Why You Shouldn't Rush Into Grad School

by Gina M. Florio
Asian cheerful woman taking a picture with her smartphone in London city.
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These days, a lot of people are opting to attend graduate school, and we're seeing more women and people of color enter these programs than ever before. It's expected that, during the 2015-15 school year, 802,000 master's degrees and 179,000 PhDs will be attained. If you're particularly young and ambitious, maybe you're considering joining these ranks by attending grad school right after you graduate college.

But as someone who did just that, I would personally advise against going to grad school right after you graduate college. I applied for a master's program during my senior year of college, and just a few months after I graduated, I picked up everything and moved to Boston to embark on my grad school journey — completely on my own. In many ways, it set me up for the rest of my life. Nonetheless, there are a few things I might do differently this time around, if I ever get my hands on a functional time machine. I wish I had spoken to some older, more experienced people out there (I think they're called grown-ups) about my decision-making process.

You may initially want to file everything I say below as trash, but don't be so quick to write it off. Here are eight reasons you shouldn't rush to graduate school right after you've finished college.

1. You'll Be Less Mature If You Don't Wait

Spending time as a non-student adult can prepare you for grad school in inexplicable ways. Whatever you do, whether it's work on a creative project, get a job, or live abroad, you'll come back to that PhD application feeling way more self-confident and knowledgable. Not only will this make you a stronger candidate to get chosen for the program, you will walk onto campus the first day being more self-assured than your just-graduated-college self, and that's what is most important.

I was pretty timid in grad school. I didn't think I was, but when I look at myself now, and see how much more assertive I am, I almost don't even recognize the girl who sat nervously in the corner of my seminar. I attribute my change to all the interesting things I experienced from life after grad school, including all the emotional ups and downs that toughened me up in the long run.

2. Getting Some Work Experience First Is Valuable

Spend some time working a job, even if it's just a year, and you'll have triple the amount of knowledge and experience to bring to the table when you get to grad school. Having a job for a little while will also teach you how to time-manage in ways you didn't get to learn in college — because, despite what you might think, grad school takes a lot more work. You'll obtain organizational and stress management skills as well, both of which turn out to be very handy when you're stuck in a pile of research papers.

3. You Can Save Up Some Money If You Wait

If you're like most of us, you'll be miserably stuck in student loan debt until your future kids have grandkids, so why not make an effort to put a little money in the bank before you go study Shakespeare for eight hours a day? Even though your loans will be deferred while you're in school, it's nicer to graduate a master's program knowing that you've got at least a small chunk of that pile paid off. After all, you're probably about to add even more to that pile with this new degree.

4. You Need Time To Decide Exactly What You Want To Study

The last thing you want is to be stuck in multiple classes a day, driven to teary boredom. To make sure you're passionate about your area of focus, you may have to explore it a little more, and sift through the alternative options as well. You're about to make a big commitment, one that could affect the rest of your life, so don't think choosing the right degree program should be taken lightly.

5. ... And Choose Which School Is Right For You

You might think you know which school you want to go right off the bat — but you probably don't. You're used to looking at national rankings, tuition cost, acceptance rate, etc., but choosing where to do a graduate program is about so much more than those numbers. Carve out time to do some solid research.

Find out which professors are at each school, what they've accomplished, and how they can play a role in your future. Get in touch with people who are either currently in the program you're applying to, or have recently graduated, and gather intel about what campus culture and peer interaction was like. Forget for a second how prestigious the schools are, because it's these details of your graduate program that are going to make a big difference for you in the end.

6. You'll Have More Chance To Travel If You Wait

You've probably heard this before and brushed it off, because you're young and invincible, but I've found the following to be true: You won't get the chance to travel with as much freedom as you have when you're at this stage in your life. Take advantage of it!

Despite what it may seem like in the movies, you don't need heaps of cash to explore this planet. Go somewhere super cheap, like Cambodia or Bolivia. This could be part of the extra life experience we talked about earlier. I wish I could put into words how much this kind of travel can change your life, but you have to see it for yourself.

7. You Need Time To Accomplish Creative Projects

If there is a creative project that is really important to you, consider taking some time off from school to nurture it. Keep in mind that you probably won't have the time if you're stuck in the lectures, seminars, and research assignments that make up everyday graduate school.

If it's relevant to your work, it might even help you accomplish more in grad school. If it's not, at the very least, you'll have something under your belt that's your own, something you probably wouldn't have been able to do later in life.

8. You Could Probably Use A Break

I forgot to say from the very beginning: Congratulations on finishing college! You made it out in one piece. Now ask yourself if you could use a break from all the assignments and responsibilities. Be honest with your answer, and don't let society steer your decision-making. We still live under this silly premise that our lives have to go in a linear direction, all to end up living in a white picket fence, or something.

Don't succumb to that pressure. You're in charge. So if you want to chill for awhile, and spend the next year getting a tan and Netflixing your butt off while you work at a cafe, make it happen. Grad school will still be waiting for you when you're refreshed.

Images: Luke Chan/E+/Getty Images; Giphy