How do I Make the Most of a Surprise Gap Year?

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ADG 226: How do I Make the Most of a Surprise Gap Year?

Session 226

This student decided to hit pause after receiving a devastating MCAT score. They want to know if they made the right decision and what they should do now that they have a surprise gap year on their hands.

Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT. Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

The episodes in this podcast are recordings of our Facebook Live that we do at 3 pm Eastern on most weekdays. Check out our Facebook page and like the page to be notified. Also, listen to our other podcasts on MedEd Media. If you have any questions, call me at 617-410-6747.

[00:22] Question of the Day

“I had just gotten my MCAT score back. And it was a little devastating. I did not do as well as I wanted to. So at the time, I wasn’t sure if I should rush to retake it and try and get into this application cycle, because I really wanted to. It was everything I had planned. I’m older, and I just wanted to get started. But since then, I’ve made the decision to not go ahead with this cycle. So perhaps you can validate me in that decision. I have this new opportunity for even more time, more gap years, that’s just what I wanted. You know how maybe I can best prepare myself moving forward.”

A: What should you do during your gap year? What specific area do you need assistance with? Take some time to evaluate your application and identify any areas that may require improvement or show deficiencies.

Remember, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to a gap year opportunity. If you lack clinical experience, focus on gaining relevant exposure. If you need to enhance your Postbac work, dedicate time to that. If your MCAT score needs improvement, concentrate on studying for the exam. Determine where you think you may be deficient and prioritize accordingly.

​​[02:00] Upward Trend Matters

Q: “I went to the United States Coast Guard Academy for my undergrad. I graduated in 2016. I spent a little bit of time in Pensacola, Florida. I started out as a pilot, something you’re very familiar with. In that process, I had decided I didn’t want to be a doctor. So I left which was really hard. But I’m sure as you have experienced with maybe some pilots in your day, I did not do stellar at the academy. It’s a tough place to be when you’re a kid. 

I’m also a first-gen college student so I definitely fumbled while I was there. I had a bad GPA of 2.8 (I think it’s what I graduated with.) But I had worked on that and I did postbac at Fordham. I brought my undergrad GPA up to 3.4 and my science at 3.6. Should I take more Postbac classes?”

A: The final number may not be impressive, but it’s important to consider that you began with a less-than-stellar degree. The fact that you have put in significant effort to improve is truly commendable. Therefore, I’m not concerned about your GPA.

[04:27] Should I Get More Shadowing?

Q: “I work full-time as a medical assistant for an EMT, which I really love. It’s like a field I’m interested in. But I guess my thought was that I don’t know if it looks bad to stay at the same job in the same specialty. Should I shadow more and get more experience?”

A: I don’t believe that it’s necessary to shadow multiple types of doctors or accumulate a large number of shadowing hours.

Shadowing can be challenging to arrange. If you have a fulfilling job as a medical assistant and gain clinical experience through that role, that’s valuable. In terms of shadowing, it’s likely that you’re already observing the doctor you work with during lunch breaks or other opportunities.

Some schools may prefer to see primary care shadowing, such as family practice, internal medicine, or pediatrics. If you can find opportunities to shadow doctors in these specialties and gain some hours, that’s great. However, if you can’t, it’s not the end of the world.

Volunteering is a valuable experience to include in your application, and it doesn’t have to be solely clinical volunteering. 

Non-clinical volunteering opportunities can provide meaningful experiences as well. Some options to consider include volunteering at soup kitchens, participating in Habitat for Humanity projects, or tutoring at inner-city schools. These activities showcase your commitment to helping others and can make a positive impact on your application.

[06:42] Does Research Have to Be Clinical?

Q: “My last job before I left the Coast Guard was in maritime security. And we did a lot of research in terms of how our helicopters are used for our enforcement and drug interdiction. I did a lot of number crunching and figured out how we can make our operations more efficient. Does that check the research box or not?”

A: Research extends beyond the medical field, and it’s important to recognize that the scientific method can be applied in various domains. Asking questions, collecting data, analyzing it, and making decisions based on that data are all integral parts of the research process. It sounds like you were actively engaged in this process during your previous job in maritime security.

[08:16] Retaking the MCAT

In her most recent practice exam, she achieved an impressive score of 521. Her average score leading up to this was a solid 517. However, there was a sudden drop to 499 in her latest attempt, which feels unreal to her.

Considering that she took the MCAT in March and it is still May 17 as of this recording, she has the opportunity to register for the test again. It may be wise for her to consider this as a fluke and not let it discourage her.

By signing up for the end of June, she can give herself a chance to refresh and regain confidence. Since she has been consistently scoring in the high 500s, she is undoubtedly prepared to take the test. This setback may have been simply due to a bad day.

'You have to trust yourself. You have to know that you have that score inside of you.'Click To Tweet

[11:52] Navigating the MCAT and Application Process

If you feel relatively prepared to submit your application within the next month or so, and are willing to review and study a bit more for the MCAT during that time, I believe you should go for it. The worst-case scenario is that you register for a test, hopefully securing a test date towards the end of June in your location, and dive back into study mode.

Trust your gut and assess your readiness. You might think, “Can I really trust my gut after scoring a 517?” It’s understandable to have doubts, but it’s important to rely on objective data. Objectively, you have been performing exceptionally well. Perhaps something unexpected happened on that particular day, and we should disregard it as a bad day. Rest assured, it is unlikely to happen again.

If haven’t started requesting letters of recommendation, it’s important to prioritize them as they are a significant aspect of the application process. However, when it comes to the personal statement and activity descriptions, many individuals find these to be the most challenging parts. If you have already made progress on these sections, the remaining task is to polish them off in the span of a month. With that in mind, you are well-prepared to tackle the application process.

[16:12] Making Your School List

Choosing a school that aligns with your goals and aspirations is important. While some may refer to certain schools as “throwaway” options, it’s essential to consider the value of every investment, including your education.

Instead of viewing any school as a throwaway, it can be more beneficial to carefully research and select a school that offers the programs, resources, and opportunities that will contribute to your academic and personal growth. Making an informed decision ensures that you are investing wisely in your future.

[16:43] Applying as a Reapplicant

When applying to a specific school, you may have the opportunity to indicate if you are a reapplicant. Some secondary applications might inquire about what steps you have taken to improve since your previous application, regardless of whether you are a reapplicant or a first-time applicant.

“ Being a reapplicant is not bad. Being an applicant is not a scarlet letter.”Click To Tweet

What Matters to Medical Schools

Admissions committees understand that growth and improvement are part of the journey. They value seeing your dedication and efforts to enhance your application. Embrace the opportunity to showcase your progress and highlight how you have evolved since your last application.

It’s important to approach data with caution and consider the nuances behind the numbers. While it is true that the acceptance rate for reapplicants may be lower compared to first-time applicants, it is essential to understand the factors contributing to this disparity. The composition of the reapplicant group includes individuals with a wide range of academic profiles and motivations for applying.

'There are lots of people who are applying to medical school that shouldn't be.'Click To Tweet

Some students may apply without fully understanding the requirements or readiness for medical school, leading to multiple application attempts without significant improvement. However, it is crucial to note that there are also many qualified and dedicated reapplicants who have taken proactive steps to strengthen their applications. These individuals may have worked on improving their GPA, retaken the MCAT, gained valuable experiences, or sought guidance to enhance their candidacy.

And so, don’t view being a reapplicant as inherently negative. It is more accurate to say that a reapplicant who has not taken steps to address weaknesses in their application is less likely to be successful.

Showing Growth and Resilience in Your Application

Admissions committees value growth, resilience, and the ability to learn from previous experiences. By demonstrating genuine efforts to improve and addressing any shortcomings, reapplicants stand a better chance of presenting a stronger application and increasing their chances of acceptance.

'We can't make conclusions to say being a reapplicant is bad. Being a reapplicant who does nothing to fix their application is bad.'Click To Tweet

It is important not to generalize based on a single number or overlook the individual circumstances of each applicant. Each application is unique, and success depends on a variety of factors beyond just being a reapplicant.


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