Employment Guide: Don’t mind the gap year

Kirstin Kennedy | January 31, 2012    

For some people, deciding between graduate school and a career is cake.

Liam O’Loughlin… For some people, deciding between graduate school and a career is cake.

Liam O’Loughlin graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park and immediately jumped over to Pitt to become an English literature Ph.D. student. Despite being happy about his decision to go straight into the program, he’s seen how he’s become tired.

During his fall semester, while taking many of his upper-level courses required for graduation, he also had to take the GRE, accumulate letters of recommendation, revise his writing samples and tailor his statments to send to the 10 graduate programs he applied to.

“It was like taking on another course load of work,” he said.

For others, the challenge proves less conquerable.

O’Loughlin was fortunate enough to get accepted into his top-choice schools right away. But for many, even getting past the application stage can be too daunting or time-consuming. For many students, the undergraduate experience doesn’t allow enough time to determine exactly what they’d like to do — take out more loans to afford continuing education or hop into the job market.

Taking an interim year or two after graduating might make students fearful about getting into a graduate program. But many admissions advisors at Pitt say that a little time off generally can’t hurt.

“In the application process, there are no positive or negative benefits to taking time off before applying to law school,” said Allie Linsenmeyer, director of admission at the Barco Law School.

Her advice spans beyond law school and can be applied to most graduate programs.

“What I say to students is that if you are ready to go to law school directly after your undergrad, great — do it. But if you are thinking that you want a break or that you want to work for a while, you know yourself best. You need to do what you feel is right. In the process of applying to law school, there is no right or wrong. It is always what is best for you,” she said.

But taking time off doesn’t mean doing nothing with your time. Graduates should still keep in contact with professors, advisors and department liaisons for letters of recommendation as well as future networking and career purposes.

“The admissions board is comprised of faculty members, so we like to see the student in an academic way,” she said. “Students need to pick a person who knows them well and will provide detailed and valuable information to the board. A big mistake that I see is students who think it will be advantageous to have a person with an important title write the letter of recommendation, but unless they are going to provide something substantive about the student, we would rather hear from someone who knows them well.”

If you don’t plan to keep in contact with the Pitt community, O’Loughlin suggests that you have a professor write a recommendation while you are still an undergraduate student. You can then put the letter on file for whenever you find a need for it. This tactic is also beneficial in ensuring that the professor or adviser remembers you and your work in their class.

In addition, it’s helpful to build relationships with people from the school you’d one day like to attend and get information on the program there. Michelle Delie, coordinator of graduate student services, advises students to get the specific details that go along with the application process of particular fields.

“With [Pitt’s] Arts & Sciences 35 graduate departments, there is a lot of variation with specific program requirements,” she said. “But it’s all about what the student would bring to the table. For instance, a student looking to get an MFA will want to perfect their submissions in the time off from school. But what about something like anthropology? It is always important [for the student] to be in direct contact with the department of interest. They will know the exact requirements and preferences.”

O’Loughlin also advises that, when taking time off, it is important to see how you react to the break from schooling.

If you are craving more knowledge in your field, constantly reading about it or forming questions about it, graduate school is something to keep working toward. If not — well, there’s no harm in making it mulitple interim years.

Print Friendly