Taking a “Gap Year”

    By IvyTies
    Taking a “Gap Year”

    Most students (and their parents) feel that they should finish their studies in one go. That is, get through high school and go to college right away. If you plan to do postgraduate studies, it’s best to apply for a Master’s or PhD program in the fourth year (or last year) of college. Doesn’t a gap between high school and college and between college and graduate school feel like a waste of time? But think again – the gap might be a way to improve your career prospects for the rest of your life.


    Using a gap to get into a better college

    As you probably know, top international universities do not want book worms – they want students with diverse interests and experiences. But you if grew up in a competitive school environment in which you had no choice but to study all the time, you probably don’t have many extra-curricular activities and have probably not had much chance to volunteer. Without significant extra-curricular achievements (e.g., founding the school chess club, participants in a school drama) and volunteer work, it would be difficult to get admitted to top colleges like Stanford, Berkeley, or Pomona (the top arts and science college in the US).


    You can use your gap year to fill the gap in your application – participate in some unique extracurricular activity (e.g., tap dancing), or take a leadership role in a relatively common extracurricular activity (e.g., football). Do some volunteer work – teaching English in a small village school, or organize a crowdsourcing campaign to get donations for people who suffered from a recent calamity. You can also use the gap year to study for exams needed for the foreign country, such as the SAT, if you haven’t had time to study for them during high school.


    Using a gap to get into a better graduate school

    The next opportunity to take a gap year comes after you finish college but before starting a Master’s or PhD program. If you are planning to get a Master’s degree in the same field as the one in which you got your Bachelor’s, there’s probably no need to take a gap. But if you are planning to switch fields, then you can take a gap year to gain experience in the new field. This is particularly important if you want to get admitted to a top graduate school. For some Master’s degree programs, such as an MBA, nearly all schools in the US require about two years of work experience.


    A gap year can be even more beneficial if you are planning to pursue a PhD. A PhD is a research degree, in that your main job during your 5 years of PhD would be to do research (you would take classes for only the first two years, but are still expected to do research even while taking classes). If you did your undergraduate at a research-focused college, and already worked as a research assistant or wrote an independent research thesis, you can apply for a PhD in the last year of your Bachelor degree program (North American schools don’t require a Master’s degree for admission into PhD, but most European schools do). But if you weren’t lucky enough to participate in research in college but instead studied at a not so high ranked college in the US, India, China, Ethiopia, or wherever, you can use a gap year to work as a full-time research assistant for a professor and drastically improve your chances of getting admitted to a top 10 PhD program.


    Most professors active in research hire full-time research assistants to help their day to day tasks. Doing such a job during your gap year would give you valuable research experience, expose you to the entire research process, give you opportunity to develop your own research ideas, and substantially increase your chances of getting admitted to a top PhD program. This is particularly the case if you did not study at a top international college – once you have experience as a fulltime research assistant, PhD admission committees would be very impressed by you if the professor you are working under says that you are the best student he or she has worked with. So by spending two or three gap years getting research experience, the rank of your PhD college can jump by even a massive 100 points. Malia Obama announced her decision to take a gap year before going to college. She probably did her homework very well.


    Join www.ivyties.com and find out what other students are doing around the world and how they are planning their career.


    Edit: IvyTies is hosting a live webinar this Sunday on the importance of gap year on college admissions. Find more details here