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Deciding when to study, and when to take some time out, is always a difficult decision. This is especially true when considering postgraduate study.
Taking a break from university before a Masters or PhD might seem strange. After all, gap years are for new students, right?
But 'time off' can actually be a very productive way to prepare for postgraduate study. It could offer a much-needed break, provide time to reflect on your next step, or be a means of obtaining the skills and experience required for your new course.
Whatever your circumstances, there are some obvious (and not so obvious) ways to make sure a post-graduate 'gap year' is worthwhile.
Many students opt to take a year out to get professional work. And, now that you’re a graduate, this could be easier to find.
Working full-time for a year allows you to see what the professional world is really like, and the kinds of roles you can go for with the degree you currently hold.
It’s also an excellent way to save up some money, or pay off some of your student loan (if you have one).
Ultimately, it’s a good way to see whether you’re ready for a permanent job, or whether you’d like to spend more time studying.
Volunteering is a great way to add to your CV, and explore some of your personal interests.
You could use it as an opportunity to do some charity work, or simply assist with a project which satisfies your hobby.
Voluntary work could also be a means of gaining some experience in the field you might potentially study at postgrad level.
For example, if you’re interested in History or Heritage Studies, you could join a scheme at your local museum or art gallery.
Or, if you are interested in Agriculture or Veterinary Science, you could volunteer at a local farm or vets practice.
Unpaid work experience can feel like a bit of a step backwards when you’ve got a degree or two behind you, but it’s an ideal way to gain professional experience in your field.
It’s also a good way of discovering whether that ‘dream job’ you’d always envisioned doing is actually for you - without having to commit to the role permanently.
Your university will likely offer some summer internships which you can participate in, but local businesses are also always on the lookout.
And if it turns out that the work you thought you wanted isn’t quite to your taste, then perhaps postgraduate study is.
Perhaps one of the more generic options, you want to make sure that travelling will benefit your future professional or academic career in some way.
Of course, going out and ‘discovering yourself’ is all well and good in its own right.
But, a future employer is bound to ask about any gaps in your CV, and what you’ve learnt from your travelling debut.
Keeping a blog of your experiences and reflecting on your personal discoveries will improve your individual development and evidence your intercultural outlook in a material way.
These experiences would also look excellent on a CV or a personal statement for further study.
It’s also worth noting here that travel and postgraduate study can be combined.
Sometimes undertaking a full postgraduate degree isn’t necessary to achieve your professional aims.
Different from further study, training courses offer a more vocational approach to learning.
They are a good means of testing whether postgraduate study is for you, while developing your professional capabilities.
CPD (Continuing Professional Development) courses are popular for those already in professional work, wishing to heighten their skills for that role.
Other, shorter courses include Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas, which can be utilised to totally switch your field of interest, either for further study or for your career path.
And, if you decide full postgraduate study is the next step for you after all, you won’t have ‘wasted time’ by having done an intermediary qualification.
Take a look at reasons why you might benefit from starting a postgraduate course before taking a gap year.
Keen to get your foot on the career ladder? Read our blog post on why you should consider postgraduate study first.
Thinking of moving abroad for your Masters or PhD? Take a look at our list of the sorts of countries you might want to look into, depending on your subject.
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