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For all you college seniors getting ready to graduate, you have without a doubt encountered the overbearing question: “So what’re you going to do when you graduate?” It’s an overwhelming question (even as I near graduation part two, this question has me panicking on the inside as I answer this question), because really you’re most likely anywhere from twenty-one or twenty-two years of age, and now you have to start thinking of what you want to do in adulthood. It’s freaking scary.
When my friends and I were getting ready to graduate from undergrad, many of were taking different paths: some of us (like me), knew we wanted to go straight to graduate school to get either our MA or start that Ph.D. track; others felt burnt out with school—the constant pressure of deadlines, readings, and assignments—and needed a break for all of that, opting to work or do post-grad service instead. Both routes are valid, but the toughest part is deciding which one is right for you. Below some pros and cons of each that will hopefully help in making the decision.
After pulling all-nighters for the last four years, you’re probably ready to get a decent night’s sleep without waking up in the morning rushing to either get to class or finish that assignment you had told yourself you’d wake up “early” to complete. It’s understandable. Both your mind and body need time to bounce back and recover from the near-constant state of stress it has been in. Taking a gap year allows you to get that rest since most likely your primary focus will be work as opposed to work, school, clubs, and the other million things that fell onto your plate during undergrad.
Many graduate programs are fully funded—meaning they provide full financial packages in addition to different types of insurances and stipends (shocking right? I highly recommend searching for fully-funded programs in your field if graduate school is a route you’re looking into).
On the off chance the program that best suits your career path—or a professor you would love to work with—is at an institution that isn’t fully funded, then a gap year will allow you to save up some money and search for scholarships to fund your graduate education without feeling overwhelmed.
Student loans, the bane of our existence, and sadly what many us find ourselves indebted in. If repaying your loans are stressing you out, take this time to pay back as much as possible prior to going to graduate school and potentially getting yourself into more debt.
Speaking from personal experience, applying for graduate school while also trying to finish your senior year is often an equation for an extreme round of stress. Factor in that application deadlines are around the same time as finals . Staying on top of your school work and applications is key if you choose to apply around this time. If you know that you’re the type to be easily overwhelmed (no matter how much you plan to a prevent this from being the case), waiting a year to apply might give you the opportunity to apply under calmer conditions.
Depending on your field, it might actually benefit you to get some work experience prior to applying. Law and medical schools often prefer their students to have had hands-on work or volunteer hours in order to consider a candidate competitive. It can also help you determine whether or not this field is really for you.
When you take a break from school, chances are you’re not going to be reading academic essays and books, or writing an essay (unless that is something you like to do in your spare time). Like a sport, reading and writing need to be constantly practiced in order to maintain your high-level. When you take a gap year, you risk the chance of losing this conditioning or just being in the habit of juggling multiple classes and assignments on top of work.
Being out of school can get comfortable. No assignments, no emails to professors, no need to go to campus. But that comfort can also be discouraging when getting yourself to go back to school. Taking a gap year can mean losing track of time; that one year you were supposed to have off suddenly turns into two, or three. Set up a timeline to keep yourself motivated to return to school.
You have your system: one look at your planner and it is color coded with all your due dates; your notes are Instagrammable, and you can juggle school and work with your eyes closed. You’re a pro at being a student. When you go straight to grad school, the shift isn’t too drastic, nor do you have to find your footing again. You remember what works for you and can continue (or change) your habits.
If your field requires at least a Master’s in order to start advancing (such as education), then going straight into graduate school can allow you to speed up your timeline and get into your field sooner so you can progress, getting yourself to where you want to be!
You may have your student systems all in place; you know how to get and keep yourself motivated, yet you have to remember that your body has been undergoing several years of stress with very little to no breaks. Going straight into graduate school means continuing to push your limits. In doing so, this might result in a quick burnout. If you do go straight to graduate school, make sure to practice self-care to prevent this.
The decision is yours. For some, the pros of a gap year overpower the cons; sometimes they don’t. While I’m personally excited to be obtaining my graduate degree by the age of twenty-four, it was definitely a tough journey where I wish I had that year break. Think about your goals and where you want to be in the next five years, and use that as your jumping off point in deciding whether a gap year or jumping straight in is the right path for you.
Have you thought about which path you’re going to take after graduation? Let us know your plans in the comments below!