Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Filling the Gap: Making the Most of a Gap Year

Careers in health care often require additional study beyond the undergraduate years. Some students enroll in graduate or professional school directly after college graduation, but others take a “gap year” or more before they can begin further study.

Although taking a gap year can be discouraging for students who worry that they’re falling behind, it can also be a great opportunity to enhance your credentials. Some students take additional classes to improve their GPA or complete prerequisites; others gain clinical experience, conduct research or volunteer. A gap year is also a good opportunity to reflect on your values and goals and mature. Two Elmhurst College alums share their stories below.

Jessica Hulesch ’09, student at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine

During my gap year, I worked on strengthening my résumé as a future vet student. I took a few more classes at Elmhurst College, and I gained some experience working with large animals in Wiscon­sin. Mostly, though, I worked on mentally prepar­ing myself to apply again, because I think I simply wasn’t ready the first time around.

The time off also gave me a chance to stop and reflect on my life and my plans for the future. Hav­ing the conviction to reapply made me sure that being a veterinarian is what I want to do with my life. I also took time to hang out with friends and enjoy my time away from school. Looking back, I’m very grateful to have had that year.

 Jessica Hulesch '09 (in red) caring for a rhino in South Africa.

Donald Skenandore ’10, student at Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University

I prepared for the MCAT the summer after graduat­ing from Elmhurst College while completing my application for medical school. I applied for travel awards to health conferences, where I networked with medical school personnel and recruiters. Fur­thermore, I enrolled in postgraduate classes (includ­ing biochemistry and microbiology) at the Univer­sity of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to increase my GPA.
I received my MCAT score during my first se­mester at UWM. The score was far too low to make me competitive, which was very discouraging after I had sacrificed an entire summer studying for it. I knew I would have to retake the test, so I picked myself back up and started studying again. At the same time, I was working full time as an in-home caregiver. After the semester ended I began work­ing as a janitor at UWM to earn extra cash.

Along with work, I volunteered at South Eastern Oneida Tribal Services (SEOTS) to give back to my American Indian tribe, which has supported me in many ways. To improve my test-taking skills for the MCAT I applied for, and earned, a travel award to an MCAT/GRE workshop. Afterward, I received a full-ride scholarship for a master’s program in applied biology at Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) and went through a government training program with the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) through the Department of Homeland Security. After a spring and summer semester at ECSU I decided to change my course of direction toward a more medically focused master’s program at Rosalind Franklin University.

The gap year experience was rewarding in many ways. It helped me educate myself on the health care system and gave me an opportunity to build my confidence. My unique experience with the government training program gave me an edge over my peers. It provided me leadership skills in real-world experiences and solidified my ability to thrive in stressful, fast-changing environments. My upper-level coursework during my gap years helped improve my GPA to make me a more competitive applicant. One of the most important attributes I gained during my gap year was the confidence to successfully and effectively teach myself just about any new subject without the help of a teacher. Overall, the ultimate reward was seeing that hard work and sacrifice can pay off in the end.

 Donald Skenandore '10

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