Gap Year

A gap year is a period (typically one year, but may be longer), taken by a student as a break between secondary school and higher education or between undergraduate and graduate/professional school studies.

Is a gap year right for you?

While there are many reasons to take a gap year, one of the most common is the opportunity for students to explore their interests and develop a purpose for their future. Students often opt to take a break from academics to engage in enriching life experiences that may help them gain a better understanding of themselves and guide them in their career decisions. Whether students spend their gap year traveling, volunteering, working, or all three, they often feel inspired to resume their studies due to a newly-found purpose/goal.

Students who already have a defined goal often take a gap year in order to gain experiences that will improve their chances of admittance into a  graduate or professional school.  For students seeking to improve their academic profile or take additional courses, many enroll in a post-bac program or take necessary courses at community college or through a university extension program.  For students lacking exposure to their profession of interest, they may spend time gaining exposure through shadowing professionals, volunteering, interning or gaining paid work experience.  See the Gain Experience tab for more information.

Many educational experts believe that taking a gap year could improve students’ chances to succeed in their academic endeavors, since during that year they may become more focused, mature, and motivated. Many students also spend their gap year to help others.

Things to consider

As exciting as a year off sounds, there are several important issues to consider before embarking on a gap year.

  • Whether to individually design a program or use the resources of an established organization—The freedom and independence of a self-designed program may appeal to some, but turning to one of the experienced providers can help alleviate logistical and safety concerns.
  • Students who weren’t happy with their college grades or entrance exams scores (MCAT, LSAT, GRE, etc.) might choose to take a gap year to improve their GPA, test scores, develop new skills, gain relevant experience or reassess their career options.
  • Thinking about goals—When planning your gap year, consider how taking this time to learn more about yourself and the world can help you grow as a person and prepare to take on further challenges. Going into the year with personal goals will help you stay focused and work toward success, both during your gap year and when you return.

Post-Baccalaureate (Post-Bac) Programs

Post-bac programs are geared for the college graduate who wants to apply to medical, dental, veterinary (and other types) of professional schools. They are offered by undergraduate institutions, graduate schools, and medical schools. Post-bac programs are generally one to two years in duration. Some schools require full-time enrollment and a fixed course load, while others offer students more freedom to pick the courses they want.

Is a post-bac right for you?

A post-baccalaureate (post-bac/post-bacc) program is for students who have already completed an undergraduate degree and are interested in a health professions career. If, at the time of graduation from UCLA, you need to take additional prerequisite courses and/or improve your academic standing for a more competitive professional school application, a post-bac may be right for you.

Honestly answer these questions:

  • Am I or can I realistically develop into a strong science student?
  • Am I making an informed decision about choosing a career in health care?
  • Have I “tested out” my interest by volunteering or otherwise learning more about medicine and health care?
  • Do I have a commitment to service to others?
  • Do I have the stamina and commitment, the personal, inner resources as well as the financial resources, to develop a year or two in premedical preparation after I graduate?

If you answered “YES” to most of the above questions then read on.

If you have NOT taken all of the prerequisite courses, read this section:

  • Do I want a formal or informal program?
  • Where is the program located? Is this a public or private institution? Small college or big university?
  • What is the tuition? Is financial aid available? How much and for how long?
  • Are there linkages to medical schools or other health professional schools?
  • Can I study full-time, part-time or either, depending on my needs? Are the classes held in the evening or during the day? Can I keep my job if I want/need to?
  • Do I take courses with undergraduates, or are there special sections for the post-bac students?
  • Who will teach my courses?
  • Will I be guaranteed a space in the classes and labs I will need to take?
  • Will I have access to advising from the pre-health advisor? How accessible is that person?
  • Will I receive an evaluation letter from this program?
  • Is there assistance in finding a health related internship or job?
  • Is there help planning the “glide year” (the year of application process while still in the program
  • Is there academic assistance, such as tutoring? It is free?
  • Is there a community of students of which I will be a part?
  • Will there be help with MCAT preparation?

If you HAVE taken the prerequisite science courses, read this section:

  • Why do I believe I can improve my record?  Is that a realistic goal for me?

If you answered “YES”, then ask yourself all of the questions in the section above, plus the following:

  • If I need to improve on the MCAT, how will I do that?
  • Should I take further undergraduate courses or move on to graduate courses?
  • Have I exhausted the range of undergraduate courses available to me? Do I have room to take more at UCLA under my maximum unit total?
  • If I want a graduate program, how do I decide between the “Special Master’s” programs and the more traditional Master of Science? Special Master’s programs are usually affiliated with medical schools. They tend to offer a more accelerated, intense pace that is most like medical school curricula.
  • If I do not ultimately gain admission to my preferred school/program, what are my alternative career goals?
  • Do I want to gain research experience? Do I want an academic career in science?

Types of post-bac programs

Career Changers: are designed for students who have not yet completed the science prerequisites for their desired program.

Academic Record Enhancers: are for science students that would like to enhance their current records.

Other: are specifically geared towards underrepresented minorities in the health professions with or without science backgrounds, and/or economically and educationally disadvantaged students.

Formal/Structured: The benefits to a formal program include access to advising, a more structured environment, MCAT (or other test) prep support, and sometimes some preference to post-bac students in certain schools’ admissions processes through linkage agreements with health professions schools. Some programs focus on graduate level courses while others are at the undergraduate level.

Informal/Unstructured: Many colleges/Extension Programs allow students to enroll as non-degree seeking student to take classes “a la carte” either full-time or part-time. This option may appeal if the student needs to finance their own course work by working, or if additional grade enhancement is needed in order to gain entry into a formal 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

Official resources

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)’s Postbaccalaureate Programs page is the official resource for information about post-bac programs.

To find and research post-bac programs to apply to, visit the AAMC Postbaccalaureate Premedical Programs database.