Friday, May 5, 2017
Gap year may give college applicants an advantage
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I am thinking about taking a break from my undergraduate studies. Will this affect my chances of getting into graduate school when I do resume my studies?
While many foreign students take a gap year prior to entering undergraduate school and before entering graduate school, gap years are still the exception in the United States. Not every student completes his or her undergraduate education in four years. Some of these students need to work, want to travel, join the military or just take time off in order to refocus on what they really want to do with their lives. This hiatus should present no problem for you should you intend to apply to a top law or business school later on — and it might work to your advantage. Most professional schools prefer applicants who have experienced the "real world" before they apply but there are exceptions. Math and physics majors are priced right out of college because their outstanding analytical skills are increasingly in demand in the private sector. Still, most top law and MBA programs prefer students to have a few years of life experience and internships behind them. The graduate school admissions process is the same for all students. Students who take five or more years to graduate should keep in mind that they will still be evaluated on the same criteria as other students. Their GPA and LSAT/GMAT scores have to be competitive. While it is not a well-known fact, students may be required to submit their SAT/LSAT/GMAT scores when applying for an actual job. Reporting test scores is becoming standard practice. Companies are paying six-figure starting salaries and do not want to risk hiring a disappointment.
A typical "time off" story is that of a client of mine who wanted to go back to college after taking off five years to pursue a film career and form a business. He wanted to go back to complete his undergraduate degree and then apply to Harvard Business School. His grades and undergraduate SAT scores were in the top 10 percent, so he was building on solid fundamentals. The rest was up to him and how he differentiated himself from others who have taken a break or completed school in four years.
The first task I gave him was to write a short autobiography. This is extremely important if one has to account for a gap of several years. A strongly written autobiography will often tip the scale in your favor. It can even be used to help put you ahead of students with better academic records. Many of my clients spend a month or more writing their autobiography before they get it right. The first sentence of the first paragraph is the most important one. It must be powerful and it must make the reader want to read the rest of the story. My client started out this way: "I arrived in Hollywood with only the name of a soup kitchen in my pocket." From there, he went on to write about his experiences as a propmaster, standup comedian, a waiter at Wolfgang Puck's Spago in Beverly Hills and a stint in China. At first, he left out the interesting parts about being a waiter. He thought that the details would bore the reader and were nonacademic, and so he played them down. I thought his story was extremely interesting and offered brilliant insights into his drive and personality. He talked about how he bucked the traditional four years of college and went off on his own to try something different. He is now ready to assume the responsibilities of a career in business, and I believe Harvard or any other MBA program will give him due attention for his life story.
After the autobiography was written, I recommended that he take a few extra math classes to round out his Asian studies major. He had spent a year in China learning Mandarin. The math classes will show that he understands how important quantities skills are becoming in the business world and that success is not always based on having an outstanding personality and salesmanship ability. In my opinion, students who take off a few years before graduating should have no fear of falling behind in the college admissions area. It is fairly easy to get back into the groove once you return to college.
Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admission consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting in Crown Point.
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Colleges and Universities, College Consulting, International Students