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The Gap Year: Between Graduation and Graduate School

January 20, 2006
Should I do a post BA internship? Travel the world? Work in the biotech industry or join a documentary film crew?

If you're in a quandary about how to spend the year or two after graduation and before grad school, you're certainly in good company. This is an increasingly common question among seniors and recent graduates, and there are various ways to address it.

If you have decided to become a lawyer or doctor for instance, and have already had internships in your field, you probably don't need another one. The best reasons for doing so would be if the experience offered a unique perspective on the field, or represented an rare opportunity to get experience in a specialized, competitive area, say, entertainment law, or forensic medicine.

Or alternatively, you may know that you want to obtain a graduate degree to deepen your knowledge base and/or to meet the competitive standards of today's professional job market, but haven't decided on a specific discipline or type of graduate program. The additional information and experience gained from an internship or job during a gap year can provide crucial insight into which career field and what type of graduate program you really want to pursue.

Following are some different ways to approach the "Gap" year:

Real World 101
Some students have expressed an interest in working in their profession for three to five years, with the prospect of graduate school as a longer term goal, and many graduate programs require or strongly prefer that applicants have concrete work experience in the field. If you have this time frame in mind, begin your job search using Career Center resources. Review CalJobs for position vacancies, attend relevant Career Fairs, and think about attending one of our Job Search/OCR workshops.

Strengthening Your Application
If you are applying to a professional school program and haven't had much exposure to the field, the year may be well spent working in a law firm, human services agency, or clinic setting, depending upon your desired field. Professional schools want assurance that their applicants know what they're getting into, and on the basis of prior work/internships experience are prepared to get the most out their program. If your academic record isn't top notch, a strong recommendation from a professional in the field who has watched you work can increase your odds as an applicant. In addition to the resources listed above, review the Internship section of our website.

Career Exploration
If you are interested in two or more careers that require different types of graduate training, taking a year or more to explore the fields is a wise decision. After an internship or six months of temporary work, you have a better sense of whether the field is a match for you.

Acting Globally
Many students have expressed an interest in combining their career interest with an international focus, or simply getting experience living in another country and culture. Review the International section of our Career Fields section.

 
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This page last updated 1/19/2006 (ag/db)