While some Yalies talk about going to graduate school to defer entrance into the “real world,” others need some time away from the pressures of academia.
Although applications to graduate and professional schools are on the rise across the country, a number of students are taking time off between college and graduate school. The increase in the number of applicants has been linked to the recent economic downturn, but many Yalies hope to reap the benefits of time off despite the tough job market.
Anne Blackfield ’03 plans to “retreat” into the nonacademic world next year.
“I’m doing it to figure out what the hell I’m doing,” she said. The way she sees it, graduate school is a big — and costly — decision. Years and years of school have left her a little burned out. Some time in the real world might help her if she chooses to apply to graduate school in the future, she said.
“I think some people have a certain kind of contempt for people who have spent their whole lives in the classroom,” Blackfield said.
Though Blackfield said she feels she should get more education at some point in the future — law school, perhaps — she does not like the idea of continuing her education without a clear idea of what she wants to do.
Thomas Gnaidek ’02, who is currently taking a break before medical school, had similar reservations about pursuing a graduate degree. He said he was unsure about whether he wanted to pursue an M.D. or a Ph.D, so he took time off to decide. He is presently working as a programmer in doctors’ offices, but has also taken time off to travel and ski.
Some students who take time off after graduation decide to work in fields that are new to them.
Sarah Citrin ’01 was also wavering between graduate and professional school and applied for consulting jobs out of curiosity. She spent two years working for McKinsey & Company in San Francisco, and is now at Duke for both law school and graduate school in English.
“What you start out doing right after school doesn’t at all have to be what you ultimately end up doing,” Citrin said.
Both Gnaidek and Citrin said they see advantages to taking time off. For Gnaidek, the free time he has had to work on applications and complete six weeks of required interviews has been key.
“I can’t imagine interviewing during senior year,” Gnaidek said, and added that that he thinks having friends who are already in medical school had also given him a sense of what particular medical schools are looking for when deciding which applicants to admit.
Citrin said many professors expect graduate students to have a working knowledge of the real world — knowledge she feels she has gained in the work force. She added that being out of school has given her an alternate perspective on academics.
“It’s not necessarily a good thing to just be totally consumed with work and worry about your grades and things,” Citrin said.
But Citrin admitted that it can be difficult to study late into the night — when she worked for McKinsey, she said her time was her own after she got home at the end of the day. This same difficulty has pushed other students into graduate school right after graduation.
Yevgeny Vilensky ’03, who wants to pursue a Ph.D. in math, said he does not want to take time off from school because it can be hard to return to academic work. Vilensky said the economy had little effect on his decision because going to graduate school is “pretty much what [he’s] always wanted to do.”
Carolyn Graeber ’03 said she thinks the idea of dabbling in the real world and then returning to school is somewhat strange. But she still has definite plans to take next year off. While she applies to medical school, the former captain of the Yale Alpine Ski Team said she hopes to land her dream job: a place on the National Ski Patrol, the first to respond to emergencies on the slopes.
While Graeber said she will have to face new responsibilities for the first time next year — such as finding health insurance, a must-have if she will be skiing every day — she feels she will not quite be in the real world. She said the fact that she has definite plans to return to school in 2004 contributes to this feeling.
“It’s kind of like playing at the real world in a way,” Graeber said. “I’m going to try it on for size for a year and then see what happens.”