Halfway through college I decided I wanted to go to grad school. But for a little while, I entertained the idea of taking time off after graduation. So, I asked around for advice – I wanted to cover all my bases before committing to another five years of school. But with what I know now, I know that back then I didn’t get the best advice on the subject.

The gist of it is that I was pointed straight to grad school – which is not terrible, of course! But that was it. I got one-sided advice. I was told how great going to grad school would be for me and how taking time off was such a bad idea because I would risk not returning to school.

If you find yourself in a similar position as I was, I want to be the person that shows you the other side of the coin. So, here it is:

Gap Years: Time Off

It’s actually not uncommon for people to have a gap between college and grad school. And many do great things with their lives during that time, and when they are ready, they return and become successful. So, why can’t you?

If grad school is for you, you’ll get there whether it is sooner or later. Yes, there are risks with not going back to school, but ultimately, if you don’t it’s because you decided it that way.

Here’s what’s going to happen: I’m not going to tell you why you should go to grad school. If you are reading this (and aren’t already sucked in to the PhD world), then you already have strong feelings about it being what you want. But, since you may be contemplating the idea of a break before jumping in, I’ll tell you instead how you can use that time off to transition to grad school with confidence and conviction.

Figure Out What You Really Want

Going to grad school straight out of college may be a less intimidating path than searching for your first job. But you don’t want this to be the reason why you decide to go. Think about how you want your professional life to look like in ten years, and ask yourself if a PhD will get you there. If you aren’t sure about the answer to this, it may be wise to wait before you hit “submit” on your applications.

Strengthen Your Application

Getting into grad school is highly competitive because only a small number of students are taken each year. So, most students set themselves up for getting in while they’re in college. But, it isn’t that way for everyone. Perhaps you struggled in school and your grades aren’t that great. Or maybe, you realized late in the game that you want a PhD, so you didn’t get much research experience. Whatever your weakness is, taking a year or so to build up your resume will significantly increase your chances of getting where you want to be.

Explore Different Fields

Usually, undergrads don’t have to choose a major for the first year or two. And even when a major is declared, switching is possible and often done. But in grad school, you can’t just go around changing your field of study. The closest it can get to that is switching labs, but that’s just something else. Or, you could leave and start over. Well, that doesn’t sound like a good idea either, does it? So, research the areas that interest you, possibly through an internship or even a job, to avoid setbacks that come from choosing the wrong graduate degree.

Get Real-world Working Experience

One of the drawbacks of heading straight to grad school is that we don’t get a chance to experience how science is applied in real life. So by the time we complete our degrees, we are still at an entry point in our careers. It may seem backwards, but gaining experience outside of academia will help you both through grad school and life after the PhD. However, if a complete break isn’t for you, don’t be alarmed, you could do a graduate internship to develop new skills.

My final advice is that if you feel like you need to work on one or more of the points discussed in this article then you should consider taking time off. If on the other hand, you’re absolutely certain that you want to be a grad student next year, go for it! We’re here to support you. But whatever your decision is, make sure you do your homework and prepare for it. I wish you the best of luck!