You’re running a 5K and you’re a quarter away from the finish line. You’re out of breath, you’re exhausted and you’re in desperate need to refuel. You veer off to the side of the path to catch your breath. This is the same scenario you face with taking a gap year. Is it right for you?
When I was faced with the idea of taking a gap year, I was reluctant and unwilling. For me, getting into dental school was the finish line and it seemed so close. Somewhere along the journey towards dental school, I found myself investing more time in volunteering, leadership roles and personal relationships and by junior year of college, I was not content with my GPA. This was the moment I learned something valuable – as much as we desire to take control of our future, what lies before us remains a mystery. I never expected to take a gap year, but as time passed, I realized more and more how fitting it was for me. I decided to take a gap year in order to fine-tune my resume to reflect my true capabilities and character.
A gap year means applying to professional school after you graduate college, as opposed to applying to professional schools in the summer right after your junior year of college.
How do I know if I should take a gap year? There’s always room for improvement, but if your GPA isn’t as competitive as you’d like or not within the range required by schools you want to gain acceptance to, you might take a gap year to increase your science GPA, strengthen your shadowing hours or retake the DAT. Even if you’re a competitive applicant with a strong GPA and DAT score, taking a gap year will give you time to relax and recuperate after college. It can be beneficial to your academic and personal growth. However, if you’re academically and mentally prepared to take the next step to apply to dental school, don’t let that stop you!
It’s important to use your gap year to fill in any holes in your application.
What can I do in my gap year?
- Strengthen your credentials – If you have a weak GPA, consider taking post-baccalaureate classes or enrolling in a Master’s program. Many universities offer one or two-year graduate programs, with or without a research thesis. While some dental schools recommend science graduate programs (e.g. microbiology or anatomy), other dental schools don’t have a preference of what Master’s degree you obtain (e.g. public health or health administration). However, a core science Master’s can show aptitude in upper-level science courses and better prepare you for the difficulty of graduate science courses. It’s important to excel in the Master’s program you select because the grades you earn will prove to dental schools that you are capable of achieving academic success in graduate courses. If you have a weak DAT score, retake the DAT. Even though there’s a negative stigma associated with taking an entrance exam twice, it’s better to show improvement and gain a better score the second time around than keep a low, noncompetitive score. Taking the DAT twice can also show commitment to pursuing dentistry.
- Increase your volunteer and shadowing hours – Admissions officers always express the importance of consistency of extracurricular activities. Even though you’re taking a year off, continue to get involved in both dental volunteering and non-dental volunteering. Seeing more dental cases will only benefit you as a future dentist. Spending time in the dental field will reaffirm that you are pursuing a career you love.
- Gain work experience – I guarantee dental school will be draining on your bank account. Why not spend a year before dental school earning more money by working at a dental office, local clinic or lab? As a bonus, you’ll gain more dental experience for your application. If you’re unable to work in a dental-related setting, don’t stress! There are many other jobs that will give you a valuable and meaningful experience to talk about in interviews – allowing you to stand out from other applicants.
- Travel – Once you get into dental school, it could be difficult to find time to travel during the limited breaks. Exploring new places can expose you to new cultures, people and experiences that may help you improve your social and communication skills as a dentist.
When you apply to dental schools, be sure to present your very best to admissions officers. If you know you have more to offer, take the time to build up your resume. Don’t worry about “wasting” one or two years because the experiences you gain during a gap year will be invaluable to your future career as a health professional. A gap year can also prevent burning out right after college. Remember, dentists come from all different backgrounds with different experiences. Focus on the idea of becoming a dentist, not when you’ll finish the race.
~Priscilla Leung, member, Predental Advisory Committee
Join ASDA predental chapters and clubs nationwide in celebrating National Predental Week, Oct. 2-8, 2016! This week, ASDA will be promoting resources and events for predental members. Predentals that join ASDA during Predental Week will be eligible for prizes and special incentives. Click here to find out more and to participate in the Instagram challenge.
2016 Predental Week is sponsored by: