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Can You Take a Gap Year in Graduate School?

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Abound: Grad School »

COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in just about every single factor of life, especially higher education. If your plans to head to graduate school were put on hold because of the pandemic and its consequences, then you might be wondering whether a gap year is a smart move. You might prefer on-campus classes, want to prevent educational burnout. or even have unmitigating circumstances that make graduate school in any capacity difficult right now. Whatever the reason, we understand and we sympathize with you, so our answer is a pretty solid yes!

Taking a gap year in graduate school can be a wise move if done correctly. However, like everything else in life right now, your gap year will look a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When you think of a gap year, you probably envision a year full of traveling, volunteering, and networking, right? Well, travel restrictions, work-from-home orders, and bans on large gatherings make those experiences difficult, if not impossible. But don’t despair; you can still take a gap year and make it a meaningful experience. 

Benefits of Taking a Gap Year: 

  • Improve your test scores: If you didn’t do as well as you wanted the first time, then it might help to have the extra time to study and practice.
  • Build your network: It’s all about who you know these days. Your time away from school can be a great time to connect with individuals in your field. Stay logged in and active on LinkedIn.
  • Gain experience that’s relevant to your field: Use this time to complete an internship or two. This relevant experience will boost your résumé and show admissions officers that you’re serious about your professional growth.
  • Develop hard and soft skills: Employers actually love gap years because, if done right, they allow candidates to develop the soft skills needed to be a well-rounded employee. You can also take the time to do a couple of virtual bootcamps or online certificate modules to learn new skills. A 2013 study found that students who engaged in learning experiences prior to enrollment returned to school with more skills and increased academic achievement. 
  • Know whether graduate school is right for you: Your bright-eyed and bushy-tailed undergraduate self might be convinced that graduate school is the right move, but what if it isn’t? According to a survey conducted by the Gap Year Association, 97 percent of students said their gap year allowed them time for personal reflection. This time off could illuminate that grad school isn’t the best path for you, or it could solidify your desire to go back. Either outcome is okay! It’s better to know before you incur debt. 
  • Work: It’s becoming easier and easier to balance school and work, but growing your savings while you’re in school is always a good idea! 

How to Do a Gap Year Right:

Understand your motives: 

Although the constant news cycle documenting this pandemic is enough motivation to take a gap year, we recommend going deeper to understand your personal motivations beyond that. Not only will this give you a more thorough understanding and help you create a plan for your gap year, but it will also help you explain this time off to future employers. A gap year isn’t just time off from school to learn banana bread recipes and binge-watch Netflix shows. While you certainly can do those things, most of your gap year should be spent in a more intentional way. 

Talk to your college or university:

If you’ve already been accepted to a graduate program or you know where you want to go, it’s a good idea to let the admissions staff know you’re considering a gap year. Typically, you have two options from this point: deferment or delayed application. The former means that you have already been accepted and are simply deferring attendance for one year, while delayed application means that you have not yet been accepted but plan on applying at a later date. It’s up to you and your college to decide which option is best. Some graduate programs might not formally recognize a gap year with a deferment, so you might have to delay your application. If you’re using the gap year to reflect on your future, you might prefer the flexibility of delayed application. 

Make a Plan: 

The world is chaotic right now, but that chaos is temporary. Your goals are not. So think about actions that can help you get closer to achieving them. The key to a meaningful gap year and a successful return to graduate school is a plan. You certainly don’t need to plan out all 365 days, but having a firm start and end date is a good first step. From there, you can outline specific goals and activities to pursue, such as internships, fundraising, research, or work. Establishing these goals will help you find the perfect opportunities and make them as meaningful as possible. A plan will also help you describe your gap year in a future interview with admissions officers or employers. Ultimately, you want to make sure that you can tell a compelling story about what you did, what you learned, and who you met during your gap year. 

Be patient with yourself

You probably don’t need another reminder of the global pandemic. But… here’s one anyway: we’re in a global pandemic, so cut yourself some slack! It’s perfectly normal to feel unmotivated, intimidated, or discouraged about everything right now. Be gentle with yourself and make sure you aren’t sacrificing your mental and physical health to meet unrealistic productivity expectations. 

A gap year can be an amazing opportunity for you to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your goals. It can afford the time and freedom to expand your network and gain real-world skills. A gap year can also give you a much needed break to avoid burnout. Regardless of your motives, making sure you do the gap year correctly is essential to making the experience worthwhile. Abound: Grad School is here for you every step of the way. We connect grad students to the right institution by focusing on what matters most. It’s not about how rich or famous a school is; it’s about finding the best place to pursue your goals and succeed. Check out the schools we trust to find your match for when you are ready to go back!

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