How to Prepare for MA in Your Gap Year

The Gap Year Association (GYA), an accreditation and standards-setting organization for gap years, defines a gap year as “a structured period of time when a student takes an intentional break from formal education.” The association estimates about 40,000 Americans and Canadians participate in gap year experiences annually.

There are many reasons for taking a year off of school. You might be feeling burned out and need a breather, similar to 35% of the respondents of the Gap Year Alumni 2020 Survey. Or, you might need to work on getting funding or saving up for your MA, as 5% of the survey respondents answered. Whatever the reason, going on a gap year can be beneficial for you.

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Table of Contents

How to Prepare for MA in Your Gap Year​

Benefits of Taking a Gap Year

Taking a break from school can result in good things. The recent GYA survey found that those who went on a gap year reaped the following benefits:

  • Enhanced cultural awareness, communication and self-direction skills
  • Learned how to interact with people from other cultures
  • Increased their maturity
  • Improved their self-confidence
  • Boosted their academic motivation
  • Prepared them for their transition to future education and the workforce
  • Provided competitive advantage when applying to college and/or jobs
  • Influenced their course of study and career choice
  • Encouraged them to volunteer more

Aside from these, a gap year can also allow time for personal reflection without the demands of school life, provide an opportunity to expand your network and become a storehouse of interesting stories you can retell for life.

How to Prepare for Your MA in Your Gap Year

If you’ve decided to enroll in an MA when you return to school, a gap year provides an opportunity to prepare for it. Here’s how you can make the most of your gap year so that you’re confident and well-prepared once you begin your MA journey.

Plan for your gap year

You need to have at least a basic, general roadmap, which is flexible enough for any unexpected changes. It’s also essential to establish some ground rules to guide you during your gap year and ensure it will be a transformative one.

Your plan should answer the following questions:

  • What do you want to do? Are there any skills you’d like to learn or an interest you’d like to pursue?
  • Where do you want to go? Will you stay in the U.S. or go abroad?
  • What goals do you hope to achieve? What’s your purpose for taking the year off?
  • How much will you spend? What is your financial status and how will you fund your gap year?
  • When will your gap year start and when will it end?

Another approach to planning your gap year is to break it into chunks. Or, you could talk to a specialist and ask for expert guidance.

Get ready for your grad school application

Gap year experiences that allow you to learn new skills or other documentable personal development can positively influence your grad school application. Unlike your undergrad application, grad schools will do a more holistic review of your experiences. So, depending on your major, a volunteer stint at AmeriCorps, for instance, could set you apart from other applicants.

So as not to forget anything important, make an MA application checklist before taking the year off. This could include things such as:

  • Writing your statement of purpose or personal history statement
  • Thinking about who to ask and how to ask for three letters of recommendation
  • Researching more deeply any programs that interest you
  • Taking the necessary exams (GRE, LSAT, etc.)
  • Keeping your resume or CV up to date
  • Learning how to order your transcripts
  • Communicating with the school for more information, questions or clarifications

Don’t forget to allot enough time to process all your application requirements.

Develop better behavioral patterns

Old habits die hard, so a gap year is the best time to review your behavior during your undergraduate days and change them for the better.

  • Make a list of all the undesirable habits you’d like to change.
  • Develop a plan on how to replace them with a better habit.
  • Do a 21-day or one-month challenge, with a tantalizing reward if you succeed, to help the new habit stick.
  • Keep track of your progress with a habit tracker, which could be pen and paper, or an app.
  • Focus on one habit a month before moving on to a new one.

Changing any habit can be hard, so give yourself time to get rid of the old and adjust to the new. You’ll be thankful you revamped your unproductive habits once you begin your MA.

Gain professional experience

There are a lot of gap year experiences you can choose from. The Gap Year Alumni 2020 Survey found 246 different types of gap year experiences, with a majority of the respondents (89%) traveling outside the U.S. and Canada. Of these, 77% joined a structured program, including Carpe Diem and Adventures Cross Country. Aside from traveling, respondents also participated in volunteer or service work, learned a new language, did coursework, or worked for pay.

While traveling in and of itself is a rewarding experience, doing so with the purpose of gaining professional experience would be most beneficial to your future MA dream. Fellowships and volunteering can further you along this path.

  • Service Fellowships

This will not only add a nice career experience for your resume but also allow you to learn new skills. Ideally, you should choose one that’s in line with your chosen field, but you can also try out working in a different profession. Either way, you’ll gain knowledge and skills that will give you an edge over other MA students or the experience can provide insights into whether you’re pursuing the right path or not so you can coursecorrect early on.

The GYA 2020 survey found that the top 10 gap year programs included Carpe Diem Education, Adventures Cross Country and Where There Be Dragons. Other organizations, such as Americorps, FEMA Corps, Move for America, Public Allies and Teach for America, also offer fellowship programs worth checking out.

  • Volunteering

One big benefit you can gain from volunteering is getting immersed in different cultures and gaining insight into how they see the world. Some worthwhile volunteering opportunities include Peace Corps, WorldTeach and EarthCorps. You can browse other volunteering opportunities at Idealist and VolunteerMatch.

Determine how to fund your gap year

A gap year is a good time to do advanced reading of your course books. (At the very least, you’ll have enough time to find a cheap one for sale online.) You’ll find a list on your course’s website or you can email the school.

The goal is not to read everything but to be comfortable with the course content. Look at the list and pick a book or two that you find interesting. Get a copy and schedule a time for you to read them.

Take it a step further and conduct extra research so you can have a deeper understanding of the subject. Check out the latest essays and journals about your course or interesting subject area, and schedule time to read them regularly.

Look into your reading list

Financial issues, i.e., potentially high cost of paying for the gap year, can be a drawback. But, if you don’t have the funds or if working won’t be able to finance your year off of school, there are organizations that offer scholarships.

The Gap Year Association lists scholarships, grants and other financial aid you can avail to go on a gap year domestically or abroad. GoAbroad also has a list of scholarships that focuses on studying abroad.

Create a note-taking system

Organization is important in grad school because unlike your undergraduate years, MA is all about application. In other words, you’re expected to already know the information and the focus is on its application. A note-taking system can be as simple or detailed as you like using tools like Evernote or nested folders in Google Drive.

Build a support system

Going through grad school can be grueling but it doesn’t have to be lonely. Your MA class will most probably have an assortment of students, some with career experience you can glean from. So, if you see a familiar face, reach out and be helpful. You might find them to be a great source of advice and practical input. Plus, you’ll be making a network of intelligent people you can collaborate with in future.

Boost your online presence

Your social media profiles can be a great way to show off your achievements and help you build a professional network in your industry.

During your gap year, look through your online profiles. Clean your Twitter and Facebook so that it’s professional, and ensure your LinkedIn profile is comprehensive. Consolidate the information on them, so that those who might search for you online will see your experience and expertise.

Address possible drawbacks

Although there are many benefits to taking a year off of school, some people have experienced drawbacks.

  • The feeling of falling behind, which could lead to loss of motivation. After a gap year, you will certainly see people your age attending a higher level than you in grad school. That’s normal because you skipped a school year. Just remember all the new knowledge, skills and experiences you earned thanks to taking this time off from school that you otherwise wouldn’t have if you didn’t go on a gap year.
  • A rough transition back to formal education, i.e., finding it difficult to return to the study grind after the time off school. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, take time to reflect, plan and manage what you can control, and stop stressing over the things you can’t. For instance, your time will be eaten up by classes and school work, so adjust your schedule and activities to make room for them.


Nick Radlinsky

Nick Radlinsky

Nick Radlinsky is a devoted educator, marketing specialist, and management expert with more than 15 years of experience in the education sector. After obtaining his business degree in 2016, Nick embarked on a quest to achieve his PhD, driven by his commitment to enhancing education for students worldwide. His vast experience, starting in 2008, has established him as a reputable authority in the field.

Nick's article, featured in Routledge's "Entrepreneurship in Central and Eastern Europe: Development through Internationalization," highlights his sharp insights and unwavering dedication to advancing the educational landscape. Inspired by his personal motto, "Make education better," Nick's mission is to streamline students' lives and foster efficient learning. His inventive ideas and leadership have contributed to the transformation of numerous educational experiences, distinguishing him as a true innovator in his field.

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