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The traditional path followed by students applying to medical school is to take the MCAT in the spring of their junior year or the following summer and apply to schools the fall of their senior year. However, recent trends have made this the less common route.
There was a discussion on the list server of the North East Association of Advisor for the Health Professions (NEAAHP) about reasons to delay applying to medical school until after you have graduated college. The list started at 10 (written by Kate Fukawa-Connelly of Brandeis University) and was expanded by several other members of the list. This discussion is presented below.
Deciding whether to apply for matriculation in [next year] or later is one of the more important decisions that you should be making right now as a potential health professions school applicant. For those of you on the fence, here are a few reasons that it may not hurt to wait:
You’ll have more time to study for the MCAT. MD applicants: to be as early as possible in this application cycle (which, as we already know, gives you a better shot at getting into schools on rolling admissions), you should be focusing on MCAT no later than April if you want your scores before you submit your AMCAS, or May if you are comfortable submitting AMCAS before you have MCAT scores back. Applying for ’10 means you could spend all summer studying MCAT, and still have time to retake it if necessary before applying.
You can use next year to solidify your 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. If you’re a senior, you may want to look at various options to improve your GPA before applying.
You might secure stronger letters of recommendation. 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. Juniors doing senior theses will especially have a stronger letter by next year, since the bulk of your work will be done with your thesis advisor this summer and next year. You’ll also have this summer to work on getting a letter from a supervisor or volunteer coordinator in your summer activity. If you’re a senior, going on to post-bac work will give you more chances to get to know faculty.
There may be a stronger economy. Whenever the economy is suffering, applications to fellowships, graduate programs and professional schools go up. Applications have been increasing in the past few years — there were 42,315 MD applicants for 2007 (compared to 33,625 in 2002 and 39,108 in 2006). There was a 15% increase in the dental applicant pool from 2005 to 2006. More applicants mean that health professions schools can be more selective in who they accept. It seems like applications are also high for 2008. Waiting a bit could improve your chances based on sheer numbers.
You can get your finances in order. Health professions school is expensive, as is the process of applying. Taking time away from school means that you will probably have to start repaying any student loans, but working full-time should allow you to make payments on loans (to defray some debt load) while also saving some money to put toward applications and future expenses. If you have poor credit, spending some time rebuilding your credit record may also pay off when it comes to taking out professional school loans.
You’ll have more time to focus on the preparations required to apply. You have essays to write, letters of recommendations to gather, MCAT 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), it might be better to start getting organized this year, but focus on applying next year.
“Everyone else is doing it.” Only about 1/3 of Brandeis applicants currently planning to apply for ’09 are class of 2009 — everyone else is taking or has taken some time off before matriculating. Every student whom I have talked with who has taken time has benefited from it. They have all found something productive to do in their time off, 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.
You can gain more experience, and practice articulating your career interests, on paper and aloud. Without having participated in some activities that allow you to serve the community and to build the skills you need to be a health professional, it will be hard to convince schools that you have a realistic understanding of what you’re about to undertake. The more time you spend in these settings, the better you’ll be when interviews come, and the easier it will be to focus on applications, since you’ll have a more solid goal to work toward. If you need more experiences to back up your “gut feeling” that you “must” be a doctor or dentist or vet, by all means take the time to find those experiences. If you’re having trouble writing your essay, or practicing interview answers, you may just need more time and experiences behind you to put your thoughts together.
It’s quicker to become a strong first time applicant than it is to become a strong re-applicant. Spending another year improving your candidacy means you can apply for [the next year]. Students who are not accepted need to be thoughtful in improving to the point that they are viable re-applicants. This means that if you applied for ’09 and did not get in, you might need to take '09-'10 to improve your candidacy and then reapply for ’11 matriculation.
Life is short! 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 pursuing independent research, or going to culinary school. Additionally, it may be beneficial to give your brain a break from academics after 18 years of school, before facing the rigor of health professions school course work. Health professions school (and the support your alma mater 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.
Asst. Dean for Health Professions Advising
Office of Academic Services
Brandeis University, Usdan 130/MS 001
Office: (781) 736-3470 / Fax: (781) 736-2003
Health Professions Website: http://www.brandeis.edu/as/prehealth/
Postbac Program Website: http://www.brandeis.edu/as/pb/
Please call to make an appointment!
"You are not sure about what field of medicine to pursue. Spending a "bridge" year to help sort our your priorities will make you more focused in the medical school years. While most medical students don't finalize their choice of fields until during (or after) their clinical rotations, having a stronger sense of priorities and focus can help keep intensity of the medical school experience in perspective."
“I think the only thing that I would add to the list is the issue of finances and affordability. While many students may opt to take time off, they must understand the financial consequences of their decision. If a student has taken out a student loan, then the loan may go into repayment within an articulated time frame. As a result of having to repay a student loan, some students may be able to minimize their current debt prior to taking on any additional debt during their tenure in medical school. This is of course with the assumption that the student will be employed during their time between undergrad and medical school. In addition, given the cost that each student may experience during their preparation for medical school (MCAT review course, MCAT registration fee, medical school application fees, the cost associated with going to an interview at each of the applied medical schools (i.e. travel, lodging, food, clothing, etc.)) the time away may also provide a student with the opportunity to save money for this endeavor. “
“With the increase in physician debt loads, many students should be aware of the financial implications of their post-graduate decision. While there are numerous post-graduate options for students, one of the most important factors that students should take into account is the financial implications of each of the options that they are considering.”
“a junior cannot compete favorably with alums and post bacs who have rich life experience. They also can't compete with a senior who has their complete academic history...graduation honors, undergrad thesis presentations, capstone coursework, etc. In our Committee meeting, they most always "suffer by comparison" to the older, more experienced applicant.”
“I would add you are chronologically young. Since the average age of acceptance is pushing 24. Some of the juniors applying are turning or have just turned 21 when they start the application process. There is no harm in waiting a year and 22 when you start the application process, especially if that year has been rich with life experiences.”
For more information about the pre-health professions advisement, please contact
Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee Chairperson
Office: Beaumont Hall 304B
Phone: (518) 564-5160