Advice from admissions officers

The Gap Year in the Eyes of Admissions

Posted by Carolyn Feller, M.S.Ed. on July 01, 2014

“I am thinking of taking a year off and have finished all my prerequisites. What do you suggest I do?”

As an Admissions officer at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, I am often faced with this question. An intense undergraduate career can leave you burnt out. It may be a good idea to take a gap year before attempting dental school. You can take the year to refresh and rejuvenate so you will have the energy needed to tackle the rigors of dental school.

What should you consider when taking a gap year?

There are a variety of options to keep in mind when planning your gap year, glide year or bridge year. No matter what you term it, it is essential to focus on your goal of attending dental school in the next year.

I recommend making a list of pros and cons for taking a gap year.

Ask yourself: What is the purpose of taking a gap year? What will I miss out on if I take it? If I don’t take a gap year what do I risk? Jot down ideas and possibilities. Bounce ideas off sounding boards like friends, family and academic counselors.

One of my students was getting married and decided that time off was her best option so she wouldn’t be distracted by her wedding in dental school. Even though she knew a gap year was her best option, she was also worried about how it would look on her application. I suggested she become a dental assistant and pick up a community college science class she had never taken. This way, she could plan her wedding, be flexible to interview, make some money, and stay engaged in science and dentistry.

Here are some good options to consider for your gap year:

Stay engaged with dentistry. Take a course, so study skills remain sharp. Find time to shadow, attend conferences, read about the latest technological advances in dentistry, or volunteer at community clinics.

Research is also a good option, but it isn’t for everyone. Some students land paid opportunities at hospitals or dental schools. Research experience is a strong addition to any application. If you are interested in trying it out, a gap year is the perfect time.

Not all students have taken the DAT by the end of their undergraduate careers. If you have not taken the DAT, don’t rush it. If you do not perform well, you have to wait another 90 days to take it, so consider taking a review course and prepare well in advance. Set yourself up to receive the score you want the first time you take the test.

Traveling abroad, learning another language, and engaging in service and volunteer work is always appreciated by the admissions committee at my university. These experiences demonstrate understanding of a wide variety of people and backgrounds.

Don’t forget that you may be interviewing during your gap year. For this reason, make sure your schedule is somewhat flexible. If you are abroad you may have difficulty attending interviews. If you are working, let your employer know you may be interviewing.

Another factor that often gets pushed aside is undergraduate student loan debt. Address your financial situation now so that you won’t have to worry as much during dental school. Check in with your financial aid office before you graduate about the payback process and create a plan for paying back undergraduate debt and paying for your future dental education.

Whatever you decide to pursue in your gap year, the best advice I can provide is to “make the most of it.” In working with our admissions committee, I hear many of the same suggestions for those taking time off: Stay engaged with dentistry, but most importantly, come to dental school refreshed and ready to tackle the anticipated rigors. Remember, it is not a race to see who gets into dental school first – it is a journey. Stay focused and enjoy the journey that leads to your destination.

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About Carolyn Feller, M.S.Ed.:

Carolyn Feller, MSEd University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, Assistant Director of Admissions