Grad school

For an increasing number of fields, graduate school is not only recommended, but necessary, for any young person’s success. It makes perfect sense, by extension, to jump right into grad school from undergrad, right?
Well, sometimes. And by sometimes, I mean rarely.
There’s the occasional undergraduate who is totally motivated and goal-oriented, and in some cases, the straight transition into grad school works perfectly; she gets a jumpstart on her career, and her professional life is just around the corner. But for most graduates, even those who excel in the classroom, a gap year is a wise decision.
Midway through your senior year of undergrad, when graduate school applications are due, you might feel totally confident that you can handle another three straight years of academia, but beware; come end of your last semester, you will be completely burned out. Ask anyone who went straight to grad school from undergrad, and chances are, she’ll tell you she’s exhausted and wishes she took a year off. Senior year is enormously taxing, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Grad school is very much the same. Going from one to the other is a surefire recipe for mental deterioration.
A gap year gives you the chance to breathe and reflect on your undergraduate years. It’s the perfect opportunity to really evaluate your personal and professional goals. Undergrad has given you the tools and insight to make big decisions about life; now, take a solid 12 months to really think about what you learned over the course of those four or so years.
Your year of rest is also a chance to test out being a grown-up. Undergrad doesn’t give anyone a true taste of the “real world,” and graduate programs expect students to be completely responsible and capable. This is your chance to experience the thrill and terror of independence without the immense pressure of graduate school.
This year is also a perfect opportunity to try something new. You can travel, volunteer, apply for random jobs, meet new people, try weird food—you might end up discovering things about yourself you never knew were there. Chances are, you’ll come out of the year with a much clearer picture of what you want from life and ultimately, how to get there.
Remember, life isn’t a race. Graduate school is an enormous commitment of time, energy, and finances. Before you dedicate another few years of your life to writing papers and cramming for exams, think about what you’re really looking for. Are you applying for grad schools because you want to, or because you feel it’s the right thing to do? Take that year off, rediscover your goals, and decide for yourself.

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