Feb, 7, 2020
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I am thinking about taking a break from my undergraduate studies. Will this affect my chances of eventually getting into graduate school?
Should I take a break?
In the past it was common for foreign students to take a gap, or sabbatical year prior to entering undergraduate school and before attending graduate school. While gap years used to be uncommon in the United States, statistics show that since 2006, there has been an increase of up to 43 per cent year over year since then.
Not every student completes his or her undergraduate education in four years. In many cases these students need to work, want to travel, join the military or take time off in order to explore different career routes.
This hiatus should present no problem for you should you intend to apply to a law or business school later on — and it just could work to your advantage. Many professional schools prefer applicants who have experienced the "real world" before they apply but there are exceptions.
Math and physics majors generally enjoy job placement following graduation because their outstanding analytical skills are increasingly in demand in the private sector. You will find that many top law and MBA programs will prefer students who have a few years of life experience and internships 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. GPA and LSAT/GMAT scores have to be competitive.
A typical "time off" story is that of a client of mine who decided to go back to college after taking a couple of years off to pursue a film career. He wanted to complete his undergraduate degree in business and then apply to a top business school for graduate studies. His grades and undergraduate SAT scores were in the top ten percent, so he was building on solid academic fundamentals. When my client needed to do with his re-application materials was to show how his “time off” had enhanced his potential for success in his continued studies.
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 more than a year. A strongly written autobiography will often tip the scale in your favor and put you ahead of students with better academic records.
The first sentence of the first paragraph is the most important one. It must be powerful, and it must 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 standup comedian, a waiter at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, and a stint working in China where he learned the Mandarin language. I thought his story was extremely interesting, offered insight into his drive and personality and showed that he was now ready to assume the responsibilities of a career in business.
He had learned a new language, experienced a new culture, and was ready to return to school more motivated and confident.
In my opinion, students who take a gap year/years before graduating should have no fear of falling behind in the college admissions area. It should be fairly easy to get back into the groove once you decide to return to college.
When you are ready to enter the employment pool after graduation you will find that most recruitment consultants are advocates of gap years. They will see that your ability to step outside of your comfort zone and stay productive adds to your employability.
Gerald Bradshaw is a top US college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting.
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