Determining when to go to grad school can be tricky. Some students apply immediately after graduating from college while others wait until they get some professional experience under their belt.
Going to grad school directly from undergrad can be appealing, especially if you’ve gotten comfortable in an academic atmosphere and want to square away your degrees as quickly as you can. Depending on your field, it may also make sense to apply to grad school right after college—particularly if you’re interested in getting your PhD down the line.
That said, a lot of professional master’s degree programs value work experience, so pursuing a job after college may help you gain acceptance into your top program. Furthermore, taking some time after receiving your bachelor's can help you figure out whether your chosen field is truly right for you, or if there's something else you'd rather pursue than another degree.
To help you figure out which path is right for you, we break down some of the reasons why waiting to apply to and attend grad school is appealing for some prospective grad students.
1. Clarify your chosen field
Working entry-level positions in your field of interest can help you explore your talent, gauge your passion, and network with other professionals. With these experiences, you can be more confident that your chosen field is truly your life’s calling, as well as better differentiate between grad degree programs. For example, perhaps your interest in social work grows, but you've realized that you will need to obtain specific clinical certification based on the population you’d like to work with.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider your field and longer term goals:
- What experiences have led me to choose this degree path?
- What are my career goals, and do they demand a graduate degree at this time?
- Have my mentors in this field earned graduate degrees? Did they go to grad school directly after college or have advice about when would be most advantageous?
2. Gaining experience now means deeper learning later
Learning in the classroom can be more meaningful when you have professional experiences to relate and connect back to. Your work experience can also provide valuable insights that allow you to explore topics more deeply than students who have less experience outside of the classroom.
Reflecting on your professional experience so far and drilling down what you know—and what skills and information you still seek—can also help you refine what you’re looking for from your graduate education.
3. Strengthen your graduate school application
Gaining acceptance into graduate school can be quite competitive; admissions teams review everything from your grades and test scores to your resume and personal essays. They are most interested in candidates who demonstrate an ability to succeed in school, have a background and personality that compliment others in their cohort, can contribute to a positive classroom community, and can find success in their career as an alum.
The more work experience you have prior to applying, the more realistic your professional goals are going to be, and the better a resource you will be to your classmates in discussions, study groups, and networking in the field. Additionally, if you’re feeling nervous about your undergraduate grades, professional experience can help round out your application and showcase your ability to perform outside of the classroom.
Some questions to ask yourself as you assess your application and consider waiting to apply include:
- What will strengthen my application in the eyes of the admissions officers?
- Do the graduate programs I am interested in typically prefer more experienced candidates?
- In what ways can I gain meaningful work experience prior to grad school, so that when I graduate I have the edge of experience combined with education?
4. Find more time to study for standardized exams
It can be tough to balance studying for the GRE, LSAT, or other graduate school admissions tests on top of a full college course load. Taking time between your undergraduate and graduate degrees allows you some additional time to study and prepare for these exams.
While it may be tricky to balance your test preparation with employment after college, some people find they have more time to devote to study on weeknights and weekends when they are not in the office, especially if they elect to take a standardized test preparation course.
5. Build your financial readiness
It’s true that a graduate education has the potential to increase your earnings. However, by taking a few years after college to pay down student loan debt, and potentially start saving for your graduate degree or other financial goals, you can put yourself in a more comfortable financial position during grad school and beyond.
Some questions to consider as you review your finances and think about the future include:
- What can I do in the next one to three years that will strengthen my financial standing?
- What financial goals do I have, for grad school and beyond?
- What does my budget look like while I’m paying down my current undergraduate student loans?
Pro Tip: For further reading about assessing your finances for graduate school, take a look at our article, Are You Financially Ready for Grad School?
Going straight from college to grad school is a choice you should consider carefully. We hope the above points and questions help you make an informed decision about your next steps.
Considering whether a part-time or full-time grad degree program is right for you? Take our quiz to find out!