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Academic Advising Center

Growth Year Planning

Many pre-professional students are choosing to take at least one year off after they graduate. In fact, over 60% of first-time applicants to medical school apply after their senior year or later. Having a “Growth Year” between undergraduate studies and beginning professional school is often beneficial for applicants and does not hurt your chances of admission as long as you continue to strengthen your application. It allows time to gain additional life experiences, continue volunteering, or pursue non-academic interests. Many students ask what they should do during their time off. To create the best plan for you, it’s essential to evaluate yourself as an applicant and determine if you have any weaknesses in your preparation. Addressing any weaknesses will make you a stronger applicant when you apply.

Step 1: Complete the Pre-Health Application Assessment Form and watch the Growth Year Planning workshop.
Step 2: Determine where your biggest weaknesses are (if any).
Step 3: Create a growth year plan that addresses any weaknesses.
See the advice below for ideas on creating your plan.

Academic Options

Take Additional Undergraduate Science Courses

If you did not take many additional upper-level science courses while earning your degree you may enroll in any university that allows “post-bac” or “non-degree” status and take additional upper-level science courses, or earn a second bachelor’s degree in a science major. Please discuss your plans with an advisor at the school you wish to attend. UF does not admit students to post-bac status to complete a second degree (except for the UF Online program). Many professional schools prefer traditional based classroom settings over online courses. UF may limit the courses available to non-degree seeking students, but some science courses are available.

Post-baccalaureate Programs

If you have already completed the prerequisite courses, you have multiple Post Baccalaureate options if you need to improve your science GPA. If you pursue one of these options, be sure to also maintain your involvement in the community in order to show a continued commitment to the profession.

If you have not completed the pre-requisite courses or completed them more than three to five years ago (depending on the medical schools), consider doing a ‘career changer’ post-bac program. For post baccalaureate program options, please search for programs on the AAMC site.

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Special Master’s Programs (1-2 years)

If you have already taken multiple science courses beyond the prerequisites or if you prefer graduate level coursework, you can apply to a type of graduate program known as a Special Master’s Program (SMP). Special Masters Programs are 1-2 year programs designed for students who want to improve their science GPA for admission to a health professional school. They are usually non-thesis based programs. In Special Masters programs you:

  • Take classes which are the same or approximate to those taken by first year medical students.
  • Must have earned a BS/BA degree. Minimum GPA and MCAT (or GRE) may be required. Letters of recommendation are usually required.
  • May receive assistance in obtaining additional clinical experience.
  • May get MCAT prep and personal statement essay writing help.

You can search for programs on the AAMC website (search for “academic record enhancers”) or see the list of programs offered in Florida below.

Traditional Masters Programs (2-3 years)

Traditional Masters Programs are a good option for students who have an interest in research or a career in science as a backup to professional school, or if you need additional time to improve your GPA. Most programs are 2-3 years in length and include research and thesis requirements. Minimum GPA requirements, GRE scores, and strong letters of recommendation are typically required. Master’s programs in non-science areas (Public Health, Healthcare Administration, Business, etc.) can complement medical programs but are not recommended for students who are trying to improve their science GPA. Below are some options for programs in Florida, however, this is not an exhaustive list. Please see university websites for additional program options.

International or off-shore medical (or veterinary) schools.

Some students who have weak GPAs choose to attend an international medical or veterinary school instead of taking additional years to strengthen their application for a U.S. school. Most off-shore schools are located in the Caribbean and can be a viable option for students who are not competitive for U.S. schools. Typically students spend the first 2 years on the island completing basic science coursework before returning to the U.S. to complete rotations in their 3rd and 4th years. There are many schools to choose from, however, only a few are specifically geared towards North American students, and thus prepare you well for the medical board exams. We encourage you to speak with a pre-health advisor to discuss these programs if you have any questions.

Non-Academic Options

If you don’t need to improve your GPA, you have many options during your growth year(s). Many students work during this time and continue service activities as volunteers. Others choose a formal service program such as Teach for America or the Peace Corp. Students with a strong interest in research may want to look at research internships. Below is just a sample of the many programs available for students looking for growth year opportunities. Ultimately, as long as you continue to demonstrate your interest in the profession and serving others, anything is OK!

Program Options

This is just a sample of some of the formal programs that are available to students who have graduated. Please note that OHLPA does not endorse any particular programs. Students should do due diligence when investigating and choosing programs.

International Opportunities

See a complete list of International Volunteer Opportunities, just scroll to the bottom of our Volunteer Resources.