Taking a Gap Year

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A “gap year” is the period of time between the end of your undergraduate education and the start of your professional school. A gap year might be a year or more depending on each person’s particular circumstances. When deciding to take a gap year or not, consider the following:

Why are you taking a gap year?

Why are you taking a gap year?

Attending professional school can be daunting and time after graduation can be pivotal for your identity development and exploration of career goals. Students usually take a gap year to become a stronger candidate for the professional program of interest. Students can do various activities during their gap year, such as volunteering, taking an internship/ fellowship, strengthening GPA or entrance exam score. Some students also try to pay down their debt or take a break to travel, relax, and recharge before embarking themselves in a long journey of formal education.

When it comes time to discussing your gap year during interviews, you should keep in mind that your gap year was to help you strengthen your knowledge and improve skills that will make you a better health professional and person, not just to make yourself look good. Here are some follow-up questions that might help you decide: What is motivating you to take a gap year? Have you thoroughly thought through how it might fit with your future career or your professional goals? What is your vision?

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What opportunities do you have during a gap year?


What opportunities do you have during a gap year?</
There are a variety of opportunities to participate in your gap year. You may decide to do more than one of the opportunities listed. Also note that you are NOT only limited to the list below. These are some of the major types of opportunities that you can be involved in your gap year.

Experience Based Opportunities

    • Employment/ Internship – Whether you are looking to enhance your résumé or earn money during your gap year, employment or interning in your field of interest is a great way to gain exposure and experience. Working in a hospital, clinic, or office provides students with an opportunity to explore a potential career path as well as a preparation for their future studies. For example, a student looking to apply for medical school may work as a medical scribe during their gap year. Medical scribe positions can serve as an introduction to learning new medical terminology while working closely with a physician in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Here are some great resources to help you start exploring your options:
    • Volunteering – Many students use their gap year time in order to volunteer and give back to the community. Having meaningful volunteer experiences, whether in a health related or non-health related field can help build relationships as well as make change in the community. These experiences can vary greatly, from volunteering internationally in a third world country or volunteering at your local hospital or clinic. Again, there are many different types of volunteer opportunities out there for students, and they can all be beneficial as long as the experience is meaningful or valuable to you. Working in an environment related to your field can help you gain exposure and experience interacting with people you may be working with in the future. Here are some great resources to help you start exploring:
    • Shadowing – Students shadow health professionals to get a better feel of what their future career entails, establish new connections, and explore potential career paths. Shadowing or following a health professional can provide students with patient experience and a realistic view of what various specialties and working environments are really like. It may be difficult to arrange a shadowing experience if you do not have a personal relationship with the health professional, so here are some tips to help you.

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Education Based Opportunities

    • Post-Baccalaureate Classes – Retaking or taking additional classes can help students strengthen their academic record. Students may retake courses in which they have not performed well in the past in order to raise their GPA and to gain a better understanding of the different concepts and content of that particular course. Students also consider taking additional courses that they have not had a chance to fit in during college to further prepare themselves for their intended graduate or professional school. For example, classes such as anatomy or physiology can help prepare many students that are planning to work in the health field. Here are some recommended classes to provide you with pre-health related learning or build upon important professional skills (such as writing, speaking, and analyzing) for your future.
    • Pre-Health Post-Baccalaureate and Special Master’s Degree Programs: Post-baccalaureate programs are typically designed for students who already have a bachelors degree in a non-science field and wish to take or retake the prerequisites courses required for their intended professional school (Medical, Pharmacy, Optometry, etc.). There are many types of post-baccalaureate programs such as academic enhancers and career changers (described in further detail below). Many programs offer a post-baccalaureate ‘certificate’ upon completion of the program.Special Masters Programs (SMPs) are master degree programs geared towards preparing students for their intended professional school by taking relevant graduate/professional school level courses. Some SMP curriculums consist of courses that are taken along side graduate, PhD, or professional school (medical, dental, etc.) students, allowing admissions committees to directly measure and compare students’ proficiencies at these higher levels. Other programs consist of courses that are strictly offered to the students in that particular SMP. For more information, click here.
    • Graduate Program: Master’s (MHP), PhDs, or other degree programs – Pursuing a graduate degree is another option for students to spend their gap year. This is a great option for those who intend to earn a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) or another degree along with their professional degree at one point or another. In general, earning an MPH would not help your professional school application as much as science course work. The reason to pursue a degree as such should be for your career and own personal interest. A master’s or doctoral degree in a natural science, also termed  ‘hard’ science under areas such as the Biological and Biomedical Sciences provide a more science-intensive curriculum that reinforce and further advance your understanding in these areas. Many students who look to conduct scientific research along with their health profession pursue a master’s or doctoral degree in the hard sciences. Keep in mind that many institutions also offer combined degree programs. Here is a link to the graduate programs offered at UH Manoa.

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Professional School Application Based Activities

    • Entrance Exam Preparation – A gap year provides time for students to take their entrance exam for the first time or to retake the entrance exam to improve their previous scores. Students who are taking the entrance exam for the first time should familiarize themselves with the components and scoring of the exam. Once first-time test takers are familiar with what the exam entails, students may prepare for entrance exams by studying with practice books, online programs, courses, and tutoring programs. For retaking test takers, students should review the sections that they find challenging. It is recommended for all types of test takers to prepare early for their entrance exams to do well. For entrance exam preparation opportunities, click here.
    • Personal Statement – Writing a good personal statement takes an investment of time to do. Students can start writing their personal statements during their gap year to leave room for revisions. To start a personal statement, students can view the PAC Guidelines here.

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Create a prospective timeline

Create a prospective timeline

Once students have an idea of what to do in their gap year, students may create a prospective timeline. The timeline is a guide for students to track the events that need to be accomplished prior to starting professional school. The timeline includes not only the gap year options, but also professional school application components (i.e. entrance exam, primary/secondary applications, interviews etc.). With your timeline, consider alternative options in case there are any limitations or unforeseen challenges in options you apply to.

After completing your timeline, consider if your plan is an appropriate pace. It is important to participate in options and prepare for professional school applications. However, cramming multiple of events can reduce your best quality work in your gap year opportunities and/or admission application preparation. Be sure to incorporate all needed activities in an appropriate time frame.

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Talk with an Advisor

Talk with an Advisor

Discuss your gap year plan with an advisor. Talking with an advisor can help organize your career goals and corporate these goals in your gap year. In addition, talk with an advisor about preparing for the application year by discussing past grades, experiences, entrance exams etc. Please feel free to schedule an appointment with a Peer Advisor in our office here.

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Take Action: Apply Early to Gap Year Opportunities

Take Action: Apply Early to Gap Year Opportunities

Apply to gap year opportunities EARLY. Some opportunities may have deadlines and limited space. By applying early, you will provide yourself time to wait for decisions and seek out other options if needed. If the opportunity does not follow through, then keep your options open. Other opportunities may be suitable for your gap year!

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Be Actively Involved in Your Gap Year

Be Actively Involved in Your Gap Year

Once you have a timeline set and are confirmed to participate in the opportunity, be actively involved in your gap year! Take time to learn what you are doing in your opportunities. You will not only learn more about your profession of interest, but you will also develop characteristics and helpful skills set for the future. Additionally, being actively involved with your gap year activities will allow you to form relationships with your mentors, supervisors, and co-workers. By forming these relationships, you will be able to connect with other professionals related to your field.

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Keep track of everything!

Keep track of everything!

Start to track everything you do in your gap year. Whether it is dates, hours, or contact information, record this information somewhere for future reference. For professional school applications, some sections may request for details of the activities you were involved in. By keeping track of your gap year, you will be able to recall and explain how your experiences shaped you to be a good and potential candidate for the professional program you are applying to.

 

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Resources