The Gap Year

Figuring out if taking a “gap year” is right for you is always a stressful process. Whether you want to do it strengthen your application, to work and save money, to take time off and relax before dental (med/pharm/vet/etc.) school, to travel, or for some other reason, its definitely a very personal decision. In this post you’ll find my reasons for taking a gap year, what I did throughout, my reflection, and how to decide whether you need to take a gap year.

Why I decided to take a gap year:

I decided I was going to take a gap year in my junior year of college. Travel was one of the biggest reasons I chose to take time off. Personally, I wanted to study abroad during a summer term of college and therefore, delay taking my DAT. I also wanted to travel a bit through senior year and while in my application cycle (gap year) before continuing on to dental school. Another reason I waited a year was to be able to put out the best application possible. My parents, research mentors, and committee advisors were supportive of my gap year, but didn’t really understand why I was doing this if my grades, DAT scores, and extracurriculars were already great. I was a solid applicant on paper, but I personally didn’t feel ready (something I now know is perfectly alright). Applying to dental school is expensive! I wanted to make sure that I put my best self out there so that I (thankfully) only had to apply once. My senior year grades added to my GPA, and I added lots of shadowing, volunteer work, and research. I even had time to step out of the box and create an iOS app prototype that was chosen to be on display at Pitt’s Best-In-Technology fair for Mobile Apps. By the time I applied to dental school in June (after I graduated from Pitt), I was fully confident and prepared.

Taking a gap year has its benefits, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified to have a whole year off. I thought to myself, “what am I going to do for a full year…?” , “should I stay in Pittsburgh or move back to Buffalo…?” , “should I take more classes…?”, “should I be doing something to strengthen my application just in case I don’t get in this cycle…?”, which leads me to the most daunting question: “what if I don’t get into dental school?!” (you have to just settle your mind and be hopeful with that last one). I was pretty frantic and scared at times.

So how did I figure out my whole gap year before embarking on it? Well, I didn’t… I took it one step at a time. In June, I had no idea what July was going to hold. In July, I had no idea what August would hold… and so on. But I had faith that as long as I knew I was doing my best with this big unknown journey ahead of me – everything would fall into place.

My gap year timeline:

  • May 2016: Graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Neuroscience, minor in Chemistry, and a Certificate in Conceptual Foundations of Medicine.
    • Finished up projects in my two research labs.
    • May – June 2016: Received a job offer at the Allegheny Hospital Network in Pittsburgh, PA for: Certified Neurophysiological Intraoperative Monitoring Technologist. GREAT salary, great benefits, amazing job working to monitor patients neurophysiological data through electrical potentials during neurosurgeries … but after lots of contemplation I decided it was not for me in the long run.
  • June 2016:
    • Applied to Dental School!
    • Received a job offer as a General Dentistry Assistant in Buffalo, NY. Took it!
    • Went to Bonnaroo and Nashville, TN!
    • Explored lots of Pittsburgh before moving 😦
  • July 2016:
    • Lots of dental school secondary applications to do!
    • Working full time as a General Dentistry Assistant.
    • Took a trip to Grenada, West Indies (Caribbean) for a week so visit S.O in Medical School.
    • Threw a grad party!
  • August 2016:
    • More secondaries.
    • Moved from Pittsburgh to Buffalo.
    • Job transfer: started working full time at Buffalo Oral Surgery (until March, 2017). Great overall experience learning to assist in oral surgeries, learning about insurances and practice management, great patient contact, managing office traffic, etc. I talked about this experience a TON in dental school interviews, (along with assisting in general dentistry), and am so glad I decided to leave my neurosurgery tech position to do something full-time in the dental field.
    • Received first interview invite on August 29th!
    • Started weekly Aerial Yoga and Cake Decorating classes.
  • September 2016:
    • First interview. (Travelled: New York City)
    • Full-time job.
    • Continued weekly Aerial Yoga and Cake Decorating classes.
  • October 2016:
    • Two more interviews. (Travelled: Los Angeles, Minneapolis)
    • Full-time job.
    • Continued weekly Aerial Yoga and Cake Decorating classes.
  • November 2016:
    • One more interview. (Travelled: Cleveland, Phoenix)
    • Full-time job.
    • Visit Pittsburgh.
    • Continued weekly Aerial Yoga.
    • Enjoyed thanksgiving and Bills games with the cousins!
  • December 2016:
    • December 1st, aka “national dental school decision day” – got into all 4 schools I interviewed at!!!
    • Received 2 more interview invites. (Chicago, NYC once again)
    • Full-time job.
    • My Birthday! (getting into dental school just three days earlier was a great gift).
    • Put down deposit to Dental School: ASDOH!!!
    • Trip to Ashburn, VA to visit S.O + his family.
    • Enjoyed Christmas break with family.
    • New years weekend in Pittsburgh, PA with S.O + friends.
    • Started online course: Anatomy (through the University of New England) – required to take by ASDOH before matriculation.
  • January 2017
    • Continue taking Anatomy.
    • Continue Full-Time job.
    • Continue aerial yoga.
    • S.O comes to Buffalo to see hometown (sounds like an episode of the bachelor franchise) and officially meet family!
  • February 2017
    • Continue taking Anatomy.
    • Continue Full-Time job.
    • Visit family in Toronto.
  • March 2017
    • Continue taking Anatomy.
    • Visit family in Toronto.
    • Continue Full-Time job until end of 1st week of March.
    • Visit Grenada again! 13 Days with S.O and friends on this beautiful island.
    • Create blog.
  • April 2017
    • Continue taking Anatomy – finish 2nd week of April.
    • Visit family in Toronto.
    • RELAX

Reflections:

Now that I am at the end of my gap year, i’ve really taken the time to reflect. One thing I found honestly frustrating was that people (especially those in my hometown who were not close to me) always said in distaste, “You’re taking a year off? Oh, so you’re wasting a year… ” – this always irked me. No matter if someone, ‘near and dear’ or not, supports your decision, you ultimately are doing this for you. This is your journey, and you have gone through the 4 years of undergrad, the DAT, the research, volunteering, shadowing, the stress, the rollercoaster… you are strong and incredibly capable, and your happiness matters. Do what makes you happy.

So, was my year a waste?! No! This year was a blessing of personal growth, accomplishment, and precious time. I got into dental school – my #1 goal. I got to spend a whole year with my parents – something I will cherish forever. My parents always get really emotional and tell me once i’m off to dental school we’ll never get this length of time back again – so I know it meant the world to them too. I stepped into the adult world and worked a full-time job; work taught me how to stand up for myself, have a strong and assertive voice, be authoritative and authentic, and learn the value of my earnings. I cultivated great friendships, networks, and skills I will take on to dental school. I got to travel! Because I wasn’t in school, every interview I went to I turned into a mini vacation, and also took not so mini vacations – all with my earnings. This was really empowering. Lastly, I feel that I have grown as a person immensely. All of the experiences above added to my growth, but I also took this time to tackle and overcome my anxiety. I read lots of self-help books and inspiring novels, took yoga and meditation classes, dedicated everyday to my physical and mental well-being, and am about to embark on a mindfulness training course! I would never in a million years take back this year; I feel stronger, kinder, healthier, joyful, more creative, and ready to take on the next big chapter of my life.

These next two months: i will be blogging, doing yoga classes almost daily, mindfulness and meditation trainings, a little more traveling, reading books, and watching tv series and movies, shopping, spending time with my dog, eating and cooking a ton, and doing anything that feeds my soul and gives me joy.

Now its your turn:

Questions to ask yourself when deciding to take a gap year:

  • Am I ready and confident to apply to professional school?
  • Is there anything else I want to pursue?
  • Have I talked to my advisors and mentors about my application?
  • Financially: can I afford the dental school application fee, to apply to multiple schools, and pay the secondary application fees? (it adds up!)
  • Financially: can I afford the travel expenses to go on (multiple) interviews?
  • On paper: am I a strong applicant? Do I have any areas I can work on to improve my application? Do I need a whole year to do so?
  • Do I need to raise my DAT or GPA?
    • Should I do a post-bacc?
    • Should I do a Master’s Program?
  • Do I have a personal reason that needs attending to?
  • If I take a gap year, what are some ideas of what I will do during that year?
    • research, volunteering, working, taking classes, traveling, etc.
  • etc.

Talk to your mentors, peers, and family. Gain insight, but take it with a grain of salt; you know yourself as a person, and as an applicant, best. Again, deciding to take a gap year is a very personal decision. Hopefully by sharing my experience, it will help you come one step closer to deciding if this is right for you!

4 thoughts on “The Gap Year

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I took two gap years and it was great decision for me. I really enjoyed them and started building up my resume and exploring the field I wanted to go into to make sure it was something I wanted to get a degree in.
    -Elizabeth | Confidentlyelegant.com

    Liked by 1 person

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