Are you thinking about taking some time off after you walk across the stage to receive your bachelor’s degree? Many students take a break from their studies for a number of reasons. However, this break doesn’t mean you’re not just as committed to reaching your educational and career goals. Use your gap year wisely by fostering important skills that will be relevant to your applying to master’s and doctoral programs in psychology.
Graduate degree programs in psychology vary slightly in their exact requirements. Different types of programs seek out different characteristics and skills in their applicants. Still, most programs base their acceptance standards on some combination of high test scores (see studying for the GRE), high grade point averages, work and/or volunteer experience, a background in research, recommendations, and your personal essay.
Whether you are taking time off to catch your breath or travel the world, make the time count by using it to advance yourself and your CV. Do any or a few of the following and expect to become more favorable to graduate committees when you prepare to further your education.
Very little can convince the faculty in your top choice graduate schools that you are passionate and dedicated to the field of psychology more than you becoming employed and gaining quality work experience in the subject area.
Here are just a few terrific entry-level job possibilities for individuals holding a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
- Behavioral or psychiatric technicians. Depending on which type of setting you choose to work in—private practice, hospital, substance abuse treatment facility, etc.—a technician’s job duties can range from helping patients perform activities of daily living such as toileting, handling case management, connecting clients with community resources, and running groups.
- Social service specialists. Another career option for individuals with bachelor’s degrees is in social services. These positions exist in government and state agencies in addition to nonprofit sectors. Similar to social workers, social service specialists might advocate for special populations such as veterans, children of abuse, women who have survived domestic violence, and others. These specialists perform case management services and link individuals up with necessary community outreach resources.
- Research assistants. If you are interested in gaining insight into experimental psychology, it’s a great idea to consider working in a research laboratory that studies human behavior. A research assistant in experimental psychology might assist doctoral-level researchers with obtaining and inputting subject data, explaining study procedures, obtaining informed consent, and even performing statistical analyses.
- Teachers. Another valuable career opportunity for graduate in psychology is teaching. Although psychology may seem like a far cry from education, there is some crossover in the two fields and individuals trained in psychological science can offer a meaningful perspective to the educational system. Plus, numerous graduate students teach undergraduate courses as a means to earn money during their studies; having teaching experience could be a great way to get your foot in the door.
If finding a job through typical channels proves difficult, a great option is to take advantage of career placement internship opportunities through your alma mater. These positions are sometimes referred to as ‘Year in Industry’. These jobs are typically sponsored or provided by a connection with the university or college and a specific employer. The school refers graduates who are a good fit and, perhaps, the employer prioritizes hiring graduates from the school. ‘Year in Industry’ opportunities offer you a great way to examine the subject area to determine if it interests, earn relevant hands-on work experience, and give your CV a facelift.
Usually, ‘Year in Industry’ programs are not paid in the same way as normal jobs. Interns may receive a sensible stipend and/or room and board if they were required to travel away from home to fill the position. Nonetheless, these programs provide outstanding chances for you to get a bird’s eye view of a certain career path as well as forge relationships with others working in the field who could possibly connect you with traditional paid job opportunities or letters of recommendation further down the road.
Although gaining employment with a job or working in the industry through a career placement opportunity are surefire ways to get oriented to the field, significant skills can be earned through other methods, too. If you have trouble getting a position, already have a job, or are more interested in spending your gap year traveling the world, there are still ways to boost your CV. Volunteer!
Giving back to your local community, or the world community, without expecting anything in return is a wonderful way to spend your time off from school. In addition to fleshing out your experience, volunteering can also present you with a number of notable skills that are not directly associated with a career in psychology.
Information from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) shows that sharing our time and talents with others allows us to connect with the community, improve the lives of those who may be less fortunate, put forth effort towards resolving local and global problems, and evolve our personal world views. Furthermore, research has revealed that individuals who give of themselves by volunteering have lower mortality rates, better functional abilities, and less depression when compared to individual who do not actively volunteer.
Psychology-Related Volunteer Opportunities
Don’t assume that the only place you can volunteer are local youth groups or religious organizations. Many mental health organizations could potentially use a trained professional. Of course, you won’t get paid, but in some aspects, you could receive some of the same experience as a paid worker while volunteering. Sure, you may start out doing grunt work such as a filing, answering phones, or helping during arts and crafts, but once the higher-ups see your commitment, they may be willing to give you more responsibility. Check out local psychiatric hospitals, outpatient facilities, crisis centers, research laboratories or private practice psychologists to see if their staff could use an extra hand.
Other Volunteer Opportunities
However, if the only option available to you is a local youth group or religious organization, go for it! While seemingly unrelated to the field of psychology, these locations can still provide you with an integral growth experience (and something interesting to write about in your personal statement, huh?).
An aspect of your graduate school application that often goes unmentioned is your achievement of certain ‘soft skills’. These skills include the following: communication, teamwork, problem-solving, flexibility, and being a good observer. If you think about what a person with a career in psychology does on a day-to-day basis, you will realize they use these particular skills continuously. Your ability to communicate ideas, opinions, and collaborate with others on group projects is also highly useful in being a thriving graduate student—and a future practitioner.
Therefore, even if you fly across the world to aid survivors of natural disaster, travel to foreign countries to teach English, or read stories to the elderly at the neighborhood assisted living facility, you can build skills that will be useful later in life. The important thing is to reflect on how they offer you practical knowledge about the field of psychology. So, get out and build those soft skills by lending someone in need a helping hand. You can easily share these experiences in your personal essay and share meaningful ways you are already striving to change the world.
If you’re still looking for additional methods to develop a can’t-pass-it-up, attractive CV, try enrolling in a class after graduating. Postgraduate study is exactly what you’re planning to do if you decide to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree anyway. Why not get a head start prior to being accepted into a program?
One tactic you could try is signing up for a summer or online course at your top choice program. This can offer you the chance to be on campus (or online) and become introduced to faculty and possibly even receive insider advice from students already in the program. You will be the familiar, ever learning person who answered the questions well in ethics, or went the extra mile on that paper. Faculty members get the opportunity to vet your academic vigor, resourcefulness, and ability to work with other classmates.
On the other hand, taking additional coursework could be your shot to pull up your grades or retake a class in which you performed poorly in undergrad. This commitment to academics beyond your degree program will certainly reflect well. Lastly, if you enroll in graduate coursework, you get an idea of the style, demand, and curriculum of graduate study as well as have the chance to apply any relevant coursework to a future degree program.
Who says the gap year has to be a wasted year? Potential graduate schools will admire your efforts to enhance your understanding of the field, serve your community, develop noteworthy soft skills, and beef up your transcript. Think of your year off as a prolonged application process and use your year off to become an even better candidate for tomorrow.