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Time off before grad school

  1. Sep 21, 2015 #1
    I'm in the middle of the stressful process of preparing for the GRE and preparing grad school applications. However, as it stands, I will have been an undergrad for 6 years after next spring when I graduate. I did an REU last summer, which was an amazing experience, but a ton of work. And I took summer classes the summer before that. So I've been going almost nonstop the last two years, and I'm starting to lose sight of my real reasons for wanting to go to grad school. So I've played with the idea of only applying to my top 3 schools and perhaps one safety school this fall. The idea is that if I get into one of my top 3, then I'll go. If not, I'll likely take the year off and work towards improving my GRE scores, enjoy life, and re-energize before committing another 6 years of my life to school.

    Does anyone have any opinions or experience with this?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 22, 2015 #2


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    I don't see anything wrong with that plan.

    Once you get below your top 3 or 4 choices you're probably not doing that much investigation into the program anyway and so you could end up locked into a program that you wouldn't have otherwise wanted.
  4. Sep 22, 2015 #3
    Keep in mind that it is more difficult to get into graduate school after taking a year off, especially if you are not doing anything in the meantime which makes you a better student (publishing papers, etc. etc.).
  5. Sep 22, 2015 #4


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    If that were true, then what about those students who applied to and were unable to get accepted to any graduate program? While I don't disagree that students should take whatever year off to demonstrate that they are a better student going forward, It sounds to me that you think that students have basically only one chance to get accepted to a PhD program.
  6. Sep 22, 2015 #5
    If they weren't accepted to a graduate program, and then took a year off without doing anything to better their chances, why should they get accepted in the second go-round? I'm not saying there aren't exceptions, I'm just using logic to think through it.
  7. Sep 23, 2015 #6
    You're assuming that a year off effectively means not doing anything to better your chances; probably coming from this silly idea that as a STEM undergrad you (ironically) mindlessly just do grad school when you're done. I applied and didn't get into grad school first time I applied over a year ago, but I have been working in engineering research and development in a national lab ever since where I have been upping my experimentation/programming skills, writing papers, and such like; this is not nothing. I am going to reapply in the near future and I don't think my added work experience would be lost on admissions committees. So to the OP, I would recommend getting some sort of job where you can show sort of improvement in the sort of things you'd be doing in grad school during your year off; you'd also be able to come up with real reasons for even wanting to go to grad school in the first place, and enjoy life some too.
  8. Sep 23, 2015 #7


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    I definitely know several people who did no straight grad school. Some even worked in completely different fields (consulting or tech for example).
  9. Sep 23, 2015 #8
    Which is why I specified "if you take a year off without doing anything to better your chances."
  10. Sep 23, 2015 #9

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    One doesn't get in to graduate school for one of two reasons: they are unlucky or they are uncompetitive. Unlucky means you were right near the edge of acceptance, and for one reason or the other (e.g. an abnormally large number of applicants, or an abnormally small number of slots) you didn't make it this year. If you're right on the edge, sure, tossing the dice again might help.

    If you're not right on the edge, and most applicants aren't (we know ~2x as many people take the GRE as are accepted in grad school), one shouldn't expect different results from the same inputs.
  11. Sep 29, 2015 #10
    I will tell you about my experience, and it may relate to you or it may not. I graduated from the University with a very low GPA. I always had an interest in physics and I worked hard (usually I had to get stung by one or even two examinations in each course to begin to study in earnest). By the end of the course or the summer after, I had repaired all the lessons I should have learned the semester before. Finally in the last semester, I actually had a B+ average, (only for that semester). I had a hard time picking any professor to ask for a recommendation, but I knew I wanted to learn more physics in graduate school. I also knew from the last semester, that I could do the work.
    I took the PGRE (without studying. This was > 35 years ago and I do not think you could study for it. I do not think there were any study guides back then and maybe ETS released one prior PGRE exam, I do not remember.) I got 58 percentile.I felt this was better than average in this regard. Anyway my confidence was shot. I did not apply to any graduate schools that year. (I think this was a mistake).
    Anyway, I knew I would have trouble getting recommendations, but I really wanted to learn more physics. The business that I applied at the year before for a summer job had an opening (it was not related to academics at all but it was honest work and paid well), so I worked the year. Because I had money, I approached my graduate admissions at my university and asked can I enroll in Mathematical Methods in Physics (the graduate course). Graduate admissions told me to pay the tuition (back then it was only 440 (1978) dollars) and I would take the course for credit as a "special student". I get no benefits, no health care etc. like a real grad student would get. I figured this is fair.
    I talked to the instructor (before going to graduate admissions) and he said this is OK with him. I asked him if I did well would he give me a recommendation. He said OK.
    I think I got a B+ in the course while working > 40 hours a week. The prof wrote one of three recommendations, I had two others.
    I applied to three schools the following year, none were in the top 20 in the rankings and at least one would be considered a safety school. I was admitted in all three.

    Once I got in to graduate schools there were a few rough places but nothing in comparison to what it took to get in, I definitely did well in the qualifying exams.

    (this is a long story, and it may not be relevant as it was > 35 years ago. I am not sure I would take advice in 1978 from someone who went to grad school in 1940!)

    The points I want to make is:

    1. Improving GRE is laudable. You may want/need to follow it up with a course (if you can afford it and you think you can get a good grade). Getting recommendations when you have been out a while may be problematic. Also the grad committee may look favorably on a continued commitment to your physics study. Taking a course with your own money demonstrates you are willing to invest in yourself. Demonstrating that value would impress me if I were on the graduate committee.

    2. At times, I took a couple of summers off to enjoy life and re-charging, back in the 80's it was called "finding myself". It never made a difference. You may not be more assured to commit the next 6 years after taking time off.

    3. It may be just an impression, but I did also read online a power point presentation by a faculty member (I do not remember the University) the PGRE will help but will not save a poor GRE. A good GRE is more likely to save a poor PGRE.This would definitely apply in my case and it may not be applicable to you.
  12. Sep 29, 2015 #11
    correction 3. It may be just an impression, but I did also read online a power point presentation by a faculty member (I do not remember the University) the PGRE will help but will not save a poor GPA. A good GPA is more likely to save a poor PGRE.This would definitely apply in my case and it may not be applicable to you.
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