Taking time off before graduate school: Considering the benefits

  • Consider volunteering before returning to graduate school.
    Consider volunteering before returning to graduate school.

    Taking time off before graduate school: Considering the benefits

    If you are soon to graduate with your bachelor's degree and are considering graduate school, it's likely that you've asked yourself the following question: Should I take some time off or should I head to graduate school immediately, during the next academic year? There is no easy answer to this question. As with any major life decision, there are often pros and cons to weigh and consider before making an informed decision.

    There are, however, a number of clear benefits to taking some time off before embarking on a master's or PhD program, whether that's a semester, a year or even longer. Time away from the classroom can afford you the opportunity to take stock of your goals and work on an array of personal and professional projects. 

    While making the decision as to whether or not to take a break before returning to academia, be sure to keep the following benefits in mind:

    1. You can build professional experience
    An advanced degree is typically regarded as a golden ticket to career progression, and while this is certainly true, you may find it is less easy to find that dream job without any professional experience. This is especially true given the competitive nature of the job market and the fact that more people are deciding to further their education at the advanced level. Consequently, as detailed by Odyssey, landing an entry level job or internship in your desired field and working for a year or two can be a more prudent move, as it will give you a chance to build up your résumé which could give you an edge over other candidates. It's likely to impress those looking over your graduate school application that you have taken the time to gain professional experience.

    "It is less easy to find that dream job without any professional experience."

    2. You can recharge your batteries
    Make no mistake – graduate school is challenging, and for many students the step up in terms of academic rigor and workload can be a shock to the system. This feeling can be exacerbated if you have very recently finished the four- or five-year marathon of completing an undergraduate degree. As such, taking time out to recharge your batteries can be a great way to get some much needed rest, which in turn can mentally prepare you for the new academic challenge ahead, USA Today College maintained. Put another way, you'll be less likely to experience burnout or fatigue if you have a sabbatical before returning to the classroom. 

    USA Today College included a quote from Bari Norman, the founder of Expert Admissions, who elaborated on the benefits outlined above. 

    "If you take a break, you'll be fresher and better and more ready to go to school," he stated. "The kind of thinking and analytical skills you develop in class settings is different than skills developed in the real world. There's something to be said about going into a graduate program with a broader perspective than you had as an undergraduate student."

    3. You can explore the world
    If you have an urgent sense of wanderlust, taking a year off after graduate school can be an opportune time to see and explore the world, the University of California, Berkeley explained. After all, once you have earned your advanced degree and embarked on your career, it's less likely that you'll have the time and freedom to travel for extended periods of time. Of course, simply going on a long vacation and spending all your time on a beach, although fun and rewarding, may not necessarily be the best move for your résumé. If you do decide to travel, use your time wisely to progress your professional or academic goals – consider teaching abroad for example, or volunteering for a non-profit. Or divide your time – spend several months traveling and relaxing and then a couple of months working.

    4. You can gauge a better sense of what you want
    If you are unsure of the kind of career path you wish to pursue, heading straight to graduate school after college isn't necessarily the wisest move. Instead, taking some time off after can give you the opportunity to explore what you want to do with your life, and really weigh and consider your options, The Up Lab noted. You could pursue multiple internships in various fields or industries, or take on an entry level job. In other words, you can use the time to try out what fits and what doesn't. This in turn can help you make a more informed decision about the kind of degree you will study for in graduate school. 

    5. You can save money
    For many people, there is often a more practical reason for taking time off before graduate school – to save money. As outlined by Odyssey, graduate school tuition can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, especially at private or out-of-state institutions. Taking some time away can afford you the opportunity to start saving, which in turn may help you offset some of the debt you will accrue upon your return to the classroom. If you decide to use your time away to make some money, try to find an opportunity that relates, either directly or indirectly, to the professional path you wish to pursue upon graduation from your advanced degree program – it'll be better for your résumé.

    Odyssey elaborated that taking time out can also be an opportune way to research funding and scholarship opportunities that can help cover part or all of your tuition. Some employers now even offer to help pay for graduate school, so that is another positive aspect of securing a job before returning to higher education.

    6. You can strengthen your application
    Taking time out allows you to embark on challenges and experiences that can make for a more compelling graduate school application, particularly if you've used your time constructively to further your professional or academic ambitions. For example, if you are applying to medical school, your application will no doubt be enriched by experience volunteering at clinics abroad. Or if you hope to enter business, spending time crafting your own small organization can indicate a strong sense of entrepreneurship that will no doubt impress an admissions committee. 

    USA Today College included a quote from Gina Pollack, who took a four-year hiatus before heading to graduate school. She elaborated on how the time away helped her to craft a more engaging application. 

    "I think having some professional experience made my application a lot stronger," she said. "I know my résumé was much longer than when I first finished undergrad and had only done a few internships. I was able to get recommendation letters from bosses who could speak to my work ethic, and I'm sure that helped me."

    While the above reasons for delaying your return to school are surely notable, keep in mind that it isn't necessarily the best move for everyone. Spend some time weighing the pros and cons before you make your final decision.

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