Planning the Gap/Bridge Year
If you plan on taking a year or more between completing undergraduate education and entering medical school, this is typically referred to as taking one or more "gap" or "bridge" years. During this time, students are often amidst the application and interview processs for medical school admissions.
The Office of Pre-Professional Programs and Advising and the Office of Career Services can assist students in finding ways to use the gap/bridge year productively, whether it be through employment opportunities, additional courses, volunteer work, graduate degree study, or research.
The following questions are addressed on this page:
A Perspective: "Plan for a Successful Gap Year before Medical School," by Sylvia Morris, MD
What’s the timeline for planning a gap year?
If you’re thinking about a gap year, but you don’t know what to do or how to exactly time it, we’ve presented a possible timeline for you to consider. Not everyone will fit exactly within this timeline, and that’s fine; we suggest you use it as a guide for conversation with your advisor.
Spring of junior year:
- Meet with Pre-Prof advisor to discuss gap year options
- Meet with Career Center advisor to discuss gap year options and review resume
- If eligible, attend a meeting for a National Fellowship or Scholarship, i.e., Fulbright, Rhodes, Goldwater, etc.
- Start thinking about who will serve as references or writers for letters of recommendation
- Review the resources we’ve compiled on this page of the website below
Fall of senior year:
- Start the process of applying to gap year opportunities that have specific applications and deadlines, i.e., AmeriCorps, City Year, Peace Corps, NIH post-bac IRTA, etc.
- Network with family, friends, co-workers—tell them you are looking for a gap year job
- If seeking science enhancement or master’s studies, start applications for post-bac programs
- Remember the resources we’ve compiled on this page of the website below
Winter and spring of senior year:
- Continue everything you started in the fall and catch up where possible
- Review health care organization websites for employment opportunities
- Remember the resources we’ve compiled on this page of the website below
- Submit applications for post-bac and/or graduate programs
- Stay positive and persistent!!
When should I apply to health professional school?
The most important advice we offer is to apply to professional schools when you are ready to present your strongest application possible. Some of you are simply going to be significantly stronger - whether academically and/or in other aspects of your application -- at the end of your senior year as opposed to the end of your junior year.
How do health professional schools view taking time off between undergraduate and professional school?
Taking time off can be a very positive step on your way to becoming a health professional. In fact, the median age for first year medical students is now nearly 25! Of course, what you do with that time should be meaningful and perhaps science, health or service related; working in a research lab or a hospital; teaching; completing a fellowship or service program, or perhaps even traveling and exposing yourself to medical care in the places you visit. The added experience can enhance your qualifications and show your commitment to a career in the health professions. For many students, it may be an advantage to wait until after graduation to apply. It gives you extra time to raise your GPA, study for entrance exams, refresh, and gain additional related experiences. Taking time off is definitely something to consider.
What are some good reasons to wait for a year?
Deciding when to apply to health professions school is one of the more important decisions that you may face as an applicant. Only about 40% of Johns Hopkins applicants apply to begin medical school during the fall following graduation. They have all found something productive to do during their bridge year, and may be more attractive to admissions committees because of this new experience as well as the maturity that you gain from being in the real world for awhile. For those of you on the fence, here are a few reasons why it may not hurt to wait:
1. You need more time to study for the MCAT. Applying for 10 means you could spend all summer studying MCAT, and still have time to retake it if necessary before applying.
2. You have a borderline GPA. The numbers part of your applicant profile almost always improves in your senior year if you're a junior, because you have more control over the courses you take, and you're just more acclimated to the college environment. Also, if you're a senior, you may want to enroll in an academic record enhancer post-bac program to improve your GPA during the year you are applying.
3. You need additional letters of recommendation from your senior year. Again, if you're a junior, your classes are likely to get smaller next year, and you'll have more opportunity to forge relationships with your faculty. You'll also have this summer to work on getting a letter from a supervisor or volunteer coordinator in your summer activity.
4. You don't have time to commit to the application process. You have essays to write, letters of recommendations to gather, standardized tests to study for, schools to research, as well as the rest of real life and figuring out what to do this summer. If you can't spend the time you need on application prep now (and secondary essay writing this summer for MD/DO applicants), it might be better to start getting organized this year, but focus on applying next year.
5. You have limited exposure to medicine,healthcare, and patients. Without having participated in some activities that allow you to serve the community, and build the skills you need to be a physician, it will be hard to convince schools that you have a realistic understanding of what youre about to undertake.
6. You just aren't sure about medicine and/or you can't articulate your motivation well on paper and in conversation. If you need more experiences to back up your "gut feeling" that you "must" be a doctor or dentist or vet, then by all means, take the time to find those experiences.
7. There are other things that you want to experience before taking the next step . 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 going to culinary school. Health professions school (and the support Hopkins 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.
What should I do during the gap year?
Alumni from Hopkins who went to medical school report that there are many ways to spend time after graduation and before enrolling in medical/dental school. Their reasons vary from needing time for a break, for clarifying career goals, for pursuing an activity of interest, or for improving credentials. In all cases they report positive results from the decision to take time off. During the bridge year you will be filling out secondary applications, going to interviews, and wondering what you will be doing next year. You also need to keep your foot in the door of the medical field in order to show your continued interest and dedication. You do not need to do all of the following, but you should consider doing at least two of them in addition to applying to medical school:
1. Take additional courses in upper division biology and/or a graduate degree. Some students choose to pursue a combined degree.
2. Get a job in order to support yourself, pay for application fees, finance travel to interviews, and pay off educational debts. If you can find work in a clinical health care area, or biological/medical research environment you may strengthen your medical school application.
3. You may want to enhance your volunteer and service profile. Below is an overview put together by the Career Center on how to pursue "post-graduate opportunities":
Guide to Post-Graduate Opportunities
And two separate listings of opportunities:
Local, Domestic and Global Volunteer Health Opportunities
National and International Opportunities for Pre-Health Students
4. You may need to retake the MCAT. This means that some of your time during the bridge year should go toward studying for the MCAT or taking a review course. Please call to set up an appointment with one of the advisors to determine a course of action.
What if I will be abroad during my gap year?
We have had several students successfully navigate the challenges of being abroad during their bridge year. Here are some tips from one of these students:
The most important piece of advice is to turn in everything as early as possible. Although this is the general advice for everyone, this is particularly important for those with restricted schedules. This enables medical schools to notify you with interviews earlier, during a time when they are still flexible in scheduling them.
Send separate letter of explanation
In addition, send out a separate letter of explanation as to when you will be in the country and available to interview. Accurately state your schedule restrictions in any space provided in the secondary applications.
Carefully schedule visit back to the U.S.
Make my schedule as flexible as possible. Instead of only coming back to the U.S. once for interviews, you may chose the months of October and January to be available to interview. If an applicant applies early enough, he/she should be able to hear back from schools between late August through early October - perfect for round one: the October interviews. One of our applicants chose January as a backup for those schools who reviewed her file for a second time before offering her an interview or for those schools who didn't start interviewing until November. That way, she guarded both her "early" and "safety" bases. If you can only come back once, the best time would be December or January.
Schedule early...ask for earlier choices
Most schools allow applicants to select the interview date. If the options do not match with the applicant's schedule, he/she can call the school to explain his/her situation and location abroad. Most schools will recognize their abroad experience as worthy of being flexible to change their interview date. Applicants should check their emails often (daily) and schedule an interview as soon as possible before optimal slots are taken.
What are some good gap year experiences?
If you are interested in taking a gap year, but are stumped on what exactly you would do during that time, consider the following four big categories of options:
2) Community Service
3) Graduate Education
Click on each of the four options above to see specific examples and read personal accounts of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) alumni whom completed gap years that fall under the category indicated. If any of the experiences catch your eye, be sure to contact the JHU alum indicated to learn more!
Selected One-Year Opportunities
Through FamilesUSA, two fellowships are offered:
JHU Alumni Association "Planning a Gap Year" Resource
The Johns Hopkins Alumni Association has created their own website, Planning a Gap Year, which is another very valuable resources for pre-health students planning on take one or more "gap/bridge" years. The sections inlude:
- General Resources
- Domestic Opportunities
- International Opportunities
- International Jobs
- Unique/Adventure Jobs
Other Useful Websites!!
Saint Louis University Pre-Med and Gap Year Opportunities
Calvin College's International Internship and Gap Year Opportunities
Idealist.Org and their Idealist Guide for First-Time Job Seekers
(special thanks to Daniel Lee '14 for his help in compiling many of these useful resources)