“In the fast-paced progression from being overachieving high schoolers to ever-catered-to Harvard students, pre-meds often lack the opportunity to mature in the less tangible ways necessary to become good doctors,” Reynolds said.
According to Mayer, the increasing proportion of alumni medical school applicants is not limited to Harvard or the Medical School. At the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the majority of applicants are also college alumni rather than graduating seniors.
“We see that pattern even more from schools other than Harvard,” Mayer said. "There are some schools that advise applicants to do something for a year or so.”
AN ACCEPTED PRACTICE
On the other end of the conversation, College students have increasingly accepted gap years between their undergraduate and medical school educations as common practice that can give applicants more time to pursue other endeavors or polish an application with little repercussions for the delay.
According to Amarachi I. Erondu ’15, a pre-health peer liaison, students hear the message that time off does not hinder an applicant’s chance for success.
“The stigma around taking a gap year is dissipating,” Erondu said. “Med schools are trying to make it clear that they accept alumni.”
Students have said the increased acceptance for taking a gap year better enables them to consider it as an option upon graduation.
“I have gotten the feeling from speaking with upperclassmen as well as pre-med advisers that it has become much more common to take a gap year before medical school,” Yasmin Siraj ’18 said. “I do not know if I want to take a gap year or not, but now I know it is an option that is very much accepted in society today.”
Erondu also noted that taking gap years can allow for “a nice break” after four years of pre-med education, what she called an “attractive option.”
“It’s a great way to space out your pre-med requirements,” Erondu said. “You can take one pre-med class a semester.”
Harvard alumni were accepted to medical school with significantly lower GPAs than Harvard seniors, an average of 3.59 for alumni and 3.77 for seniors in 2013, according to admissions data compiled by OCS.
Assistant Director of Premedical and Health Careers Advising Sirinya Matchacheep said that while taking a gap year cannot directly make up for a lower GPA or MCAT score, individuals can take post-baccalaureate courses to boost their academic standing.
AN INDIVIDUAL DECISION
In the face of institutional and peer recommendations for time off, the decision to take time off still stands as largely variable from person to person.
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