Taking the Guilt out of Taking a Gap Year
“Back in my day, no one took a gap year before grad school. In fact, we all had to graduate early to even have a chance of looking good on an application. In fact, there was one measly homemade pipette for an entire room of researchers and our lab notebooks were made of papyrus and stained with the tears of undergrads. Students should just toughen up and get used to the rigor of college”
This is what the evil voice in the back of my head used to sound like when I got further into my college education, and closer to the thought of possibly taking a gap year after I graduate. I had friends who were graduating a year early, starting to study for their MCAT in their freshman year, and I began to think that there was no way I would ever ~lower myself~ to take a gap year. Little did I know, I would soon find myself barely passing both general chemistry classes, which meant that I would be backtracking and retaking those classes at a community college, slightly derailing my very thought out timeline of when I “needed” to finish certain classes. The truth is, life isn’t linear. And while I would love for it to look all uphill, things are going to happen that show you that you need to learn how to adapt. For me, that was general chemistry. For others, it might be the current pandemic that our world faces, and how that affects students’ learning outcomes and MCAT and GRE test dates. Whatever it may be, your reason for wanting to take a gap year is valid, and no one can take that away from you. Here are some reasons why taking a gap year can be a good thing.
1.It can save you a ton of money
It’s no secret that grad schools are incredibly expensive. Taking a gap year doesn’t have to look like some people think it does: sitting on your couch all day and playing Animal Crossing for an entire year (although my life is starting to feel that way recently). It can mean finding a job to help pay off student loans, or saving up for grad school so that debt doesn’t hold you back in the future.
I've only just finished my sophomore year as a kinesiology major, but I can definitely say that I've experienced my fair share of burnout from time to time. For the past 2 years, I have never had more than 2 weeks of a break from school. I took summer classes, winter classes, and just about anything else you can think of. And while it may look productive to those looking from the outside, I never gave myself a chance to breathe. When I did get a break, I didn't know what to do with myself! I was so used to the typical work-hard attitude that STEM majors tend to take on, and the chance to relax felt alien to me. I began to feel like I was just going through the motions and became less passionate about the subjects I had wanted to study so badly in high school. I even worried that maybe this was the wrong choice of major. Once I took a real break and stepped back from studying and checking off the boxes of grad school prerequisites to take, I was reminded that helping people is what I love most in the world, and I made the right choice in picking kinesiology.
3.You’ll have more time to prepare for the GRE or MCAT
That being said, taking a gap year can be a great way to have an extended schedule to study for the tests required to apply as a grad student. For some people, studying for a month is enough to ace their GRE or MCAT. But for me and so many others, we do much better with 3-6 months (or even more) of studying for such important tests as these. While many schools are shifting towards the thought of prioritizing standardized test scores less, they are still important outward indicators that they look at. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather study for 3-4 hours a day for 3 months than study 8 hours a day for 1 month and socially isolate myself. The extended timeline that a gap year offers lets you have more of a life outside of studying, and fosters a much more balanced lifestyle.
It’s not all about work. Taking a gap year to explore the world outside of your room and the library can educate you in an entirely different way. There are several volunteer programs that offer housing to live internationally and serve under-resourced communities, in addition to programs that allow you to do this while studying abroad. This can be an experience that gives you a much greater perspective on the world. Learning new languages and meeting new people can enhance your communication skills and can be incredibly rewarding. Traveling teaches you budgeting, problem solving, and how to better connect with people--all of which are soft skills that employers and interviewers look for during the application process!
5.Get more hands on experience
A gap year is a such a valuable way to put yourself directly into the field. Interning or getting an assistant style job as a CNA or PT Aide can help you save money, get more observation hours, and develop connections that can give you strong letters of recommendation. It also shows you a little bit of what it will feel like to work in your desired career field. This time working in the field can make you an even more competitive applicant and give you useful contacts when you’re trying to get a job later down the line. Graduate schools are not going anywhere. They are going to be there next year, and the year after that. So take your time, acknowledge your individual situation, and practice compassion and empathy towards yourself if a gap year may be something that can work in your favor.
I hope you all have a great summer and find some time to do what you love!