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Questions about Fast-Tracking


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Hey there everyone. Long time lurker, first time poster. I am an undergrad student in my final year, and I am thinking seriously about doing a Fast-Track PhD in Political Science, as the field is something I am very passionate about. In terms of applications, I have already started on many of the necessities of an application to various schools in North America. 

At the same time, I have been contemplating the idea of taking a year off before applying for a number of reasons.

  • Though I am doing an undergraduate thesis (60 pages) this year, my research and publication work is limited beyond that, and I would want to use the year to bolster that before applying anywhere. My understanding is there is a huge focus on what type of research work you have done in the past.
    • As a subpoint, I can then use my completed thesis as a writing sample the year after.
  • I may want to pursue more chances at taking the GRE if my scores for an upcoming one are unsatisfactory.
  • Honestly, I would also want some free time before committing myself to a long period of focused education and research.

With all this in mind, I have a few questions that I hope individuals here may be able to answer :D :

  1. Would it be possible to do this year off and apply for a Fast-Track program, or is it only open to those who come directly out of an undergraduate program? This is unclear on a lot of the University and Department websites.
  2. Does Fast-Tracking lead to a greater scrutiny of application and its applicant than a traditional PhD program application?
  3. For those with first-hand or second-hand experience, how does one keep in touch with references during a year out of school? I have made many powerful references this year and hope to have them available in the future if I do take a year off.
  4. For those with first-hand or second-hand experience, how was taking a year off for the person in question? What did they do and how did they feel about it?
  5. Should I take a year off in your opinion? Obviously my future will not be determined by your answer but I would be curious to see what others think.


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I've never heard of the term "fast track" program so I'll leave those questions to someone who knows more, but I will say this:

I think that taking some time off between undergrad and grad school can be very beneficial for students. You really have no perspective if all you've ever done is go to school. You learn a lot about the "real" world, for lack of a better term, if you have to get a job outside of school, deal with paying rent and just living a professional adult life. It's also good to do something other than study, it helps you grow and can teach you things about yourself that you can't even guess now. So I'm always a fan of waiting and doing something other than school for a bit. One year is not going to matter in the grand scheme of things. 

Keeping in touch with recommenders is not a problem at all. We're only talking about one year, after all. Before you graduate, schedule a meeting with them and tell them that you're graduating now and planning to apply to graduate school next year. Ask them right then if they will agree to write LORs on your behalf. Then some time in October (assuming December/January deadlines) you can reach out to update them on the list of schools you're applying to and give them updated materials for your application. Assuming that the school year run through, say, May, that will be less than 6 months and therefore not a long time out of contact with them. If they ask why you didn't apply during your senior year, say you wanted to take some time off to really concentrate on your application, and at the same time get some "real life" experience. I'm sure they will understand. 

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