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UG Institution or Gap Year?


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Long story short, the only viable acceptance I've had this year was to my undergraduate institution (University of South Florida) - an M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy with full funding. The stipend isn't enough for me to live off of alone (730 per month in Tampa...) so I'd have to get another job (not a problem, I have a part time gig as a tutor I could continue). But, as I think about staying, I get more and more depressed. I really, REALLY wanted to leave the state. My PI is awesome and his lab is even cooler, so that's not the issue. But I'm already depressed staying at my institution, and while the money and the direct faculty I'll be working with is cool, the university itself is...draining.

My other option is to take a gap year and do service with Americorps for a year. This would allow me to start my term of service and leave the state in August and come back in July, just in time to start graduate school. During my year, I would do service with an environmental organization (what I want to get my PhD in), retake the GRE, and work on my SOP/PS. It sounds a lot more appealing but I'm nervous about the following:

What will look bettter to PhD programs that don't require an M.S. for admission - taking a gap year and working in th field, or getting publications/more research experience by getting an M.S.? Will taking a gap year hurt me or benefit me in the long term? Should I just suck it up, hope I gain experiences at my UG institution in my MS that I didn't have during my BS (I do have some research experience already)? I am graduating in May with my BS at 20, so I don't know if age is a reason for any of my rejections...

Edited by literalturtle
Posted too soon
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