Should You Take Time Off Before Applying to Graduate School?

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All throughout college, you've planned on attending graduate school, but as you get ready to apply you might wonder if grad school is right for you right now. Should you take some time off before graduate study? It’s not uncommon for students to get “cold feet” and wonder if they should pursue graduate study immediately after college. Are you ready for another three to eight years of graduate education?

Should you take time off before graduate study? This is a personal decision and there's no definitive right or wrong answer. However, if you have any doubts about your educational and career aspirations take your time and consider your goals. There are a variety of reasons for taking time off before attending graduate school.

You're Exhausted

Are you tired? Exhaustion is understandable. After all, you've just spent 16 or more years in school. If this is your primary reason for taking time off, consider whether your fatigue will ease over the summer. You've got two or three months off before grad school starts; can you rejuvenate? Depending on the program and degree, graduate school takes anywhere from three to eight or more years to complete. If you're certain that graduate school is in your future, perhaps you shouldn't wait.

You Need to Prepare

If you feel unprepared for grad school, a year off may enhance your application.

For example, you might read prep materials or take a prep-course for the GRE or other standardized tests required for admission. Improving your scores on standardized tests is essential for at least two reasons. First, it will enhance your chances of being accepted to the program of your choice. Perhaps more importantly, financial aid in the form of scholarships and awards are distributed based on standardized test scores.

You Need Research Experience

Research experience will also enhance your application. Maintain contacts with the faculty at your undergraduate institution and seek research experiences with them. Such opportunities are beneficial because faculty members can write more personal (and more effective) letters of recommendation on your behalf. Plus you gain insight into what it's like to work in your field.

You Need Work Experience

Other reasons for taking a year or two off between undergraduate and graduate school include gaining work experience. Some fields, such as nursing and business, recommend and expect some work experience. In addition, the lure of money and the chance to save is hard to resist. Saving money often is a good idea because grad school is expensive and it's unlikely that you'll be able to work many hours if any, while you're in school.

Many students worry that they will never return to school after a year or two away from the grind. That's a realistic concern, but take the time that you need to be sure that grad school is right for you. Graduate school requires a great deal of motivation and the ability to work independently. Generally, students who are more interested and committed to their studies are more likely to be successful.

Time off may increase your desire and commitment to your goals.

Finally, recognize that attending grad school several years after completing the BA is not unusual. More than one-half of grad students in the US are over age 30. If you wait before going to grad school, be prepared to explain your decision, what you learned, and how it improves your candidacy. Time off can be beneficial if it enhances your credentials and prepares you for the stresses and strains of grad school.