Finding community on campusKelli Ruhl
If your son or daughter is thinking about going to graduate school directly after college, there are some things they might want to consider. Taking time off between college and graduate school is a growing trend.
When I was a student thirty years ago, completing your education in one shot was the norm (outside of the top MBA programs). Some of my friends had a true interest in the graduate program they chose. However, I had many friends who went as a default option because they didn’t know what else to do and wanted a concrete plan by the time they graduated. Several later realized they hadn’t put enough thought into the decision and wished they’d spent time exploring other career options which might have suited them better.
Today’s students seem wiser about their futures and are comfortable with the concept of taking time to figure things out.
With the rising costs of education, it makes sense to be certain before investing money in an advanced degree. In some fields, without excellent grades from a top graduate program, it may be challenging to get a job after graduation, making loan repayment difficult. It is essential that your student research job placement from the graduate schools they’re considering to improve the likelihood of achieving a return on their investment. In the field of law, for those hoping to work in large, prestigious, big city firms, pedigree does matter and it can make sense to pay full fare at a higher ranked school rather than attend a program that offers scholarship money.
Some graduate programs encourage potential applicants to take time off by limiting spots available to new college grads. A gap year or two can provide more time to study for and take (or retake) entrance exams, write essays and complete applications, visit schools and schedule interviews, all of which might help your student get accepted at a higher ranked school. Medical school applications are an especially time-consuming and involved process.
Another consideration: there are companies with excellent education benefits that will cover part or even all of the cost of night classes at nearby university or an online program. It will take longer to complete a degree this way, but the money saved may be worth it.
Once out in the real world, which has its own benefits like a paycheck and a less-sheltered environment, the life of a student (papers and exams, food service meals, campus housing, endless studying) may lose its appeal. A friend’s son, accepted at a top law school, decided to defer for a year and work at a start-up company. He liked his job so much that he decided to forgo law school altogether.
Of course, sometimes going to graduate school straight out of college makes the most sense. For a student who is in an academic groove, taking a few years off could cause a loss of momentum. The economy and job market can also play a part. During the Great Recession that began in 2008, jobs — particularly at the entry level — were scarce. Graduate school kept many students meaningfully occupied until the job market improved, while simultaneously providing them with the opportunity to enhance themselves as job candidates.
My oldest son decided to buck the “wait a year or two” trend. My husband and I weren’t sure he was ready for the rigors of law school and suggested he take some time off. Despite our advice, our son was certain he was prepared and started law school just a few months after his college commencement. At 21, he was the second youngest in his class of 400 — the average age of first-year students was 24.
His conviction that he was on the right path shaped his experience. He enjoyed his time in law school, did well and landed a job at the firm where he had hoped to work. In contrast, he observed that his classmates who were ambivalent about pursuing a law degree did not perform as well as those who knew it was what they wanted, and this affected their job prospects after graduation.
You can help your own college student make an informed decision about graduate school by recommending that they consult with campus career counselors, alumni networks, friends’ parents and family members. If they’re still unsure, this may be a sign that waiting to apply, or deferring matriculation if they’ve already been accepted, is a good idea.
In the end, there’s no right or wrong approach. The decision about when and whether to pursue an advanced degree is highly personal. By doing their research — and soul search, too — your student should find themselves on a path that makes sense and feels right.
Photo by Danielle Clemons
Read more stories by Marlene at her blog, "Thoughts from Aisle Four."