There comes a time in every college student’s life when we must consider our “what’s next.” As the last quarter of my senior year comes to a close, I find myself questioned about my “what’s next” more frequently. Though the possibilities for life after college are endless, I can’t help but notice the pressure for students to immediately apply for grad school.

Don’t get me wrong — graduate school does have benefits. For many, it is an opportunity to further delve into their field of study, develop skills and possibly make more money. For example, The National Association of Colleges and Employers found graduate students with a computer science major had a starting salary $14,000 higher than students with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

However, these salary increases do not apply for every field, nor should they be the sole reason one pursues a masters degree. As I will further explain, grad school is a huge investment of time and money.  It is not a decision that should be taken lightly nor should students feel pressured to attend right away. Here are a few reasons why one might want to take a gap year before entering grad school.

Get Financially Secure 

A study from the College Board found in 2017,  the average cumulative student debt balance for graduates of public four-year universities was $26,900. Though it is possible to defer ones loans, debt doesn’t just magically disappear. It will be waiting for you when you complete grad school and if you have to take out more loans during that time it might be bigger. Please, don’t bury yourself in a hole of debt. Grad school should not be used to escape your financial responsibilities. Consider using a gap year to work on decreasing some of your debt. Find a side hustle like selling baked goods or dog walking to supplement your main job. Try finding a job that offers tuition assistance. If your job doesn’t do this, you might be able to convince them if you can present a well-constructed argument.

Gain work experience

My mother attended grad school right after college and often recounts how intimidating it was being the youngest and least experienced of her cohort in grad school. If you take some time to work — even if only for a year — in your field you may feel more confident in what you have to bring to the table in grad school. Many employers seek employees who have educational background. In fact, one study from Georgetown University, found  65% of jobs in our economy will require both post secondary education and training after highschool. However, work experience is just as important. For example, In 2012, a survey conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace questioned 50,000 employers. Participants placed more weight on experience via internships and employment vs. academic credentials when evaluating a recent graduate for employment. The survey also found thirty-one percent of employers believed applicants were unprepared or very unprepared for their job search. Don’t be unprepared — gain the experience now.

Take time to find yourself

Grad school is not the place you want to experiment with your interests. A huge shift in your major at this point of your college career, can cost you more money and time. You can save yourself a lot of stress if you take a gap year to find what your goals and interests are. Working a job — even if it’s not your dream job — can help you discover your interests and possibly alter your graduate plans. Perhaps use this time to take a trip and expand your horizons. Maybe you’ll find a grad school you’d rather attend out of state or out of the country. Use this time to find what your goals are, what you are interested in and if it’s even worth it to attend grad school. Remember, grad school is an option, not a necessity for success and the choice is ultimately yours — not anyone else’s.

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