How taking a gap year helped me get into Harvard Medical School

gap year medical school admissions
By Ruby G.

I would not be where I am today, at Harvard Medical School, if I hadn’t taken a gap year after college. If you’re thinking about taking one but still on the fence about it, here are some reasons for why I took a gap year and how I feel about that decision looking back today.  

Why I decided to take a gap year

Stress reduction

If I had wanted to go straight through, I would have had to take the MCAT and submit my application by the end of junior year. I would have been flying out for interviews throughout senior year, along with completing my senior thesis, courses, and extracurriculars. Instead, by choosing to take a gap year, I was able to fully participate in courses and activities through all 4 years of college, saving myself the stress of cramming these things into 3 years. 

I wanted to explore my passions

Let’s face it – college is hard. It’s hard to find the time to pursue that research project that really interests you, or the volunteer program you’re excited about, when you’re balancing everything else that happens in college. It was amazing to be able to focus on just my research (at the UCSF Breast Care Center) for an entire year. 

I wanted to take a breather.

My gap year job was a 9-5 position, which meant that I had the freedom to hang out with friends, exercise, and cook (even on weekdays)! I can thank all the self-care I did during this year for feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle med school.  

I wanted to Strengthen my application

I looked at this as an opportunity to fill in my gaps in my application. I didn’t have as much clinical experience as I wanted, so I pursued positions that would give me that exposure. Ultimately, the extra year was worth getting into a school that I was ecstatic about.  

Some other things I considered:

Finances

Many gap year positions (such as being a research assistant or a fellow) don’t pay very well, so it will be important to budget. I was able to save a bit of money from my gap year, but it was more difficult because I was living in a city with a high cost-of-living. 

Adjusting to a new city

I’m grew up in Jersey and went to college there, so moving out to the west coast was a big adjustment. I’ll be honest – at first it was a bit lonely, and I was left wondering how on earth people made friends in new cities. I was lucky that my co-workers were awesome people, and they became my community. 

Looking back

When I got to med school, I was surprised to find that many of my peers had taken multiple gap years and done a range of things, like working at programs addressing the unique needs of the homeless population, teaching English in South America, working at a biotech startup abroad, and doing cutting-edge psychology research. One of my older classmates had a career in the music industry before deciding to apply to med school, and a few are married and have families. It’s clear to me that going directly from college to medical school is becoming less and less common, and I have no regrets about taking my gap year. I feel wonderfully prepared to tackle the years ahead. Who knows, maybe I’ll take a research year before applying to residency!

Ruby studied Molecular Biology at Princeton University. After completing research fellowship at the UCSF Breast Care Center, she is now pursuing an MD at Harvard Medical School.

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