Making the most of your Gap Year

Taking a gap year is a big decision. It may be something you had originally planned to do, or might be the result of things not going to plan. This is really common. Planned or unplanned, it’s important that you make the most of the opportunities that a gap year presents. With so much time on your hands it can be hard to be productive.

Setting yourself goals

With that in mind, you should set yourself key goals that you plan to achieve that year. This might be to travel, learn a new language, or to improve some of the skills you already have. The key with setting goals is being intentional: it’s very easy to lose track of time and find yourself months into your gap year before grasping all the opportunities in front of you.

Being intentional: planning and SMART goals 

To make the most of your gap year, it’s important to create a rough schedule or plan which you can hold yourself accountable to. Turn your goals into more specific smaller goals through the SMART framework:

S – Specific (choose a goal which is specific, rather than vague)
M – Measurable (you have a way of identifying if you were successful)
A – Achievable (make sure they’re realistic)
R – Relevant (your goals should be relevant to the wider aim or mission)
T – Time-bound (set yourself a deadline to achieve them)

What should I do in my gap year?

Use your gap year to develop yourself: focus on your skills and knowledge. If you’re re-applying to medical school, use the gap year to level up your application. Getting involved in social causes, volunteering, and continuous learning can boost your application by giving you new things to talk about in your personal statement and interviews. Volunteering allows you to learn so much about who you are outside of school, as does working, travelling, or starting something new. 

What I learned during my gap year

Before embarking on my gap year, I hadn’t realised how much I struggled to cope with change. When my original plan for my gap year fell through, this became even more evident. It’s important to learn to be resilient: lots of things in life don’t go to plan, and being able to cope with and adapt to change is an excellent skill to demonstrate during medical school interviews.

I struggled with feeling like I was missing out, especially when I saw all my friends ready to leave home to go to university. It’s easy to feel left behind, but this isn’t true! Progress looks different for everybody, and you shouldn’t feel limited to what other people are doing or the pathways they are following. At the times you are feeling FOMO, surround yourself with friends and family. Get stuck in – stay connected with your friends who did go to university, start new hobbies, and grasp new opportunities to make new friends and gain work experience.

It can be easy to lose sight of your end goal and become demotivated, and it can also be hard to reverse this. After Results Day, I was revising for the UCAT and found it hard to keep going and revise, especially when all my friends were heading to university. I also struggled with burnout from A-levels.

Give yourself time to recover before commencing with your plans.

Use your SMART goals to track your progress and motivate you to keep going and see your next steps. Not getting into medicine on your first go doesn’t mean it’s not meant to be. By making the most of your gap year through SMART goals, you can maximise your chances at getting the place. 

My final piece of advice would be to reflect on what didn’t go right the first time. It’s key that you identify where in your application you might have fallen short of all the criteria. For example, in my previous application, I didn’t apply strategically according to the criteria of each medical school, which minimised my chances of getting a place. If you identify what in your application went wrong, you’ll be able to learn from this. 

By Sharon Inyama

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