Many undergraduate students aspire to continue their higher education journey after graduation. Others may feel unsure about what program to pursue or if graduate school is the right path for them. What undergrads may not realize is that taking a gap year (or years) before going back to school is very common and can be extremely beneficial. In fact, more UC Davis alumni take a gap year before graduate school than those who start straight after graduating.
A gap year (or years) is a break between your undergraduate and graduate education, and can be advantageous if utilized wisely, as it can allow more time for professional and personal growth, exploration, and maturation,” according to the UC Davis Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services. “However, it is important to pursue opportunities and experiences relevant or transferable to your intended graduate program or field.”
Insights from a pre-graduate/law advisor
A gap year can be a great idea for any student, especially those who are still figuring out their career goals, says Cloe Le Gall-Scoville, the Pre-Graduate/Law Advising Coordinator at UC Davis.
It’s also a smart option for students who want to showcase the accomplishments of their last year of undergrad in their application. Since most graduate school applications are due during fall quarter, if you intend to start graduate school right away, you would not be able to share your final year grades or experiences.
Additionally, fall quarter of your final year may be overwhelming. Applying to graduate school during that time can be an additional stressor that leads to burnout.
A gap year is not a less-than route, and it makes no difference for graduate school admissions; if anything, it makes you more competitive if you take the time to develop more experience and skills,” Cloe Le Gall-Scoville says.
But a gap year should be spent wisely. You can use that time to volunteer, gain relevant professional or research experience, study for any graduate school exams, work to save up for the cost of graduate school, or travel to network and build international experience.
During your gap year, be sure to be planning for your grad school application — if you intent on applying. Here’s a checklist to keep in mind:
- Research and pick programs of interest.
- Write your statement of purpose/personal history statement.
- Plan to ask for three letters of recommendation. (Start thinking about this while in your undergrad to make and maintain relationships with professors/bosses.)
- Study and take any necessary exams (GRE, LSAT, etc).
- Learn how to order your transcripts.
- Keep an up-to-date resume/CV.
- Read your relevant graduate school online applications to prepare.
The option of graduate school will always be there. Why not take some extra time to narrow your interests and discover what you truly want to do? After a busy undergraduate career, self-exploration and development might be exactly what you need. With that being said, some students are ready to jump right in. If you feel confident in your direction and your desired program, go for it!
An alumnus’ perspective
Marcos Arguello-Gonzalez (’20) graduated with a B.A. in psychology and will be pursuing a master’s degree in computer science this coming fall. During his gap year, he gained work experience as a college advisor at UC Santa Cruz, which also allowed him to save up some money.
His gap year was incredibly helpful in developing a sense of clarity for the program he wanted to pursue, especially since he didn’t start taking computer science courses until his final year at UC Davis. He shared that his gap year gave him more time to think about how his passions could intersect. He now feels confident about wanting to develop technologies to help students engage and learn more in the classroom, specifically through research of artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Additionally, he was able to dedicate more time to study for the GRE, which would have been difficult to do while also focusing on undergraduate coursework. His advice to students taking the GRE is to study from the official test prep resources, rather than third party test programs. In general, he suggests that undergraduate students stay aware and take advantage of the resources available from UC Davis.
Be sure to reach out to Pre-Graduate/Law Advising at UC Davis for a neutral perspective that can talk you through your options — their resources are available to students even after graduation!
They offer workshops about what to expect with graduate school and different aspects of the application process. Their one-on-one appointments provide students with personalized support before, during and after the applying. They also host grad and law school fairs to expose students to different programs and offer free GRE support, preparation for interviews, and help writing statements of purpose.
Additionally, the Internship and Career Center has resources on how to expand your resume during your gap year through professional development opportunities.
Leah Kalish is a third-year student majoring in sociology — organizational studies, with minors in education and professional writing. In addition to interning with the Majors Blog, she works as a student assessment researcher at the Center for Educational Effectiveness.