One of the most frequently asked questions of any prospective graduate student, is “How can I improve my chances for getting into grad school?” While there is no single answer to that question, our national survey of current graduate student offers one suggestion: wait to apply.

Respondents from our graduate student survey report taking an average of two years between graduating college and beginning their first graduate program. When divided across program type, the average number of gap years is slightly lower for Certificate and Doctoral students at 1.3 and 1.6 years respectively, whereas current Dual-degree and Masters students take an average of 2.5 and 2.8 years, respectively.

As can be seen in the figure, students with more gap years, the time between college and graduate school, had higher average acceptance rates. This effect can likely be attributed to the fact that students with multiple years out of college also have multiple years of work experience and a larger skillset in their field of interest, which is very important in the evaluation of applicants.

While at first glance this may seem discouraging for students planning to enter graduate school immediately after graduation, it should rather be seen as a learning opportunity. It is well known that graduate programs are looking for candidates committed to their choice of study and fully aware of, and prepared for the task ahead.

Although students with additional years of experience in their chosen field may have a leg up when it comes to skillset and proving a commitment to their chosen path, those who wish to start grad school right after the baccalaureate do have some options! If you are not planning to take a gap, be sure to use your college years wisely. In addition to taking and excelling in your relevant coursework, plan your extracurricular activities accordingly and in advance.

Gain useful skills while spending summers and holiday breaks getting your feet wet in your chosen field. For example, if you want to do research in graduate school, gain research experience as an undergrad. This can go a long way to showing graduate schools just how well informed and committed you are.

Work experiences help you become more knowledgeable about your prospective career path. Talk to current graduate students, faculty or professionals in your field. Educate yourself on the challenges and difficulties you might face in your journey. These additional experiences and thoughtfulness will not only help you ace your interview and with the dreaded task of writing your personal statement, but they will certainly improve your chances for getting into grad school!

Check out the other articles on our current graduate student survey:

Survey of Current Graduate Students

Graduate Student Survey – Demographics and Fields of Study

Students Don’t Apply to Many Graduate Programs

Are Grad Students Happy?

How to Choose the RIGHT Graduate School