Sunday, June 24, 2018
Taking time off from college can work to your advantage
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I am thinking of taking a break from my undergraduate university studies. Will this affect my chances of getting into graduate school when I do resume my college degree? Signed, Concerned
Not every student completes his or her undergraduate education in four years. Many choose to take a break before completing their degrees. Some need to work, want to travel, join the military or just take time off in order to refocus on what they really intend to do with their lives. This should present no problem for you should you intend to apply to a top law or business school later on — and it actually might work to your advantage.
Most professional schools prefer applicants who have experience in the real world before they apply. There are exceptions. Math and physics majors are prized right out of college because their outstanding analytical skills are increasingly in demand in the private sector. Still, most top law and MBA programs prefer students to have a few years of life experience behind them.
The graduate school admissions process is the same for all students. Students who take five or more years to graduate should keep in mind that they will still be evaluated on the same criteria as other students. Their GPA and LSAT/GMAT scores have to be competitive. While it isn’t a well-known fact, students may be required to submit these scores when applying for an actual job. Reporting of these test scores is becoming standard practice. Companies are paying six-figure starting salaries and do not want to risk hiring a disappointment.
A typical “time off” story is that of a client of mine who wanted to resume his studies after taking off five years to pursue a film career and form a business. He wanted to go complete his undergraduate degree and then apply to Harvard Business School. His grades and undergraduate SAT scores were in the top 10 percent, so he was building on solid fundamentals. The key was how he would differentiate himself from others who have taken a break or those who have completed school in four years.
The first task I gave him was to write a short autobiography. This is extremely important if one has to account for a gap of several years. A strongly written autobiography can often tip the scale in your favor. It can even be used to help put you ahead of students with better academic records.
Some of my clients spend a month or more writing their autobiography before they got it right. The first sentence of the first paragraph is the most important one. It must be powerful and make the reader want to read the rest of the story. My client started out this way: “I arrived in Hollywood with only the name of a soup kitchen in my pocket.” From there, he went on to write about his experiences as a prop man, standup comedian, a waiter at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills and then having spent time in China.
At first, he left out the interesting parts about being a waiter. He thought that the details would bore the reader and were nonacademic, and so he played them down. I found his story amazingly interesting and that it offered brilliant insights into his drive and personality. He talked about how he bucked the traditional four years of college and went off on his own to try something different. He is now ready to assume the responsibilities of a career in business, and I believe Harvard or any other MBA program will give him due attention for his life story.
After the autobiography was written, I recommended that he take a few extra math classes to round out his Asian studies major. He had spent a year in China learning Mandarin. The math classes will show that he understands how important quantitative skills are becoming in the business world.
Success is not always based on having an outstanding personality and salesmanship ability. In my opinion, students who take off a few years before graduating should have no fear of falling behind in the college admissions area. In many cases the experiences gained in that time out will work in your favor. I predict that it will be fairly easy for you to fall back into the groove once you return to college.
Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting in Crown Point.
Tags: College Search Test Preparation
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