By the time you graduate from college, you’ve been going to school for nearly 20 years, if not more. If you’re thinking about graduate school, you might think you have to go directly into a graduate program, but the fact is, that’s just not the case. Taking a year off – a gap year – can be beneficial in a multitude of ways: professionally, personally, and socially. Some schools even offer gap year fellowships – check with your prospective school to see if that’s an option. If not, check out this page from the Gap Year Association to see how you can finance a gap year. It’s important to note, however: a gap year is not a year where you kick back and relax and just hang out. It’s important to plan for the gap year in order to get the most out of it and use it wisely.

Different Options for Your Gap Year

Different students will have different kinds of gap years depending on what your professional or academic goals are. Some options include traveling, doing an internship, working full-time in a field you’re considering, volunteering or doing a service-learning program, or even working part-time while preparing for graduate school through extra classes, working to improve test scores, paying down existing student loans, and getting more settled before the rigor of a graduate program.

Before your gap year, think about what your long-term goals are and how a gap year might benefit you. If you had a year off, what are some things you might do that could help you personally, professionally, and academically? How might you integrate these things into your gap year, and what would that mean for its structure? These are all things to consider when contemplating if a gap year is best for you.

Pros of a Gap Year

There are lots of pros to taking a gap year before graduate school. These can include:

  • Taking a year to get your life settled and resolve any issues you might be having, including living situations, paying down student loans or any debts, working to improve health issues (both mental and physical), and regaining work-life balance.
  • Making sure graduate school is right for you and not something you’re just going into because you feel like you “should.” The year can also help you figure out if your chosen field and career plans are the right ones for you, through talking with professionals, shadowing people in the field, and even working in the field in a lesser capacity.
  • Taking the time to take exams over again (GMAT, MCAT, GRE, LSAT) or take a test prep course, as well as any refresher courses to strengthen basic skills or fill in any gaps you feel you might have.
  • Working (part-time or full-time) to gain experience in your field or even simply to earn money for future graduate school expenses.
  • Volunteering in your field to get experience.

Cons of a Gap Year

As with every experience, there are pros and cons. Many cons to a gap year are the result of poor planning, a lack of concrete goals, and no end date or deadline for certain milestones. Some cons can include:

  • Students with lower levels of intrinsic motivation might find it harder to regain academic momentum after being out of school for a year.
  • There are potential financial issues to consider, especially if you lose your student health insurance and aren’t covered otherwise under your parents or a partner. If you don’t have a job, this can also cause extra stress, especially with student loan payments coming due.
  • If you don’t have a clear plan mapped out for the gap year, this could cost you more than the year – especially if you weren’t productive and have nothing to show for the year. This could impact your job search and academic plans.
  • It’s a risk. But so is a graduate program that might not be the right one for you – so it comes down to what risks you’re willing to take.

Here at Dissertation Editor, we’ve seen graduate students with all kinds of academic histories and experiences. Students who’ve gone straight through to graduate school, those who have taken a year or more off, and non-traditional students returning to school after decades in the work force or raising a family. There are many ways to reach your goal, and we can help you no matter which path you choose. We offer a range of services, including tutoring, editing and formatting help with resumes and CVs, and even assistance with fellowship and grant applications. If you have a plan in mind and want to see how we might be able to help, contact us today!