Why a Gap Year or Years

The terms "gap year" and "time off" are frequently used by students who apply to schools as they graduate (or later) and thus will work for a time before entering a health professions school. This is common today. More than three-fourths of Duke students will apply to medical schools after they graduate. This is encouraged by advisors and health professions schools. Note that the average age of the entering class to Duke Medical School and similar schools last year was 24. Students who engage in a year or more of experiential activity after graduation and before entering a health professions school are more mature, resilient, confident, and accomplished—and competitive.

Reasons To Take Time Off

  • It's easier to work in prehealth required courses over a four year period.
  • It allows you to more easily participate in study abroad or study away, and to take advantage of summer opportunities.
  • You might need the extra time to bring up their grades and GPA.
  • You might have special interests (e.g., athletics) and will need extra time to fulfill requirements.
  • You might want extra time to be sure a health career is right for you.
  • You may have a strong interest in research and are trying to decide between health professions schools and graduate school, or M.D. vs M.D./Ph.D. programs.
  • You might want to gain full-time working experience in economics, global health, finance, writing, teaching, etc.
  • You might also desire a break between your four years of undergraduate study and the next years of demanding health care work. The time off is spent learning to be an adult, living in an apartment, paying your own bills, shopping, cooking, traveling, and experiencing a normal working world.

What Students Do During Their Time Off or Gap Year(s)

  • Students interested in research choose to work in a research laboratory or with a clinical research program for a year or two. You can seek out a position, perhaps in a laboratory at Duke (or elsewhere) in which you worked or did an independent study as an undergraduate. 
  • Another good option is the National Institutes of Health IRTA (Intramural Research and Training Award) program which introduces recent college graduates to biomedical research. Candidates must be U.S. Citizens or permanent residents and have graduated from an accredited college or university no more than twelve months prior to arriving at the NIH. In addition, the applicant must intend to apply to graduate or medical school within the next year. Additional information can be found at the Office of Intramural Training and Education website.
  • Many students want a time to serve others, and will participate in Peace CorpsAmeriCorpsTeach for AmericaIndicorpsJesuit Volunteer Corps, or teach in elementary, middle, or high schools  or work or volunteer as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).   
  • Students also set up businesses or work in business.
  • Some potential applicants put applying to health professions school on hold temporarily to pursue a dream. We have had students use their talents and skills to pursue professional sports, acting, writing, visual arts, and the performing arts, and others.
  • Most prehealth students will continue to volunteer in prehealth or service work during this time.

Ways To Improve/Enhance Your Academic Record In Order To Increase The Competitiveness Of Your Application

  • You can enroll in a non-degree (often called continuing education) program and take upper-level science courses (and do well in them) to demonstrate to Admissions Committees that you are able to handle the challenging courses you will have to take in a health professions school. 
  • Another option is to complete a master’s degree program — be sure that if you need to improve your grades in science courses that your master’s program includes science courses. There are a number of special masters programs designed specifically for students planning to apply to health professions schools.   
  • You also may choose to enroll in one of the non-degree granting prehealth postbaccalaureate programs that are available at many institutions.

For information on postbaccalaureate programs, please see AAMC Post-Bac Page. Also, Syracuse University has a list of  postbaccalaureate programs that is well organized into different categories described above.