Taking a Gap Year
What is a gap year?
Twelve months to spend as you wish, doing whatever you want. Some people take gap years deliberately (a deferred entry) before applying and some are forced into a gap year to improve their application portfolio for a retry. Around 2–7% of applicants seek deferred entry every year, giving you a guaranteed medical school place if you are successful in your application. The alternative is to apply a year later (so that you would already know your A-level results).
Some people do amazing things with their gap years, creating lifelong memories.
Reasons to take a gap year
The decision will have a huge life-long impact on your life. It will need careful planning and thought so that you can make it very productive.
- Life experience: throughout your life so far you have been on a conveyor belt of exams, study and minimal time out for yourself. Well with a gap year you will have 12 months all to yourself to find yourself, and to pursue your dreams.
- Finances: some people find it difficult to finance a 5–6 year course, and some students take a year out to work, for example as a healthcare assistant, to earn money to fund their tuition.
- Rejections: many applicants with four rejections take the time to improve their chances for the next round by increasing their skillset (learning a new language, taking a new sport, getting research experience, resitting exams, etc.).
However, balance this with the fact that you will have 12 months out of formal education, delaying career progression and losing a year of earning potential. There is also a serious danger that you will delay any planning of your gap year until the last minute, meaning that you could potentially watch TV all year and not do anything productive.
What do medical schools think of a gap year?
Most admissions tutors and medical deans are in favour of gap years as the candidates tend to be more mature when they finish their 12 month stint, and have had time to develop their skills and get a deeper insight into medicine. There will be an expectation, however, that you have a firm grasp of what you want to achieve as well as what your concrete plans are.
Sanaa – University of Bristol
‘I took a gap year after not getting any offers first time round. I was originally a little reluctant to take the time out as I felt ready for medical school straight away. That said, the year was extremely positive – I was able to work for a few months and earn a fair amount of money to help throughout the next few years of university and I was able to travel freely to many countries that I had always wanted to visit. I went and worked as an au pair in Kenya and in Chile, then travelled all over South America. I have so many incredible memories and experiences from my gap year that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The space and maturity that the year gave me resulted in a refreshed perspective and increased experiences which strengthened my application and helped me to achieve four offers on my reapplication. Whether you have planned a gap year or not it is a unique time and experience to really explore the world and build on your personal experiences and develop further. I’d recommend seizing this wonderful opportunity.’
Akash – University of Edinburgh
‘Many friends at medical school tell me they wished they’d taken a gap year and regret not doing so. Sometimes it can be useful to jump off the “conveyor belt” of school to university and take some time out to do something completely different. Consider what you would spend a year out doing and what benefits it would provide. There are valid arguments both for and against a year out and it isn’t the right choice for everybody. Some possible disadvantages are being out of sync with friends from school, delaying your studies for a year meaning you qualify and become a doctor a year later (although really, it isn’t a race!). Most medical schools welcome gap year students, so if you’re considering applying for deferred entry then ensure that you have firm and valuable plans which you can talk about in interview that support why you have made the decision to have a year out before starting your studies. Talk to friends from older years where possible and find out what benefits they found from taking a gap year and whether they would recommend it. Do your research to see what options are out there for exploring the world and building your CV.’