Tag Archives: student debt

Taking a Gap Year before Medical School

Deciding when to attend medical school—and therefore when to apply—is one of the most important decisions that you’ll face as an applicant. Sometimes, taking a gap year before applying can be a beneficial decision, both personally and academically. To make the best use of a gap year, students should reflect on their career goals, and use the time to both confirm their interest in medicine and strengthen their candidacy for medical school.

According to Washington University in St. Louis, students should choose gap year activities carefully, and seek ways to grow as a competitive, interesting applicant.

“For example, a student with a marginal GPA would be best served by using that GAP year to strengthen his or her academic record more than taking time off to travel abroad to engage in volunteer work. Likewise, someone with strong academic credentials but no experience in medically related activities would best be served using that time to engage in activities that demonstrate a capacity and passion for such work. Either way, it’s best to always “stay connected” to medicine during this year off. Unless you are an academic superstar with a stellar record in every way, I would be very careful using your GAP year to simply travel the world and nothing else. Use your time wisely. For a great list of ideas, check out GAP Year Resources.”

Taking a gap year or years before medical school is common and encouraged. In 2015-16, the mean age of applicants at anticipated matriculation to medical school was 24 years old for women and 25 years old for men (AAMC).

Robert J. Mayer, faculty associate dean of admissions at Harvard Medical School, has noticed an increasing trend of applicants taking a gap year over his ten years in admissions at HMS. “[When I first started] about 60 percent were coming out of college. Now, it’s about 35 percent.”

According to Duke University, more than 75% of Duke students apply to medical school after they graduate, and the average age among the incoming Duke Medical School class is 24. Duke’s Office of Health Professions Advising states, “Students who engage in a year or more of experiential activity after graduation and before entering a health professions school are more mature, resilient, confident, and accomplished… and competitive.”

Northwestern University’s Academic Advising Center notes the struggle pre-meds face in managing the application process alongside the responsibilities of being an upperclassman:

“Balancing school, extracurricular activities, clinical volunteer experience and research is difficult enough. Throw in the MCAT, medical school applications, and interviews and the task can be truly overwhelming. A year spent working, completing a post-bac program, volunteering or doing research prior to applying to medical school, known as a “gap year” or a “bridge year” can be a great option! In fact, about 60% of NU students who are accepted to medical school take at least one (sometimes more!) gap/bridge year(s).”

In addition to taking a break after college to recharge and reflect, there are a number of ways you can use your gap year to make yourself a stronger applicant.

Strengthen Your Academics:

Improve your GPA. Most students see their academic records improve during their senior year; you have more control over the courses you take, you’re used to the college environment, and more of your courses are within your chosen major. The transcript you submit to medical schools during your senior year might look different than the one you’d submit a year later, after you’ve finished your undergraduate coursework. Waiting a year to apply to med school gives you an additional semester to take extra and/or high level coursework that could strengthen your academic record. Moreover, taking extra time gives you the opportunity to enroll in a post-bac program (more on these below) to improve your GPA during the year you are applying. If you are concerned that you may be applying with a less than ideal GPA, here are some more helpful tips.

Study for the MCAT exam. Studying for the MCAT while balancing a full-course load, an internship, and the rest of your many responsibilities can be quite challenging. Taking time off can be a great way to give yourself extra study time. Most importantly, it allows you the flexibility to retake the test if you are unhappy with your results the first time around.

Gain Medically-Related Experience

Gaining real-world perspectives on medicine can reinforce whether medicine is the right path for you; and if so, help you explore which areas of medicine most interest you. In addition, it can also strengthen your admissions chances. There are many ways in which you can gain experience in the field. Here are some the best:

Research: Participating in laboratory or clinical research is a phenomenal way to explore the field of medicine with an especially scientific focus. While many students pursue research while on campus during the school year, there are also numerous research opportunities at medical schools and research centers over the summer and beyond. Just like finding the right job or internship, it is important to find a research position that is a good fit for your abilities, interests, and goals. So do your research!

Volunteer Work: 
Medically-related volunteer opportunities are a great way to give back while also gaining hands-on experience. Working with patients in a clinical setting is beneficial for your own professional development and in the application process. Almost all volunteer efforts will help you to develop communication skills, motivation and teamwork. And sometimes, they’ll provide you with a good reference!

It can be equally beneficial to work for a local organization, such as a hospital or community clinic, or a national organization, such as Americorps or GlobeMed; it depends on the particular opportunity available, and whether it matches your interests. There are many resources to help you find volunteer opportunities, including the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), and the International Medical Volunteers Association. As always, the trick is to find an opportunity that matches your interests and rounds out your experiences.

Post Baccalaureate Programs:  Post-bac programs are especially useful for students who need to bolster their GPAs. They also allow college graduates to fill gaps in their academic record by taking one or all of the courses required to apply to medical school. Some post-bac programs cater to career changers (those who need to complete most or all of the science core), and others to academic enhancers (those who have completed the core but are taking advanced science electives to improve their science GPA, or prepare for the MCAT), and some accept both. Programs are offered across the country, by colleges large (e.g. CornellUSC) and small (e.g. BrandeisBryn Mawr)

Additionally, some programs, such as those offered by Columbia University and NYU, offer “linkage programs” with their affiliated medical schools. These programs help especially competitive students “link” directly into the university’s medical school following the completion of the post-bac program. 

Pay Down Debt

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), the median debt for medical students graduating in 2015 was $183,000.  It’s important, therefore, to try to limit any other debts you might have beforehand. A recent US News article recommends paying particular attention to credit card balances, as having a high amount of consumer debt can limit your ability to borrow money to pay for medical school.

There are many reasons, both personal and professional, to take a gap year before applying to medical school, and there are a variety of ways to use that time productively and effectively. For more information, or to talk about the best options for you, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help.

The Higher Cost of Higher Learning

As tuition costs continue to increase, more and more recent graduates are saddled with large college debt, and many are questioning the value of a college education. Is a college degree still worth it? How can students ensure that they are making a financially sound investment in their future? And what is driving the spiraling increase in college costs?

The Cost of College

The cost of college is far outstripping increases in U.S. wages and inflation. According to CNBC News, “Between 2000 and 2013, the average level of tuition and fees at a four-year public college rose by 87 percent (in 2014 dollars); during that same period, the median income for the middle fifth of American households advanced just 24 percent.”

Over the past 35 years, college tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled, while tuition at private universities has increased approximately 271% since 1975.

“If you look at the long-term trend, [college tuition] has been rising almost six percent above the rate of inflation,” said Ray Franke, a professor of education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “That’s brought immense pressure from the media and general public, asking whether college is still worth it.”

According to CNBC News, costs have risen sharply as schools compete for top faculty, build and maintain state-of-the-art facilities, and attempt to attract prospective students with impressive campus amenities. There is also the increasing cost of college athletic programs and coaching salaries, especially at small Division I programs.

Another key factor in rising costs is the continual expansion of school administration. A professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, performed an analysis which found that between 1975 and 2008, the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from only 11,614 to 12,019; in contrast, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183. Moreover, the compensation for high-ranking university administrators is trending toward seven-figure salaries. Ironically, teaching salaries have remained relatively flat.

Despite this rapid – and alarming – increase in the operating costs of universities, it is important to note that, according to U.S. News & World Report, almost no one pays the actual sticker price. In 2014-2015, almost 90 percent of incoming freshmen at private universities were given some type of institutional grant or scholarship aid, according to a study from the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Student Debt

As public subsidies for schools have dropped to their lowest numbers in 10 years, college students are now paying half or more of their education costs, according to Delta Price Project researchers. As a result, the total level of student debt outstanding is at more than $1.2 trillion, there are more than 40 million borrowers, and the average balance is $29,000.

This large debt has resulted in significant life changes for recent college graduates. Men and women struggling with student debt “are postponing marriage, childbearing and home purchases, and…pretty evidently limiting the percentage of young people who start a business or try to do something entrepreneurial,” said Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and the former Republican governor of Indiana. “Every citizen and taxpayer should be concerned about it.”

In general, data still continues to show that college graduates have more career options and financial opportunity than those who have only earned a high school diploma. In 2012, full-time employees with bachelor’s degrees earned 60 percent more than workers with only a high school diploma. However, graduates dealing with large student debt may not experience as many benefits.

Additionally, high debt and lower job security has resulted in more and more students choosing to pursue higher-paying careers in the tech industry and financial services. Fewer graduates are seeking professions like social work, education, and health care. Similarly, the debt created by college costs may also cause graduates to be more risk-averse and less entrepreneurial. A study by Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania State found that more student debt led to the formation of fewer small businesses between 2000 and 2010, with a 14 percent decline for small businesses with one to four employees.

The Value of a College Degree

Despite the consequences of student debt, Americans continue to believe strongly in the importance of higher education. A survey of 1,000 parents conducted by Discover Student Loans found that 95 percent want a college education for their child, but increasingly parents are becoming more price-conscious or unable to pay for college. 25% of the survey’s parents said they could not contribute to their child’s college education.

“Credentialism” is the trend in many professions to screen for higher qualifications for jobs that may not require them. A 2014 study by Burning Glass, a labor analytics firm, revealed that while only 42 percent of current management employees had earned bachelor’s degrees, 68 percent of managerial job postings required a bachelor’s degree. In computer and mathematical positions, 39 percent of workers had bachelor’s degrees, and in contrast, 60 percent of new job listings called for them.

According to Time Money, “It is not that college graduates are earning so much more, but that the incomes and economic opportunities for high-school-only graduates have collapsed.” The bachelor’s degree is becoming a requirement for many middle-skill careers that previously did not necessitate having one.

According to CNN Money, Goldman Sachs reports that many students do not benefit from going to mediocre colleges, ones that rank in the bottom 25% of all universities. These students may be better off going to 2-year schools or doing other kinds of training. Students who attend top-tier universities and major in business, healthcare, and tech see much higher returns on their education in terms of future salaries.

The Impact of Specific Majors

Students are increasingly focused on particular college majors that will lead to employment and have greater earning potential. According to U.S. News, “The prevailing wisdom and research indicate a growing emphasis on – and necessity for – career-ready degrees such as computer science, engineering and finance – often included as part of STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).”

Engineering, finance and accounting majors receive a specific technical education and often have the opportunity to intern at companies that are preparing and considering them for full-time jobs. Many of these candidates get direct offers after their internships.

Nevertheless, Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, warns against choosing a vocational major based on the hot jobs of today, because these positions might not exist by a student’s graduation date. Highly tailored majors, such as social media or sports management, are popular but can result in unemployment or settling for low-paying jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree.

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

“Graduates studying lower paying majors such as arts, education and psychology face the highest risk of a negative return,” notes Goldman. “For them, college may not increasingly be worth it.”

However, college education is complex and cannot be simply reduced to a cost-benefit analysis. Peter Cappelli, asks families to be more realistic about the role of college degrees and to appreciate the actual merits of a traditional broad-based education, often called a liberal-arts education.

“To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.”

According to U.S. News, “employers readily identify the creative, communicative and problem-solving acumen traditionally associated with liberal arts majors as the most valuable attributes of new hires.”

Liberal arts majors are not only finding employment in education and the creative industries. Charles River Associates, a litigation consulting firm that serves the financial services and technology industries, mostly recruits liberal arts graduates.

“We are hiring almost exclusively from liberal arts schools,” explains CRA Vice President Monica Noether, because intellectual curiosity is “exactly the kind of thinking [that] good liberal arts programs do to train their students.”

In Conclusion

Choosing an educational path is an extremely complicated – and extremely individual – process. No matter what today’s prevailing trends may be, there is no one-size-fits-all plan that will guarantee high salaries and low debt.

However, there are steps that all students and families should take in order to identify their best-fit options. A college education remains valuable, but it is more important than ever to plan your journey in the most informed and reasonable manner possible. During high school, pursue volunteer and internship opportunities that will allow you to gain exposure to careers that might interest you, and speak to people in your fields of interest to learn how they found success in their chosen career paths. By clarifying your strengths and interests earlier, you may be able to identify scholarship and grant opportunities that will further help you afford your educational goals.

By gaining a greater understanding of your future goals, you can make decisions regarding colleges and academic programs that will allow you to grow and thrive, as well as weigh a college’s features against the price of tuition. In short, you’ll be able to find the best college for the best price.

That said, identifying possible paths should not mean committing to one. Remain open to exploring the variety of academic and career options that you encounter. Once you begin college, there are many resources available to assist you in course and career planning. You should take every advantage of these support tools and networks, as these will only further help you maximize the value of your college experience.

The journey of college admissions is an exciting yet stressful road. Collegiate Gateway is always happy to help, as you embark on this inspiring process of educational possibilities!


Surprising News about Affordable Colleges

With the student debt crisis at the forefront of social and political debate – and tuition growing ever higher – students and families are increasingly concerned about the costs of attending college. More and more, pundits and families alike are evaluating colleges based on data regarding graduates’ earnings.  Payscale, for example, ranks institutions based on the  “potential financial return of attending each school given the cost of tuition and the payoff in median lifetime earnings associated with each school.” Similarly, more and more discussion has emerged regarding the profitability of certain majors, and the purpose of higher education generally has been called into question.  For example, the Thiel Fellowships pay students to pursue scientific and technological research and entrepreneurship in lieu of going to college.

Students still interested in going to college, however, should take note of newly released data indicating that the most affordable college options may be, surprising, the Ivy League. According to statistics from U.S. News & World Report, many of the best colleges in the country are relative steals for the lucky few who earn admission. For example, among Princeton University students who graduate with debt, the average is $5,096 total for all four years – the lowest sum for alumni leaving a national university with debt. In fact, on average, students receiving financial aid from the Ivy League paid about a quarter of the sticker price.

Moreover, most graduates leave with smaller (sometimes significantly smaller) debts than peers who attended less selective schools; some of the schools sending graduates out into the world shouldering the greatest debt burdens are campuses that don’t top the rankings and best-of lists, like Sacred Heart, and Delaware State. Among students who took on debt during college, those who graduated from Massachusetts’ Wheelock College, for example, ended up deepest in the red, by an average of about $50,000.

If that seems surprising, consider that the biggest-name universities are also those who receive the greatest amount of funding from successful graduates, with 66 universities possessing endowments topping $1 billion each. They often use these endowments to offset the cost of admissions, providing generous help to lower- and middle-income students.  For example, Harvard University uses its $30 billion endowment to provide 59% of its students with need-based aid, reducing the average cost to $15,486, a 73% discount.

So, the best financial deal for you may be to apply to schools you would not have expected – of course, you need to qualify academically in addition to qualifying for financial aid. Acceptance rates at Ivy League and other top-tier universities hover at around 10 percent or less.