You have just submitted your primary application and after a brief respite, the secondary essays begin to flood in. Do not fret! With a little practice and patience, you will be churning out these essays! It can be easy, however, to become overwhelmed with the task at hand. My advice is to begin writing some of the more straightforward essays to help you boost your confidence and get the ball moving. A great place to start is the prompt about your gap year. Here are a few tips and misconceptions to guide you through this common secondary prompt.

Tip #1: Be Straightforward 

In many cases for this essay, you will have very little space to describe what you are doing or plan to do. As such, do not add flowery language and get to the point as quickly as possible. Your main goals here are to (1) tell your reviewers what it is that you are doing/plan to do and (2) what you have learned/hope to learn. Ideally you want to focus on the latter and explain how these extra years will eventually align with your goals of becoming a physician. 

Tip #2: This is Not your last chance 

One thing that is often not known (or is simply forgotten) is that these secondary essays are not your last opportunity to update your schools about what is happening/what you are learning during your gap year. Throughout the admissions process, applicants are often encouraged to write update letters to the schools (just double check that each of your schools accepts update letters). This secondary is a great chance to tell the schools the things that you are working on now and what you have learned from them. 

Misconception #1: It is not okay to “just work on myself”

Something that many applicants do during their gap years is work on their candidacy – most commonly working on their MCAT score. However, something that might be feared at this point in the cycle is that this information is not enough for this essay. However, medical school is a lot about resilience and overcoming obstacles. Therefore, talking about the plan and approach you have taken to strengthen your application is a valid approach for this essay! Ideally, your plan worked and you did in fact achieve your goals; so, talking about what you have learned in the process is absolutely helpful in showing your ability to go through medical school and become a doctor.

Misconception #2: It is not okay to do something non-medical

While many people spend their gap years doing something that is “easily defendable” in terms of its relation to a future in medicine, others may do something completely different. All the above is great! The most important thing to do in this essay is to talk about what you have learned and how it will make you a better physician in the long run. 

Now, if you have taken many years off and have not touched the field of medicine for any of those years, it may be more difficult to defend why you are applying to medical school. If you are going through this scenario, my advice is to try to have something even remotely related to medicine going on in the background. Your primary focus of your gap year(s) can be unrelated to medicine, but make sure you have some kind of touchpoint with the medical field during that time, even if it's in a very limited capacity. 

Pav graduated magna cum laude with a BSE in Chemical and Biological Engineering and minors in Engineering Biology and Global Health Policy from Princeton. He is now an MD-PhD student at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

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