Originally, the idea of taking time off school before graduate school didn’t make sense to me. I worried that taking a gap year would mean one less year of working at my “actual” job. I worried that losing the momentum from 16 years of schooling meant that I would never return. I worried that a future graduate program might think that I’m not serious about their program because I took a break to do something else. When I began working in the Community-AID Lab, though, I found that almost the opposite happened.
Students often use their gap years to pursue an internship, volunteer, complete a fellowship, or work in their career field. During my gap year experience, I decided to volunteer as an AmeriCorps VISTA serving in the Community-AID Lab. In this position, I’ve (among other things) assisted on a wide-scale implementation of a community school program, led a project to evaluate needs within a local non-profit housing organization, and worked on a research project focusing on Medicaid reimbursement within schools. While I was an undergrad, I had multiple part-time and full-time internships and several research experiences. While I learned a lot, nothing compares to the amount I’ve been able to learn working full-time for an extended period of time.
As someone who is interested in pursuing a degree in public health, specifically health policy, my position in the Community-AID Lab aligns well with my future studies and career. I’ve learned firsthand how communities implement community-based programs that are either directly or indirectly related to the social determinants of health. I’ve also worked with a team to publish research in academic journals. During this experience, I’ve honed my research and practice interests, which focuses on the intersection of federal-level legislation and the community-level impacts of policies.
While a gap year may not be right for everyone, I recommend that everyone thinking about going to graduate school, thinks about taking a gap year. I’m more competitive for a graduate-level program because of the significant amount of research and practice experience I’ve gained this year. Through this experience, I sharpened my research and career interests, which means I’ve been able to focus on applying to graduate programs that closely align with these interests. Now that I’m sure that I’ll enjoy and succeed at these graduate programs, I’m more excited to go to graduate school than I was during undergrad.
I had assumed I would go to undergrad, grad school, and then start my career. It seemed like a very simple path. Now that I’m almost finished with my year in the Community-AID Lab, I understand the perspective of the professionals I spoke with during undergrad. I am now more sure that I want to go to grad school and I’m more competitive for a graduate program. I now understand that a productive gap year can be beneficial and I recommend recent grads consider taking at least a year off of school before moving to the next degree.