Before you reach the end of your post-bacc, there is one big decision you will have to make: pursue a linkage that takes you right into medical school or choose a “glide year” while you complete the full medical school application process. (There was a lot of ice cream and traveling during my glide year!)
Previous posts you may have missed:
Some medical schools have an arrangement with post-bacc programs to conditionally accept some students to medical school for the fall that follows the completion of a post-bacc. Students apply though AMCAS (the medical school application system) in the fall (one year before they intend to matriculate in medical school through the linkage), interview with the medical school if the schools determines they meet specific criteria set forth by the school, and may be conditionally accepted. This conditional acceptance hinges on completion of the post-bacc (and there might be some grade requirements) and achieving a certain MCAT score.
It’s a great option if your post-bacc has an agreement with a medical school you really want to attend and you can check off all the preliminary criteria. I had a C+ from Chemistry 101 in undergrad (that I took in 2007!!) that kept me from qualifying for any linkage program. While I was pretty upset about it at the time, I got over it pretty quickly when I realized that a conditional acceptance through a linkage was contractually binding. However, quite a few of my post-bacc classmates linked and are now thriving as second year students!
PRO: You don’t have to take a year off between your post-bacc and medical school for the application process, pay for the applications and interviews, and figure out what to do for the in-between year.
CON: If you get in, you go. And you can usually only apply to one linkage even if your post-bacc offers more than one.
The Glide Year
Obviously, I chose the glide year option — well, I was forced to thanks to college freshman Molly, but it was the best forced choice I could have made. I did an accelerated post-bacc (11 months) so by February I was deep into my last semester of classes (Bio II, O-Chem II, Physics II, and Biochem…), studying for the MCAT (which I took mid-May), and searching for a job.
I think thats the hardest part about taking the glide year – you will need to support yourself and start paying off loans if you had to take them out for the post-bacc. I think my job search was a little different than most who take a glide/gap year(s) before medical school. I knew I DID NOT want to do bench research. I already had some clinical research experience and didn’t feel very strongly that I had to do more for my application. I explored opportunities at my post-bacc institution, my graduate school departments, networked with old colleagues, searched job postings at organizations I loved; really there was no methodical rhyme or reason to the search. I knew this was going to be my last year (assuming the MCAT went well and I got into school) to really enjoy life for a while and I wanted to spend it doing something I liked.
I applied to a lot of health policy related jobs up and down the east coast and had a few good interviews. But I was upfront when they asked my future plans and explained that I was applying in the next medical school cycle. That meant I’d have about 11 months (post-MCAT, pre-moving for school) to devote to a job. And if you’ve never hired someone, I can tell you that hiring someone for less than one year is not an ideal hire.
I had a friend who introduced me to a family that lived in her building that was looking for a nanny, so I had that in my back pocket while I was searching. I eventually made the decision that I was going to either stay put in Philly or move home; I didn’t want to move anywhere else for just one year to pick up and potentially move again for medical school. Moving is hard and expensive!
After a few more interviews that didn’t pan out, I met with the family looking for a nanny and it was just the perfect opportunity. I had some traveling planned already that they were graciously flexible about (and continued to be with other traveling I did over the course of the year for interviews and for fun) and their daughter was such a precocious, funny, adorable kid. I knew this was what I wanted to do for the year. I’m not here to sell you on being a nanny for your glide year, but if it’s with the right family, it can make for a pretty wonderful year.
A caveat: I didn’t feel like I needed to do something very serious in my glide year to add to my application. I had three years of work experience in legislative affairs, a Master of Public Health degree, two years of part-time academic research while I was in graduate school, a post-bacc year with good grades, clinical research during my post-bacc, a good MCAT score, and enough volunteering and shadowing hours. I don’t list this to make you compare your application to mine or to show off everything I’ve done. I list it to show that it’s up to you to decide what your application needs or doesn’t need (and also talk to your advisor or a mentor about this!), and what you personally want out of that precious year(s) before medical school.
PRO: You can apply to as many medical schools as you want (or can afford), gain experience in an area you want to bulk up on your application, explore different opportunities you probably won’t get again, and make money before medical school. Even for my current medical school classmates who didn’t pursue a post-bacc (which is nearly all of them!), over half took at least one year off between undergrad and medical school. Most of us just need a break. The necessary work to be ready to apply to medical school requires so much energy and dedication that it’s OK if you want or need to take a year off to regroup.
CON: You have to pay to apply to and (hopefully) interview at more than one medical school. It is not cheap. You also have to start paying back any loans after the six-month grace period, although you can defer them again once you start medical school.
You Do You
I enjoyed every minute of my glide year — from library storytime and playground play dates to a family trip to the Grand Canyon (my dad is a great photographer with portrait mode lol) and exploring my city. It gave me a chance to breathe between my post-bacc and medical school. And I needed it more than I even realized. Even among career changers, there are some who are just naturals once they get into science classes. I was not like that.
My mental, emotional, and physical reserves were totally drained after 11 months of my post-bacc capped with a mid-May MCAT and then spending countless hours making my personal statement and application as perfect as possible. I was just done. I needed a break. Nothing like running after a two year old for 8 hours a day to give you a different perspective and a good dose of laughter every day.
No matter how you spend your glide year, make sure to take some time for you to rebuild your reserves. And if you link to a medical school, spend your summer enjoying life. Medical school is hard and exhausting, there’s no way around that. Be thoughtful and intentional about how to spend the time you get – two months or twelve.