The high unemployment rates and the highly competitive job market has made many students who have just gotten their undergraduate degrees want to immediately start grad school.
Even though grad school opens a lot of doors for people to develop their careers, get promoted, and earn more, it is not always the best path immediately after a four year Bachelor’s Degree.
Increasingly, students are choosing to take a gap year before grad school to engage in various activities. This does not mean that they are not planning to go to grad school in the future, it just means that sometimes before you embark on a challenging path such as grad school, you might need a breather for a year or two.
This article will provide information for anyone who is thinking about taking a gap year before grad school.
- What is a gap year?
- Why take a gap year after college?
- What to do during your gap year before grad school?
- Pros and cons of a gap year before grad school
- How to decide whether to take a gap year after college?
What Is A Gap Year?
A gap year is time that students spend between academic stages. The gap year could be between high school and college or between college and grad school. Either way, this is a time students use to reflect, rest, and improve their skills in order to prepare for the next stage of their lives.
Many people perceive gap years as wasted time or as an extended vacation. They think students want to take time off to postpone facing new challenges. That is not the case however.
Gap years can be extremely beneficial depending on how students spend them and they are highly recommended as good ways to discover whether going back to school is the right decision or not.
Why Take A Gap Year After College?
The National Association for College Admission Counseling actually recommends that students take a gap year because it could increase the chances that they will have more success in grad school. They state that it helps students find purpose and focus.
The pressure to continue education, get a job, and become successful is something that students and young adults constantly face. The traditional path of going to college, getting a graduate degree, and finding a good job does not include any time off to rest and reflect.
The work that you do during four years of college takes a toll on anyone. Students usually feel burnt out and tired, but they are expected to immediately continue work or study. The gap year is a solution to that since it gives space and time for students to explore their interests and take time off from the traditional career path.
The reasons why it is advisable for students to take a gap year is to recharge and experience new adventures and challenges before starting their academic life again.
What To Do During Your Gap Year Before Grad School?
There are no rules to what you can do if you take a gap year after college. There are endless possibilities and activities you can engage in during that time off. It also does not have to be just one year. You can take as many years as you need until you feel ready to embark on the path of graduate school.
There are a few more popular activities that people do during their time off. Here are 5 things to do during gap year before grad school.
Get a job
This might not seem like the first thing you would want to do after four years in school, but it is quite reasonable. Getting a job will allow you to step out of the academic areas of life and do something different. The responsibilities you will have in a job are not the same as those of a student. You will face a different set of challenges which will equip you with experiences that can be immensely helpful during grad school.
Getting a job in your area of interest
The most beneficial job you can take is anything related to your field of interest. If you already know what you want to study during grad school, having some work experience in that area can be a major boost to your application. Also, it does not have to be a full time job. You could get part time work in an entry level position.
Few schools accept students who enroll immediately after completing their Bachelor’s Degree.
The job related to your field of study will let you see firsthand what you will face when you graduate. It can be eye opening and can make you even more convinced to go into grad school in that subject or it can completely deter you from it.
In addition, some grad schools require you to have work experience before they admit you. If you want to go into fields such as business, priority for grad school admissions is given to those who have three or more years of experience.
Getting a job outside your area of interest and teaching
A job does not have to be in your area of study. It can be something completely unrelated which you have always wanted to do, or something that brings you a higher salary. Many people choose to work as waiters in bars and restaurants, work in a farm, or become an au pair.
Au pairs are seen as nannies, but they are people who could go to a different country and take care of a child while the family pays for their boarding and food. If you are interested in such opportunities, services such as the Au Pair Network connect families and au pairs for a great experience.
Besides working in your field of study or outside it, you can also take this opportunity and teach. Teaching is a fulfilling experience through which you can spread your knowledge to other people. You can decide to get paid teaching positions in private institutions which offer courses to kids or you can decide to teach without getting paid.
Teaching can also be used to travel around in your country or outside as there are many organizations which allow students to go to developing or developed countries to teach for example English or Math such as Teach for America.
Whichever option of getting a job you choose, it will be beneficial in terms of the work experience which can help you get into grad school, fulfilling your personal goals, and bring you some financial security. You can use the funds you get from your salary to save for grad school or do other activities.
Find an internship
Similar to getting a job but with fewer responsibilities could be getting an internship. Internships are a great option for students who have no work experience at all and who have not done them during their undergraduate studies.
You can find internships in your field of study which will help when you apply for grad school. Internships could be paid or unpaid, and have different time durations varying from 3 months to 1 full year.
Applying for internships can be a lengthy process, but there are recruitment websites which help you in that regard, such as Internships.com and Intern Queen, which offer internships in different countries and industries.
If you don’t think an internship is a good idea, you can try to find a research position in your field of study and get more experience in that regard. Research is highly valued especially if your field is based on it. You will be much more likely to get accepted into a good university if you have research experience.
Whichever option you decide to take, whether it is a job or an internship, both can also help you get recommendation letters from your coworkers or supervisors. Recommendation letters are usually required to apply for grad school and they will increase your chances of admission.
Anyone who engages in volunteering activities says that it is the most fulfilling experience. Organizations always need volunteers, so it is another way you can spend your gap year before graduate school. Volunteering activities are always available in your local community or even globally.
You can volunteer in any organization which matches your personal interests and you will always make an impact. To find volunteering opportunities, you can go to your local community center or pet shelter and ask if they need help.
Or you can go online and find organizations which match students with places that need volunteers both locally and globally such as:
- United Nations Volunteers
- Global Service Corps
- Peace Corps
- Global Volunteer Network
- Projects Abroad
- Go Overseas
Some of these organizations will plan your volunteer experience for a fee, while others are for free but you might be required to fund your stay. However, you can also volunteer and the organization might cover your living costs for a few months.
Develop new skills
Is there a new skill you have always wanted to learn but never found the time? Most people usually have a few. Whether you wanted to read the complete works of Shakespeare, learn a new language, or new software, you can do that during your gap year.
Learning new skills during your gap year before grad school is a great way to spend your time. You can pay for courses or you can take free online courses that will help immensely. Listing new skills in your resume could be a boost to your grad school applications, especially if they are related to your field of study.
In addition to new skills you can also study for the necessary tests to get into grad school. Usually to apply you will need to submit scores of standardized tests such as the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT. You might have taken them and are not satisfied with your score so you can use the gap year to improve them.
Retaking standardized tests can be costly and time consuming, but it is worth it if you have a specific university or program you want to be admitted in.
Rest or Travel
If you are feeling really burnt out from your four years of undergraduate degree then your best approach is to rest. Resting does not mean you will not be doing anything. You can join a club you have always wanted to, start a band, or write a blog.
In addition, you can also travel for leisure. If you can afford it you can go through your travel bucket list and experience different cultures and locations. The only thing you should keep in mind is to try and take some lessons learned out of the experience so that you can justify this year off to any potential employers.
Pros And Cons Of A Gap Year Before Grad School
Now that you know that there are many options on what to do during a gap year before graduate school, we can through its pros and cons. There are always two sides to a coin and the gap year too has its benefits and consequences.
Some of the pros of grad school are:
- Get more experience – whether you are working, doing an internship, or researching you will enrich yourself with more working experience.
- Find out if you really want to go to grad school – no matter what you do, you will have time to reflect on whether grad school is really for you or not.
- Improve your skill set – deciding to expand your knowledge and skills will allow you to enrich your resume which increases your chances of being accepted in grad school.
- Experience new cultures – travelling and volunteering will expose you to a different side of the world that you do not get to see as an undergrad such as different people and cultures from which you can learn more.
- Exposure to the real world – students live in a bubble of studies and lectures so taking a gap year will expose you to how it really is to live in the real world and be responsible for yourself as well as your bills.
- Save for grad school – if you’re earning a salary, you will have the opportunity to save and use that money to cover some of your grad school costs.
Besides these benefits, there are also a few consequences to taking a gap year before grad school, such as:
- Postpone grad school – whether you take one year or more as gaps after college, you will have postponed going to grad school
- Get stuck working – once you start working and earning a salary you can get stuck since you’ll think about getting promoted and making more
- It will be difficult to go back to school – taking a break after school will make it more difficult to go back to studying again so you’ll need to train your brain to be as productive again.
How To Decide Whether To Take A Gap Year After College?
Having seen the benefits and consequences of taking a gap year, you can now make the decision that best suits you.
In order to choose whether you want to take a gap year or not, you should take into account:
- Your goals and how the gap year fits and helps you achieve them
- Expectations about the experience you will have during the gap year, whether it is working, volunteering or other activities
- Current skill set that you have and if you are missing any necessary skills from your resume
Taking these into consideration, taking a gap year is still good as long as you get some benefits out of it.