What Should You Do Before Graduate School?

Are you planning on going straight to graduate school after completing your undergraduate studies? If so, take a minute to consider taking a year off. Many graduate students who go straight from undergraduate to graduate studies lack professional skills such as project management and communication, skills that their fellow applicants gained while working after college. You might do well to consider this alternative path to finishing your studies.

Gain Experience and Build Your Professional Skills

As a health care professional, you’re likely to be required to manage teams, chair committees and travel to seminars, conferences and meetings while balancing your day-to-day workload. Along with gaining the time management skills necessary for these sorts of responsibilities, spending some time starting on your career ladder right after undergraduate studies can also help you develop:

Interview skills

Job searching will give you real-life experience at panel and one-on-one interviews, both of which are common in the graduate school admissions process. No amount of mock interviews will have the same effect.

Communication skills

Learning to work with others in a high-stress and sensitive environment will build your credibility and professionalism. You’ll find yourself speaking to peers, supervisors and subordinates and discovering what works and what doesn’t.

Conflict Resolution skills

As a professional, you’ll work with so many types of people. You’ll need to learn to delegate and manage those tasks. Sometimes negotiating with vendors or contractors is necessary and these situations require conflict resolution. Consider entering the health care workforce after your undergraduate studies so you can gain these skills while learning your trade.

Strengthen Your Application

Working can also strengthen your graduate school application. Things like research, writing and work experience all help. Presenting at a professional conference in your chosen field gives you huge advantages over other applicants who are applying right after college and don’t have those experiences.

It is now more common to have publications and presentations under your belt before applying to graduate school. As a research assistant or intern, you may be given the opportunity to be included as a co-author on a journal publication, presentation or research project, all of which could be featured on the resume that you submit to graduate school.

Working in a clinic or laboratory will strengthen your application if you plan to pursue research. The time you spend in the lab provides you with an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the scientific process and learn independent research skills that will increase your job prospects post-graduation.

Going straight to graduate school is a good idea for some, but many current health care professionals end up taking some time off to build their experience and strengthen their application before moving forward with their studies. Just be sure to choose what works best for your unique needs and your specific career path. As long as you do your research and put time into planning where you want to be and how you’ll get there, you can’t go wrong.

Thanks to Lauren Evans, the Research & Training Coordinator for the American College of Rheumatology for her input on this topic.

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