When to Apply
The best time to apply is when you are the strongest possible applicant. Work with HPA to reflect on your preparedness for health professions school, based on your understanding of what it takes to be a successful applicant. If you know that there are aspects of your candidacy that you could improve dramatically, you may want to reassess your timeline of application. In most cases, it's better to devote time, energy, and money to strengthening your academic record, gaining health-related experience or otherwise becoming a stronger candidate rather than to an application process when you aren't at your strongest.
Additionally, it's best to apply for the year when you want to begin, rather than trying to apply, be admitted, and then ask for your admission to be deferred to a future year. Schools have varying policies on deferment; you are advised not to assume that you will be allowed to defer. If you have plans for something you’d like to pursue in the year or two before entering medical school you should consider postponing your application. If you are not sure what to do, consult with a HPA adviser.
About 60-70% of Princeton applicants take time off between graduation and health professions school matriculation. There are a multitude of reasons for this:
The senior thesis is an impressive achievement, and will be a part of the application for those who apply in the senior year.
Grades tend to trend upward in the senior year, which can improve your candidacy.
Classes tend to get smaller in senior year, so letters of recommendation can be more detailed/stronger (and students can have a letter from the senior thesis adviser).
The time pressure to take MCAT is lessened – students applying as seniors often take MCAT between junior and senior year, using the summer to study.
The year off provides rich opportunity to expand your knowledge of health care, develop professionalism in a ‘real world’ setting, and help you reenergize after the intense college experience before taking on medical school expectations.
We have compiled a list of "Ten Reasons to Consider a Glide Year" that outlines the many reasons that students may have for taking time between Princeton and health professions school, as well as a list of sample activities that students have undertaken during their time off, available here: http://www.princeton.edu/hpa/opportunities/glide-year-opportunities/
Students who wish to take time off before beginning medical studies may start the HPA application processes in their senior year or wait until after they’ve graduated. If you decide that you would like to take more time off after graduating, you are encouraged to at least gather letters of recommendation.
Note that your age when you decide to apply does not bias medical schools against your application. The average age of matriculating medical students is 24, so taking a year or two off does not harm your chances. Applying early in your chosen application year, however, is to your advantage, since most schools are on a rolling admissions policy.