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### Considering a Gap Year Before Pursuing Graduate Studies: What You Need to Know

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the opinions of Her Campus.

The writer of this article is a student contributor from the Her Campus chapter at Cal State Chico.

Throughout my college journey, if you had inquired about my post-graduation plans at any given time, I would have unequivocally stated my intention to pursue graduate studies in southern California to specialize as a school psychologist.

Every psychology major has engaged in the familiar discourse about the well-known narrative regarding graduate school. It’s the dialogue where you find yourself elucidating to a casual acquaintance about the necessity of advanced studies, accumulating substantial student debt to secure a respectable income in a field you are passionate about, all while wearing the yes, I am aware of the challenges ahead expression.

For psychology majors, pursuing graduate studies, gaining extensive research and internship exposure, and investing more than the standard four years in college before embarking on a professional career is the standard practice. Thus, when my advisor broached the topic of taking a gap year following my disclosure of feeling burnt out, I promptly dismissed the notion. I was resolute in my commitment to achieving academic and professional milestones and was unwilling to lag behind my peers who would establish themselves in their careers sooner than I would. I had a plan and was determined to adhere to it… or so I thought?

After concluding my advising session and embarking on my journey back home from Modoc Hall to W 7th St, I decided to discuss my advisor’s unconventional suggestion of a gap year with my mother. It often seems like my mother possesses an innate understanding of my thoughts and emotions, articulating my feelings even when I am unable to discern them clearly. Together, we identified the prevailing sentiment within me – a sense of being lost. Despite my academic achievements and professional aspirations, I found myself devoid of complete happiness, fulfillment, or self-identity, consumed by thoughts of graduate school requirements and applications, despite lacking a genuine passion or certainty for the path ahead. I yearned to reconnect with my inner self, my passions, and my future, which seemed elusive. Consequently, when my mother endorsed the idea of contemplating the potential shape of a gap year, I began to entertain the notion more seriously.

I have always been plagued by excessive rumination, feeling compelled to meticulously plan out my life years in advance. Hence, experiencing a loss of control over my future and grappling with uncertainty about my ideal path was profoundly unsettling. I longed for guidance from someone who had navigated similar challenges and shared my disposition, someone who could provide unequivocal instructions, delineate the necessary steps, and essentially chart the course of my life for me.

Taking the initial step towards rediscovering myself, I embarked on a solitary excursion to Hobby Lobby, where I acquired my inaugural bullet journal and a selection of vibrant pens. This marked the inception of my quest to explore my identity and aspirations.

In Sylvia Plath’s seminal work, “The Bell Jar,” the protagonist gazes at a fig tree before her, observing multiple branches, each representing a distinct vision of her future – various career paths, locations, and life choices. Unable to select a definitive fig, she remains paralyzed by indecision. This poignant depiction resonated deeply with me at that moment.

In my bullet journal, I illustrated my own fig tree, delineating diverse versions of myself on each branch. From envisioning a career as a school psychologist to contemplating teaching English in Spain, working at an entry-level position in a record label, becoming an editor at a New York magazine, or waitressing at a quaint beachside cafe, I explored a myriad of possibilities. As I delved into the boundless possibilities, I realized that I was not bound by preconceived notions of myself or my past experiences. Historically, I had strived to excel in every endeavor, upholding academic excellence, meticulously curating my resume, striving for perfection, and adhering to societal standards of a successful life. Deviating from these norms seemed inconceivable, but the prospect of a gap year gradually emerged as a tangible reality, offering me the opportunity to discover uncharted facets of my identity through personal experiences. Prioritizing my unbridled happiness, desires, and needs, and momentarily diverting my focus from academia, fostered a profound appreciation for life’s intricacies and my own essence.

Adhering to these rigid guidelines throughout my sixteen years of formal education had inevitably led to burnout. While investing wholeheartedly in a pursuit can be fulfilling, it can also be draining. Envisioning an intensified academic commitment for three additional years, necessitating unwavering dedication and passion, seemed daunting. I was reluctant to invest my emotions in application processes, crafting personal statements, soliciting letters of recommendation, and embarking on the arduous journey towards graduate school without absolute certainty that this path resonated with me wholeheartedly. The prospect of embarking on a lifelong career path demanded unwavering commitment, a commitment I was not prepared to make at that juncture. Acknowledging that the option to pursue a professional career would remain available, whether deferred for one, five, or ten years, I recognized the importance of granting myself a respite from conventionality and embracing a period of self-exploration before committing to a definitive path.

Upon reaching a definitive decision and acknowledging my intention to pursue a gap year before venturing into a master’s program, a profound sense of relief washed over me, granting me the freedom to breathe uninhibitedly. It felt as though the world lay at my feet, and destiny would unfold naturally, just as this pivotal decision had materialized. However, as my peers embarked on their professional journeys and secured admission to graduate programs, I grappled with feelings of inadequacy and comparison. It was challenging to resist comparing my chosen path to those around me, witnessing their career advancements or academic pursuits. Yet, I reminded myself that their achievements were commendable, and I, too, would have my moment to shine in due course. I aspired to garner their support and celebration when my time arrived.

The phase post-graduation and the initial years thereafter are often fraught with comparisons and self-doubt. It is easy to succumb to the allure of social media, observing peers’ ostensible accomplishments on platforms like LinkedIn or Instagram, and entertaining thoughts of inadequacy or missed opportunities in one’s own life. During such moments of introspection, I remind myself that social media often portrays a curated version of reality. While it may appear that everyone else has life figured out, it is essential to acknowledge that personal struggles and insecurities are ubiquitous. Despite our collective desire to have our future meticulously planned, we must embrace the uncertainty and navigate life’s challenges as they unfold. Each individual traverses a unique path, and there is no singular “right” trajectory. It is permissible to experience distress even after making a sound decision; emotional responses are intrinsic to our humanity. Life’s beauty lies in its diversity and the myriad perspectives we bring to the table. It is our differences that foster love and appreciation for those around us.

Reflecting on my journey, the decision to embark on a gap year before pursuing graduate studies marked the inception of a profound voyage of self-discovery. By turning inward and prioritizing my own needs over external expectations, I experienced a profound sense of liberation. To graduating individuals navigating the transition into the “real world,” I urge you to embark on your personal odyssey of self-exploration. While friends and family may offer solace and support, true happiness and self-worth stem from within. Whatever path you choose for the forthcoming years is valid, significant, and uniquely tailored to you. Embrace the uncertainty of post-graduation with open arms, for amidst the challenges lies a realm of beauty and excitement waiting to be explored.