Gap Year(s)

The “enrichment year” terminology emphasizes the benefits accruing to the students who are intentionally delaying application to professional school. Students can use this time to further prepare for admissions through gaining more in-depth pre-professional exposure and life experience. There are other good reasons to take one or more growth years.

The average age of students entering the University of Washington School of Medicine is 26. Dental students at Oregon Health and Science University average around 24 years old, with a range of 20 to 51 years old. These numbers suggest that admissions teams strongly consider each candidate’s life experience and maturity. The ages of MEDEX physician assistant students range from 22 to 57. The average student is 31 years old. Keep in mind that physician assistant programs now require 1000 to 4000 hours of direct patient care.

These days, professional programs in health care adhere to a holistic admissions model. Strategic students take intentional steps. Consider a recent student who spent time to teaching chemistry at a high school through Teach for America before starting medical school. He called the experience “exceedingly valuable” and “something [he] wouldn’t exchange for anything.”

According to one first-year medical student, admissions committees functioning under a holistic admissions regime tend to emphasize an “applicant’s life experiences over test scores, which would benefit students who take gap years.” Even students with a strong academic record and high test scores can benefit from more life experience.

The biggest question is how should you spend this period of enrichment and growth to improve your application? Here are a few basic answers:

  • Begin by meeting with your pre-health advisor to work out a strategy.
  • If your GPA is marginal, consider a post-baccalaureate academic program.
  • If your academic record is flawless, bolster your application with medically relevant activities.
  • Accumulate more clinical experience (paid and voluntary).
  • Get involved in biomedical research or another area of research.
  • Shadow different types of health care providers.
  • Prepare for standardized tests.
  • Volunteer to serve the marginalized in clinical and non-clinical settings.

Even a student with a superior academic record and extensive clinical and volunteer service should avoid taking a year off purely for leisure (recreational activities or travel), as these can be difficult to justify when the time comes to interview. Dr. Hunter’s mantra is “work, read, shadow, volunteer, and self-care.”


“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind,” according to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Gap-year students should have spent their senior year securing an internship in a clinical or research environment. Students choosing to work in a non-clinical setting should set up shadowing and volunteering activities in advance. The year will pass quickly, and most students begin to prepare for application during the spring, which is less than a full year after their graduation.

Fall and Winter

Gap-year students should correspond with advisors and mentors about their plans. These sponsors appreciate students who clearly articulate their reasoning, activities, and goals. Students should indicate that they are open to advice as well as the potential need for support (networking, letters of evaluation, or shadowing opportunities).

Students entering post-baccalaureate or service programs (such as Teach for America) may find themselves restricted to the activities required for their programs. These students might check in with their advisors and mentors via email.

The committee interview application opens in January. Students should fill out the application, check in with the PPHS administrator, and begin their final requests for letters of evaluation.


Students should continue to develop a sustaining vocational narrative through 1) shadowing, 2) volunteering in underserved communities and 3) journaling in narrative form about their experiences.

PPHS students should remember that the director can assist with planning an enrichment year (or years). The entire PPHS team is available to advise students throughout the period between their undergraduate experience and professional application. Moreover, every PPHS student has the opportunity to return to campus for a committee interview or to receive help with the application and personal statement. Please peruse the articles provided here:

Dental: The Gap Year Done Right
Medical School: 10 Benefits of Taking a Gap Year Before Medical School
Physical Therapy: Taking a Gap Year Before PT School

Gap Year Roadmap

This roadmap provides a checklist of action steps for PPHS students during their gap year(s).