (and in some cases, money) you’re willing to spend to make it meaningful. 

If you’re in this position, it is likely that you already have a general idea of what you might want to do with yourself. After years of continuous formal education, being given a huge chunk of time where you’re finally in charge of your life and choices can feel liberating, exciting and overwhelming all at once.

Undoubtedly, there are several factors you’ll need to consider and the sooner you double down and decide on your course, the more you’ll be able to look back on and say you’ve accomplished.

Step 1 Begin: Money, Realistic Timeline, Deadlines

Step 1: Begin Formulating a Plan

With any long-term project, it’s very helpful to have some sort of picture in your head for what the final chapter looks like.

In the case of a gap year, this might take form as an image of you building a house under the scorching sun overlooking a foreign country, changing the bed of a resident as you volunteer at a care home, sipping a Martini as you go interrailing or earning some financial independence working a full time job.

Whatever you come up with is going to require some level of planning; so here are just a few things you should start considering, to get the ball rolling towards your goal: 

a) Money 

In an ideal world nothing, barring a global pandemic, should stop you from volunteering abroad and helping people elevate their standards of living if that’s what you desire. But in reality, most volunteering schemes come with extortionate programme fees that average anywhere from £150-£300 a week (sometimes excluding accommodation, travel visas, health insurance or any additional potential expenses!).

Cash notes held between two hands.

As an alternative, there are teaching programmes where you could get paid to teach English to foreign students, but even those usually come with requirements for teaching qualifications that you need to pay to study for. 

A way forward might be to get a job and work for a few months to fund the second half of your gap year. You could also discuss your plans with family and ask if they’re able and willing to help you out. An amazing option would be to apply for bursaries and grants specifically aimed at helping students fund their gap years. Check out these links to get you started:

b) Having a Realistic Timeline 

12 months might feel like a long time…until you start attempting to fit everything you want to do on to a tangible calendar. Let’s take a look at a hypothetical scenario:

A hypothetical gap year timeline, including UCAT study time, BMAT study time, volunteering abroad, full time job/internship, null period and time left over.

With a little time left over to celebrate Christmas and enjoy the last summer before university starts, it’s important to recognise the value of having large blocks of time to dedicate to specific interests, further reinforcing the importance of having a good plan.

Without one, you might be left with awkward 2-3 week gaps which aren’t long enough to facilitate a substantial project yet too precious to waste. This brings us to our next point… 

c) Setting Deadlines 

Here, we can consider two kinds of deadlines; the ones you can control and the ones you can’t. 

While there’s not a lot you can do about the deadlines you can’t control (e.g. UCAS, UCAT and BMAT dates), being aware of them and planning the deadlines you can control around those will make it so the gravity of the former isn’t as daunting. 

A calendar with a red tick on a date, and a clock.

To put it simply, sitting down and spending a few hours researching and making a note of important dates will give you a better visual of the time you have left. This will allow you to allocate enough time to get essential work done as well as set realistic deadlines for other projects to avoid falling victim to Parkinson’s Law (work expands to fill the time allotted to it).

Most importantly, there’s nothing worse than finding the perfect course/trip/project, only to find applications closed last week; this way, you won’t find yourself in this position.

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