By: Julia Horiates, Honors College Senior
“The days are long, but the years are short,” is a quote my mom often repeats in our conversations about school. I’ve been in school for about 16 years. High school flew by and coming into college, I didn’t want to believe anyone saying that this time at ECU would go by even faster. (They were right.)
I’ll be leaving East Carolina University this May with the greatest memories I could have ever dreamed of making – shout out and thank you to my core group of friends: Justin Safin, Caroline Balch, Tyler Walston, and Evan Butler. But what happens when you don’t have it figured out? What happens if you think you know what you want to pursue after graduation, but aren’t entirely sure?
The stigmatized words, “Gap years” come into play.
As a dual-degree student, I had no time to fill out my applications to medical school and properly prepare for the MCAT during my college career. Out of my 8 semesters here, I’ve taken over 18 hours for 5 of them, in addition to classes over 4 summer sessions. Add in my time to working at least 2 jobs, volunteering as an EMT, and co-founding a chapter of the national non-profit, Timmy Global Health.
Pros? I’m graduating with a 2 separate degrees, a BS in Biology and a BA in English. I’ll be debt-free. I had an amazing college experience! Cons? I’ll be starting medical school later than I initially thought.
While I will use my time to shadow and work towards my paramedic license, I also plan to use my gap years to explore other areas of interest to ensure I want to go to medical school. From exploring climate research and conservation internships, volunteering in hospitals in other countries, teaching middle school literature in Philadelphia, I have a couple opportunities in different programs lined up for this summer and fall. Soon after, I plan to take the MCAT and start preparing for applications. I’ll also have to be working as well. These gap years mean I’m taking my time and pursuing things to confirm I’ll be making the right decision with my future.
So my advice to anyone reading this and possibly debating gap years is this: Don’t rush into it. Any professional program is a long and intense process and if you are any bit unsure of it, take some time off. Don’t start a program you’re not sure if you want to. Don’t accumulate the debt if you’re not whole-heartedly in it. Don’t push yourself to take more if you really need to decompress after college. Do make sure to explore your interests. Do have a plan and a timeline so you go back to school if that’s your initial goal. And lastly, do be flexible. Gap years can change everything.
If someone told me four years ago I would be taking two gap years before entering medical school, I would have laughed. I had a different mentality where I was full-throttle-ahead-nothing-will-stop-me. And I know in some ways I still have that spirit, but for now I need to focus on graduating and what will happen next. Maybe I’ll end up attending medical school in Fall 2019 or maybe I won’t, but wherever I end up is where I am supposed to be and I’ll be happy.