Should You Take a Gap Year?

If you’re thinking about graduate or professional school, consider the best time to apply. About 25% of each graduating class at Grinnell goes directly into a grad program (i.e., they apply in their senior year in order to matriculate the fall after graduation), but many more Grinnellians pursue further education after a year or more of work, volunteering, or other activity. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. More time to develop professional skills and solidify career interests. Explore your professional interests through employment, job shadows, and informational interviews in order to confirm your interests, increase your understanding of this area, and build skills that will make you a stronger applicant. Some professional programs require more experience from applicants than you can reasonably expect to gain while you are a full-time student (e.g., clinical hours for physician assistant programs).
  2. Time to focus on your applications. Researching graduate programs and completing applications require time and energy. If your Grinnell schedule doesn’t leave time for this work, begin researching programs while you have close contact with resources such as the CLS and academic advisers, but wait to actually apply until you have more free time.
  3. Your brain could use the break. Return to the intensity of professional or graduate school feeling refreshed.
  4. More time to build relationships with mentors enables them to write letters of recommendation. The upper-level seminar classes available to many seniors at Grinnell allow students to interact closely with faculty. This extra year also allows students more time to get to know their academic adviser(s). Beyond relationships at Grinnell, taking a year off after graduation creates opportunities for students to connect with work supervisors and/or research faculty at other universities.
  5. Applying to graduate or professional school after your senior year allows more time to solidify your GPA. Academic metrics often improve during senior year, as students have become accustomed to the rigor of Grinnell, as well as the resources available to help them succeed. You’ll also have eight semesters of coursework to display rather than just six.
  6. More time to prepare for graduate entrance exams. Standardized tests like the GRE, MCAT, and LSAT require dedicated preparation. You’ll have more time to focus on studying for these exams if you are not doing so alongside your Grinnell coursework. Additionally, waiting until after you graduate to take curriculum-based exams like the MCAT allows you four full years to complete the necessary coursework.
  7. Save money, begin repaying loans, and improve credit scores. Taking time away from school to work allows you time to begin repaying student loans, while also saving some money to put toward applications and future expenses. This time may also allow you to build your credit record, which may prove beneficial when taking out graduate or professional school loans.
  8. Do what is right for you and disregard the myth that “Everyone else is doing it.” Grinnellians who choose to take a break from school often reflect positively upon these “focus years,” all finding something positive to say about what they gained during this experience.
  9. Broaden your worldview by taking time away from academia. A diversity of experiences can make you a more competitive applicant.
  10. Life is short! It becomes more difficult to take time off once you begin graduate or professional school. You are more likely to have financial concerns, family concerns, and a professional schedule that will keep you from exploring new interests.

Adapted with permission from Princeton University Office of Health Professions Advising