Would spending one more year as an undergraduate adversely affect my chances of getting into a graduate program?

I wasn't really thinking about economics PhD until recently so my GPA is not too impressive and I lack in math courses so I've decided to spend one more year to boost my GPA taking upper level courses and get a math minor. However, could the very fact of spending one more year to finish college be a disadvantage of getting into a graduate program?

  • You might want to consider applying for your target grad programs now, then continuing with undergrad and reapplying in a year if you don't get an offer that you like. Whether or not this strategy would be advisable would seem to depend on a few factors, e.g. if reapplication might hurt you if rejected a year prior (dunno that off-hand) and if the deadlines for graduation registration would allow you to apply for graduation after getting the responses from grad schools.
    – Nat
    Dec 18 '17 at 5:34
  • If you could get into your ideal grad program now, would you still want to take extra math classes in grad school?
    – Nat
    Dec 18 '17 at 5:36
  • The only reason I can think of, against your idea of spending some more time in college (undergrad) might be the cost. If that's not a problem for you... then go for it! Dec 18 '17 at 7:22

Generally speaking, no one cares all that much how long it took you to finish your undergraduate degree. An extra semester or even an extra year will make almost no difference to anyone. They will care what your GPA was.

One of my service assignments as faculty at UMich in our CS department is undergraduate advising. I am constantly having to remind students that it does them no good to take a heavy load, hoping to graduate early, if the result is that they crater their GPA. Much better to take a manageable load they can do well. Twelve units of straight A's always beats 17 units with a couple of C's, especially for anyone hoping to go on to graduate school where ballpark minimum GPAs for entry to our master's and PhD programs are about 3.6 and 3.8, respectively.


I would say that in general no, you have good reasons to spend one year more engaged in undergrad studies. The time spent will compensate with a bold curriculum for a strong candidature in the future.

I met a lot of people that took a gap year after the master degree. It's not unusual to re-take some exames and/or to continue working on the thesis subject in order to publish in a peer-review journal before of applying for a doctorate.

In Europe people usually do that after the master degree, but here we have the Bologna system.

  • I think you mean gap year, not leap year.
    – astronat
    Dec 18 '17 at 0:08

I was in the same boat as you as an undergrad, so I hope I can offer you a different perspective.

I had the opportunity to graduate three different times my undergrad years. First was my sophomore year when I completed my first major, second - junior, third - senior; I think you get the idea.

The variables I had in my mind at the end of each year were the following:

  1. Was my resume competitive? Barring graduate school, always have contingency plans. If I wasn’t prepared and planning for grad school, would I be able to find gainful employment? By gainful, I refer to an occupation within my desired field. Working at fast food might be easy to get into, but it doesn’t offer a means of generating ancillary value (networking, conversing with academia) beyond $10 an hour.
  2. Did I prepare for grad school? It’s a little bit late in terms of economics applications at the moment. You can still prep over the winter, but know that many application deadlines are literally within the next two months. But if you wait and apply the next cycle you will have plenty of time to prepare.
  3. What is the realistic returns for one additional year of school? For me, I was on track to triple major, one minor, in four years; if I added another year, I was confident that I could’ve added another major. But if I did, the effect on my GPA would be minimal. And the course load would’ve been arduous at best. After two years taking 24 units a semester, I did not look forward to another year. After a certain point, the math didn’t pan out. I had too many credits on my transcript already. The ROI on each additional A was <0.01. So do some grade calculations and make sure that the time cost is worth it.
  4. What are the opportunity costs of one year? If you found full time work, even if slightly below market wages, and lived frugally, you can earn and save. This money would be the primary means (in addition to your graduate stipend) of which you will live off as a grad student. Remember: each day as a graduate student is precious. A day spent working for money is a day not working on your thesis, studying, or research. If you can front load your means to earn money during your gap year; you are freeing up more valuable (relatively speaking, not monetarily) time when you are a student.
  • Did you catch your flight now? Please add more, like promised, if possible.
    – user90948
    Apr 6 '18 at 21:02

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