Before College:Undergraduate programs are full of traditional students – young adults who are 18-22 years old, living on their own and experiencing who they are as adults in the world for the first time. They have common struggles and triumphs that bond them together. You might miss out on some of these experiences if you wait and get your degree when your former peers will be a grade or two ahead of you. Another aspect to consider is the amount of scholarship money available to you now and what will be available in a year or so. Some scholarships are only available to high school seniors who will enroll in a degree program the following fall. Of course, your earnings in your gap year may compensate for the change in scholarships. Try crunching some numbers and see what you find. Finally, keep in mind that taking a break from school now may decrease your likelihood of seeking an undergraduate degree later. After establishing a lifestyle away from the rhythms of school life, you might find it hard to return to homework, papers, and classrooms. Will you still be willing to invest in four years of schooling after you have a full-time job?
Before Graduate School:In my opinion, taking a gap year before starting graduate school is easier than taking a gap year before an undergraduate program. After completing your undergraduate degree, you know what college is like. You know the kind of work required of you, and you will be able to make a decision about the merits of returning to school. With your undergraduate degree in hand, you are already set to begin working in most fields. A graduate degree becomes a way to advance in your field and increase your earning potential again. If a graduate degree is useful but not necessary in your field, taking time off to work and determine the desirability of an advanced degree could be beneficial. Moreover, the lifestyle of a grad program does not depend as heavily on the “traditional student” concept. Grad degree programs are often integrated with full-time or part-time employment and sometimes employers are even willing to pay your way to an advanced degree. You can work and study at the same time, making it easier for you to return to school. Undergraduate degrees, because they require more credits, are more difficult (but not impossible!) to integrate with a full-time work schedule. On the other hand, you could choose to establish yourself in a career before beginning grad school. The final choice of whether or not to take a gap year is, of course, up to you. Careful consideration of your strengths and weaknesses as a student will help you more than anything else. Talk with professors, parents, and other mentors closest to you who can give you insights that may impact your decision but, ultimately, the choice is yours!
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