By Deborah Vieyra
If graduate school is calling you but you are not sure if the timing is right, know that you are not alone. Decisions like these are the hardest to make because there is no one path to go on, no one example to follow, and no way of knowing for sure if one route is better than the other.
Ultimately, there are merits in both avenues. Going to graduate school for a master’s or doctorate straight after your undergrad is beneficial because you are able to capitalize on the momentum you have gained from the preceding years. Of course, this route also means that you will get to that grad school commencement that much sooner, if that is a factor that is important to you.
On the other hand, taking some time between your undergraduate and graduate degrees will provide you with the opportunity to explore the job market, to mature as a person, and to consolidate your research ideas.
While we cannot tell you categorically that either one of these options is the right route to go, we can offer you some food for thought that will help you answer this important question for yourself.
Consider your career objectives.
Are you looking to become a professional academic, or would you prefer to carve out a career beyond academia? If you are able to answer this for yourself, some of the pieces of the question of whether to go to grad school immediately may fall into place.
If you are looking to embark on an academic career as a professor or researcher, going straight into graduate school may be advantageous. You will have the opportunity to get teaching and research experience, as well as form connections that will help you down the line. In this instance, it may help to get those letters behind your name sooner rather than later.
If, on the other hand, you are looking at another career path or are not certain if academia is right for you, it may serve you to first get experience in your desired field before returning to school for the next chapter. This will allow you to understand how best to focus your research going forward. It will help you make the right choice about what program to go into and how best to link it to your career goals.
It’s not just about your professional development.
In some cases, taking the time out to develop your worldly wisdom can have huge bearing on how successful your graduate experience is. Approaching grad school with a level of maturity that can only come from spending some time in the “real world” can help you focus your efforts in a more strategic way. You may find that this life experience will bring another dimension to the work you are able to do. Some time away from the classroom may even steer you on a new path. You may find that you veer onto a new research trajectory that you would never have considered had you not taken the time to get perspective from outside an academic environment.
Consider ways to improve your resume.
Entry into grad school is competitive. It may help your chances of acceptance by adding work experience and skills your resume. For some graduate degrees, like a professional Master of Business Administration (MBA), the university may even require that you have some work experience. There are various ways in which you can add to your resume to make it stand out. Of course, work experience is the most obvious of these. Other options would be to find ways to develop your leadership skills by joining community organizations, volunteering and tutoring.
Research fellowships and other funding options.
It may take some time to research and apply for different graduate fellowship and funding options and determine ways to make yourself a competitive candidate for these opportunities. Keep in mind that many graduate fellowships have deadlines in the fall and winter, similar to graduate school admissions deadlines. If you would like to look into award options, be sure to keep abreast of fellowship deadlines through the resources that ProFellow offers.
Nobody can make the decision for you. Get out a piece of paper and a pen and write down the pros and cons of each option — and then trust yourself. You probably already know deep down which path is best for you.
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.