What is a bridge or gap year?
A year spent working, completing a post-bacc program, volunteering, or doing research prior to applying to medical school, known as a "gap year" or a “bridge year” can be a great option!
In fact, about 80% of Northwestern students who are accepted to medical school take at least one (sometimes more!) gap/bridge year(s). Balancing school, extracurricular activities, clinical volunteer experience and research is difficult enough. Throw in the MCAT, medical school applications, and interviews and the task can be truly overwhelming.
A year spent working, completing a post-bacc program, volunteering or doing research prior to applying to medical school, known as a "gap year" or a “bridge year” can be a great option!
If you're wondering what you can do during your gap/bridge year, see Explore Opportunities to find programs.
Reasons to Consider a Bridge or Gap Year
1. You’ll have more time to study for the MCAT.
Waiting to apply means you have more flexibility in terms of when you can/should take the MCAT (or other professional exams). Just remember, MCAT scores generally expire after three years.
2. You can use the extra year(s) to solidify your GPA.
If you apply to go directly into medical school after your time at Northwestern, that means that your cumulative and science GPAs will only be comprised of courses you take from first year through junior year. If you choose to take a gap/bridge year, you will be able to include your senior year coursework on your application (and typically, students do well in their senior year courses!)
3. You might secure stronger letters of recommendation.
More time to proactively build relationships with potential recommenders generally yields stronger recommendation letters.
4. You can get your finances in order.
Medical or health professions school is expensive, as is the process of applying. Taking time away from school means that you may have to start repaying any student loans, but paid work experience may allow you to make payments on loans (to defray some debt load) while also saving some money to put toward applications and future expenses.
5. You’ll have more time to focus on the preparations required to apply.
You have essays to write, letters of recommendations to gather, the MCAT to study for, schools to research, as well as the rest of real life to figure out. 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 now, but focus on applying in a future cycle.
6. “Everyone else is doing it.”
About 80% of Northwestern students who are accepted to medical school take time off before applying. Every student with whom we have talked about taking time off has benefited from it. They have all found something productive to do during their gap/bridge years, and may be more attractive to admissions committees because of their new experiences as well as the maturity gained from being in the ‘real world’ for a time.
7. Gain more experience and practice articulating your career interests, on paper and aloud.
You can participate in activities that allow you to serve the community and to build the skills you need to be a health professional, so you can show 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, take the time to find those experiences. If you’re having trouble writing your essay, or practicing interviews, you may just need more time and experience.
8. It can be hard for a junior to compete favorably with those who have more life experience.
Admissions committees have acknowledged that younger applicants often “suffer by comparison” to the older, more experienced applicant who are able to show their complete academic history...graduation honors, undergrad thesis presentations, etc. (the average age of successful applicants to US MD programs at anticipated matriculation is 24).
9. 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 for six months, or learning to skydive, or pursuing independent research, or going to culinary school.
10. Your brain could use the break.
Northwestern academics are rigorous! You may just want some time to take a break from academics after 18 years of school, so that you can return renewed to 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. HPA will gladly work with Northwestern undergraduate alumni to help you through the application processes!
Adapted from Princeton University Office of Health Professions Advising / 10 Reasons to Consider a Glide Year