The Importance of Getting More Experience Before Graduate School
Posted June 5, 2015
By Jen Simonds
Why Get More Experience?
- Gain valuable real-world experience to apply to graduate work.
- Create a second source for letters of recommendation from professionals in your chosen field.
- Add semester’s worth of improved grades to your transcript.
- Allow time for your senior project or thesis to be submitted in full with your graduate school application.
- Become familiar with the work you plan to do in the future and see if it “fits.”
- Most importantly: Allow time away to be sure that you want to go to graduate school.
Reality Check: Don't let these things be your prime motivators
DO NOT GO FOR YOUR PARENTS
DO NOT GO BECAUSE A FIELD SOUNDS IMPORTANT AND IS RESPECTED
DO NOT GO BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO
DO NOT GO BECAUSE YOU WANT TO HELP PEOPLE AND YOU THINK THIS IS THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN DO THAT
DO NOT GO BECAUSE YOU WANT TO BE CALLED DOCTOR
DO NOT GO BECAUSE YOU GOT GOOD GRADES
None of these motivations can sustain you through a grueling process that is a minimum of 2-3 intense years (professional Master’s & law school programs) to the typical 5-7 years it takes for a Ph.D.
Q: But, what do I tell my aunt when she asks me what I’m doing after graduation? It sounds much better to say that I’m going right to grad school.
A: Tell your aunt, “I am making a meaningful gap year plan to prepare myself for graduate school in the future”
1. Get a “job-job” to pay the bills and volunteer in the type of setting where you think you’d like to work in the future (e.g., research lab, human services agency or organization, schools)
2. Recharge yourself and/or travel. It’s a great time in your life to do that and it can help prepare for the next, more intense phase of your education by going in with a fresh mind and rested body.
3. Find a full-time job in a research lab.
4. Find a job as a psychiatric technician, group home worker, or a host of other bachelors-level positions where you can get experience in the social services field.
5. Work with your undergraduate advisor and other mentors to develop ideas for what other types of experience will help you prepare.
Many students say, “I need to go to graduate school right away, otherwise I won’t want to go or won’t have the motivation to go later.” You should only go to graduate school because you really want to go and/or need to go to do the work you really want to do and know that it’s the work you want to do from first-hand experience.
This needs to be a “fire in the belly” kind of feeling. You need to feel like you have to go because it is really what you want to do and because it involves subjects and work about which you feel nothing short of passionate!
[Jen Simonds is an associate professor of psychology and department chair at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. She took meaningful time between multiple degrees and found work she absolutely loves in the process.]