Grad school: Now or later?

Maren Schiffer

Many seniors are considering graduate school as the next step in their lives — but for most the big decision is whether or not they go right away.

Susan Buchanan, director of the Student Engagement Center, stresses that one of the most important factors of the decision is intention.

“I think the import thing is knowing what you want to study. If you don’t know, it’s best to explore in order to discover that — it’s better to take more classes and volunteer and intern in order to discover and narrow your focus … I find myself saying to students, ‘What do you want to do at the end of graduate school?’ because it is just a means to an end. If you know what your result will be, then you’re ready to go,” she said.

According to Buchanan, most students take at least a year off before committing themselves to another round of intensive study.

“It seems to be the culture at Whitman to take a year or so off. Students want in that year off to do something significant. They want to explore what their interests are, explore career fields. They want to make a difference in their lives or in other peoples’ lives,” she said.

Taking a break from school can be necessary. Senior Lara Mehling plans on graduate school, but first she will be living in Noyers sur Serein, France for a year to help start up an art center.

“I do want to go to graduate school to study landscape architecture, but I want to take some time off before. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a few years, and I think it’s really important to give yourself some time after such a rich experience to absorb everything … I want to be as well-prepared as possible to dive into a new experience,” she said.

Although senior Shannon Hall will be attending an astrophysics program in the fall, she reiterated the importance of taking a break from studies.

“Whitman students work really hard. I think a break between college and graduate school is necessary for anyone’s sanity. While I chose to continue immediately, I also made the decision to do something worthwhile with my summer, something that would prove to be a tremendous learning experience in only a few months. Needless to say I’m heading to Thailand this summer to live in a Buddhist monastery. It has always been a life goal of mine and I think that the break between college and graduate school is the perfect opportunity to be audacious and embrace life,” she said.

But for some, diving into more focused studies is most desirable and most logical. Senior Billy Low knows exactly what he wants to do, and has decided to enroll in a post-graduate program for the fall semester. As someone wanting to enter the sports psychology field, which is still fairly new, it can be difficult to find jobs or internships without the connections or experience found in a graduate program.

“I didn’t find that there were internships or entry level jobs for people that want to go into sports psychology. Since it’s a fairly new field, there isn’t really an infrastructure of internships that relate directly to it,” said Low.

Senior Jackson Maberry will be attending the University of Cambridge next year and shares a similar perspective. Along with recognizing the difficulty of finding a studies-related job after graduating, he wants to maintain his academic momentum.

“I think that the best way I can spend my time post-Whitman is to ride on the momentum that my undergrad studies have provided and continue improving as a scholar and a musician. I’m not too keen on trying to break into the job market right now, especially holding nothing but a BA in Music. But since I’m on a roll, I’ll press on through to my advanced degrees to increase my likelihood of being hired in the future,” he said.