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Should You Take Time Off Before Grad School?

Whether you’re a college freshman or a senior getting reading to graduate, there’s always that daunting question in the back of your mind for after you graduate: so what’s next?

For many students, aside from getting a job, the next logical, sequential step after earning that diploma is to hit the books again—at grad school. But instead of starting grad school immediately after receiving an undergraduate degree, more and more students are taking gap years in between. From internships to backpacking in Europe, gap years can provide opportunities to experiences you may otherwise never have—but should you consider taking one too? While you may definitely think grad school is in your future, before you break out the GRE study guide, take a look at why you may or not want to take some time off before starting back up again.

So why should I take a year off?

Sometimes, the answer is as simple as “some students need the year to regroup and think about their reason for going to graduate school,” says Beth Shapiro Settje, internship resources manager of the Department of Career Services at the University of Connecticut. “This decision [continuing one’s education] is not to be taken lightly. A student has to really want to study a topic deeply, and the year off can help the student find a focus and purpose.”

Shapiro Settje lists another reason that some students want a break from classes: because they feel it is too much to continue on straight through. Lastly, taking a year off is a way to develop some maturity and possibly bring better experiences into the classroom.

According to the Career Center at Emory University, students oftentimes decide to take a gap year because they want to take the time to travel, explore the world and make a difference in it. Other times, students just feel as though they need a break from academics before they dive feet first into school again.

Some students opt to get a post-baccalaureate degree, which is when a student has earned a bachelors degree and is not enrolled in a graduate program, but still chooses to take courses to boost their GPA or further their educational experience. Taylor, a human physiology major at the University of Oregon, is considering getting her post-bac degree before applying to medical school programs. “I need to re-take a couple courses to boost my GPA, otherwise I will be limited in what med schools I can choose from. I want to make the most of my options and a post-bac will give me more time to fulfill the requirements needed for my dream school,” she says.
 
Students also will take the time to build a new skill or enhance their resume by interning or enrolling in special summer programs. For those wishing to get into medical or law school, the extra months can be used for prepping for exams and focusing on studying.

How do I decide what kind of gap year experience is best for me?

Shapiro Settje explains thatan important component of making this decision is to ask the right questions about factors such as housing, food and finances. “The students must conduct good internal research to figure out why they want to go,” she says. “There are some organizations that will coordinate a gap experience for the student, which can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars; these organizations take care of the details for the student, hence the fees. There are pros and cons to using an agency versus doing it all on his/her own.”

But you don’t have to pay someone to figure out what you want to do. Instead, start here by asking yourself some of these basic questions that can only be answered by you based on your personal preference and what you’re looking to get out of your gap year.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before making your decision:

  1. What are you looking to gain from experiencing a gap year?
  2. Is there something you could do during a gap year that would make your grad school application stand out more?
  3. Are you lacking any skills from your resume that are necessary for the kind of career that you want?
  4. Do you want the chance to give back to your community or  the time to travel?

How will my future employer view me as a job candidate?

They view it positively, if the student did something worthwhile in his/her time,” says Shapiro Settje. “If the candidate cannot explain what he/she learned in the time off, then the employer could form a less favorable opinion.”

Emory University’s Career Center says, “As long as your gap year has a purpose, many employers view your time off favorably.” In other words, as long as you’re doing something worthwhile and not spending your days watching Top Chef reruns in Mom and Dad’s basement, taking a gap year before grad school shouldn’t make an employer think less of you. Hopefully, taking a gap year will have helped you to mature a bit more and grow as a person, which you can explain through admission essays and interviews. Ultimately, don’t let your fear of what an employer might think of your gap year keep you from taking one.

Will taking a gap year hurt my chances of getting into law or med school?

According to Shaprio Settje, It is possibly an advantage because the student is a year older and likely more mature, having had some ‘real world’ experience.”

The Emory University Career Center reassures students that “some pre-law students choose to take a year to get hands-on experience in the working world.” While many may assume that taking a year off includes studying for and taking the LSAT, GMAT or MCAT, this is not always the case. Deb Chereck, Career Center Director at the University of Oregon, suggests, “If someone is considering going to law school and taking a year off before, they will benefit mostly by taking the LSAT during their time at school. It makes [the] most sense to take the standardized tests while you are most embroiled in your analytical classes, as a senior would be.”

Likewise, instead of hitting the books, the Career Center reports: “Many medical schools view a year off as a means for students to gain maturity, as well as a more concrete understanding of professional goals and aspirations.” Not only can taking a year off give you time to work on any weaknesses you may have (whether it’s academic or professionally speaking), “gaining full-time work experience can make an applicant more competitive by giving them a different perspective from which to view the world.”

Making the decision to take a year off before grad school can feel overwhelming, but by starting to think about your future plans now, it may save you some confusion later. Either way, no matter which route you choose, everyone’s post-college path is different, so make the decision based on what feels most right for you.

Best Grad Schools for Business, Law, Medicine According to U.S. News & World Report:

Business

  1. Harvard
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  3. Northwestern University
  4. University of Chicago
  5. University of Pennsylvania

Law

  1. Yale University
  2. Harvard University
  3. Stanford University
  4. Columbia University
  5. University of Chicago

Medical (Research)

  1. Harvard University
  2. University of Pennsylvania
  3. Johns Hopkins University
  4. University of California – San Francisco
  5.  Washington University in St. Louis

Sources
Deb Chereck, Career Center Director, University of Oregon
Taylor, student at University of Oregon
Emory University Career Center
Beth Shapiro Settje, Internship Resources Manager, Department of Career Services, University of Connecticut

Taylor Trudon (University of Connecticut ’11) is a journalism major originally from East Lyme, Connecticut. She is commentary editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Campus, a blogger for The Huffington Post and is a proud two-time 2009 and 2010 New York Women in Communications scholarship recipient. She has interned at Seventeen and O, The Oprah Magazine. After college, Taylor aspires to pursue a career in magazine journalism while living in New York City. When she's not in her media bubble, she enjoys making homemade guacamole, quoting John Hughes movies and shamelessly reading the Weddings/Celebrations section of The New York Times on Sundays (with coffee, of course).
Ainslie Forsum is in her junior year at the University of Oregon, majoring in Journalism with a focus in Magazine and Public Relations. The last two summers she has completed marketing internships with Variety in Los Angeles and Seventeen Magazine in New York. Although she loves the exciting lifestyle of event planning and public relations, she has always had a soft spot for writing. She enjoys a good challenge of wit, preferably over a cup of coffee, which has become a dietary staple in her life. When she’s not at Starbucks, she can be found perusing travel magazines planning her next adventure abroad, trying out a new recipe in the kitchen or catching up with her favorite celeb gossip site, Perez Hilton. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in magazine journalism.
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