Grad Guide, Feb. 11, 2018

When gearing up to make the complex decision of whether or not to take a year-long detour on the road to furthering your education, there are numerous factors to consider. These factors often stem from personal priorities; whether a straight-line education path is necessary for you to feel secure in your career path, or whether a small break in between big steps can assist you in being totally sure you made the right choice.

When making the big decision, it ultimately comes down to your own personal priorities and beliefs. It can be a stressful decision for a young adult to make, so hopefully this objective, non-judgemental explanation supporting both sides of the argument will assist in your final decision.

You’ve heard about friends and family members taking gap years between high school and college, college and grad school, or grad school and careers. So, you wonder, what are the pros of taking a year for yourself? One of the main reasons students opt for a year off is to plan for the future. But college is all about planning, right? Wrong.

With so much on your plate for all four years of college, it can be hard to find the time to really sit down and organize your thoughts. Advisers can assist in your planning, but they cannot make any concrete decisions for you, which often leaves students confused about which future path is best for them. Taking a gap year gives you a whole extra year with no projects, exams or papers to figure out what to do and where to go. Sure, a year is a long time to come up with a relative plan, but the future is not guaranteed, and having some extra time to adjust for unseen circumstances can certainly be helpful.

Another reason to give yourself a break between college and grad school is simply to make up your mind. It sounds like something that could be done in a day’s time; however, because grad school is not required post-undergrad for many majors, it can cause uncertainty about whether it is truly worth it to suffer through even more school — We’ve been in school since we were five years old, give me a break!

Having a year off to speak to current grad students, ex-professors, friends and family can ensure  that you are confident in your final decision. Not to mention that if you do decide to go, you will have a whole year uninterrupted by other schoolwork to scope out your future school and decide which program is right for you.

Not everyone is concerned with planning and tough decisions. Some students simply need a break after college, which as we all know can be draining to our mental health. It is perfectly acceptable to need a year off to transition. A common path students opt for is to travel, or to explore the world before life gets in the way. Maybe you never got the chance to study abroad in undergrad and always regretted it. Or, maybe you caught the travel-bug during your semester abroad.

Whatever the case, taking a year off to explore the world and open your eyes to new experiences can be extremely beneficial. Not only will you return with a new appreciation for airplane neck pillows, but you will have had a chance to lose yourself in other cultures, which can lead to you finding your true path.

As with any big decision, there are a few cons to consider regarding gap years as well. Firstly, taking a year off may lower your motivation to even consider furthering your education at graduate school. After 16 consecutive years of school, finally having some time off may feel so good that you never want to go back.

This can be especially problematic if you were originally planning to attend grad school. “Planning to go” turns into “might go” and finally rests at “going when you get around to it.” We have all procrastinated on a big project or paper at one point during our academic career, and this is essentially just a more intense version of that. Opting for a gap year and procrastinating on grad school can reduce your intent to follow through, which can lead to the abandonment of the idea all together.

Another con of waiting a year to go back to school is the tough transition. It’s one thing to have a week or two off school for winter or spring break, but a whole year can cause you to fall out of the routine of juggling all of the school work, which can make grad school overwhelming as your mind and body attempt to keep up with the heavy demand of deadlines. Students who attend grad school directly after undergrad have the advantage of being used to the workload.

Finally, students who wait a year to attend grad school may be less desirable to prospective employers when looking for jobs post-graduation. The employer is sure to wonder the reasoning behind taking a year off between schools, and if you haven’t used the time to do something worthwhile and beneficial to your future such as an internship or research, you can appear lazy. Employers look for people with high motivation who enjoy challenging themselves.

Finishing college and graduate school are two big accomplishments on the path to your career, but if there is no motivation to continue all that hard work after graduation, those bachelor’s and master's degrees won’t help you much in your job search. Another factor to consider is students who do not take a gap year get a head start on job searching, making them more competitive than someone the same age who is still in school and unable to join the workforce yet.

There are quite a few aspects to consider when deciding whether a gap year is right for you, and hopefully you now have a better idea of which path you’re leaning toward. There are pros and cons to both sides, but the most important part is to be confident in your decision and trust that it will lead you to where you’re supposed to be.

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