You may be considering a year out, and now is the time to think about it. Many universities are holding open days in the winter months, and applications generally close in February time. But is it really a good idea? The first thing to say is that most of the posts you read about the subject will be by someone who has intercalated, and I'm no exception. What is important is that you decide based on what's right for you, and here are a few things to think about.
What to do it in?
There are many degrees offered - a good starting place is intercalate.co.uk which can give you an idea of the courses available. You might know exactly what you want to do as a career and the choice is obvious, or you might choose something completely different for a change. It's a great opportunity to meet new people, and gain experience in new areas. However, there are challenges involved with the year, and it's important to weigh up your options before you decide.
The other consideration is that you may move universities, and therefore cities, to do your degree. This of course has its own costs and benefits, and it is important to find out things such as the cost of accommodation in the city you're moving to, which may impact on your decision.
Money is a big one, especially when people are paying such high fees. Currently, the NHS pays fees for any years over your fourth, so the tuition fees for an undergraduate intercalated degree are free. The downside of this is that student finance for maintenance stops after your fourth year. Although you do get NHS loans, they are often a lot less which you'll have for the two years you are still in medical school. The other thing to remember is, you're more likely to be a 'normal student' with fewer contact hours, meaning you can get a part-time job. This could help cover the living costs of an extra year.
If you decide to do a research year such as a BMedSci, there will often be grants available. I recommend spending time looking for funding which might match your project. Apply early as lots of the funding only applies if you're not already doing the project. If you're considering a Masters, you'll have to find out what support is available, as you are unlikely to get this covered by the student finance. However, departments may offer bursaries for medical students to do a Masters. Universities are usually happy to provide advice and often this can be very helpful.
"I'm already doing a five-year degree!" This is what I thought before I came to university, and I never considered taking an extra year out. However, one extra year at university doesn't make much difference to your overall career, and the skills you could gain from it are likely to push you further. (It also means that you graduate with the people who started university after your non-medic friends graduated - and makes you feel really old!)
The main thing to consider with timing is that by doing an extra year, you will move into the year below. This might be a good thing if most of your friends are also doing it, or if you know people in the year below already. However, it can be the reason many people decide not to intercalate. This has to be your decision, and you shouldn't feel pressured either way.
Which year to do it out of?
Which year to take the degree depends on your course, when exams are and how easy you think it will be to fit back in. Many people take it straightaway, before starting clinical medicine. I personally didn't want to take it before finals, but many people do and are fine. Depending on the course you apply for you may have to be from a certain year. Often Master's degrees require you to be out of 3rd year or above. In reality, the year you come out of doesn't really make a difference.
What if I decide I don't want to do one?
Most people will decide not to do one, and those extra points won't make much difference on your job applications. Having something to talk about in interviews is more important than the degree itself. Consider using an SSC to do some research, if you're lucky you could end up with your name on a paper and not have to worry about the cost of a year out! Having a BSc/BMedSci/MA at the end of your name probably won't make you a better doctor, which is, at the end of the day what we are all aiming for.
But wait, there's more!
If you think you want a year out, but probably not to do a degree, that's okay! It is possible to take a year out to see if medicine really is for you. Lots of people do it; they get jobs or travel. I know people going abroad for six months for a research project - as long as you have a reason, your medical school should at least consider letting you take the year out.
So good luck if you decide to apply, and good luck if you don't!
What did you decide to do? Was your year out worth it? Leave a comment below to help others who are deciding.
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