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I've been offered a position in the lab I worked in as an undergrad, starting this spring upon graduation. One of the perks of my position would be that I get to register for 5 credits (~one class) per quarter for free.

Let's say I want to take advantage of this, and my boss in the lab is willing. I see I have three options to take classes this way:

  1. I could take more classes in my major (linguistics) that I didn't take before I graduated.

  2. I could take classes that would prepare me for the sort of work I want to do in graduate school (closer to psychology than theoretical linguistics) beyond what I already have done and learn in the lab.

  3. I could take entirely unrelated classes I have interests in but didn't take in undergrad. For me, I would probably take a language class. It keeps me sane, and they're often scheduled early in the day so I would miss less work.

All else being equal, how would a graduate admissions committee look on me for choosing each of these paths for a year or two before I apply for grad school? I imagine (2) would be best, but there's still lots of interesting classes in (1) and (3) that are hard to pass up.

I do want to say I'm not just doing this to make my grad school apps look better. There a lot of undergrad classes I'd love to take in both options (1) and (2), and like I said, learning a language keeps me sane, but I thought I'd get all the variables before I did anything.

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  • It sounds a bit like you've already made your choice, at least in terms of maintaining sanity. – Harry Feb 10 '17 at 15:47
  • If the work in the lab already covers topics from 1) or 2), another reason you can easily go for 3). And anyway, do you have to decide all courses now? If you can decide every quarter you won't be stuck long if it turns out you would rather do something else. – skymningen Feb 10 '17 at 16:10
  • @sky Well kinda. If I go for 3, for example, I have to use all five credits on each class of a language sequence, same if I want to try to take any other sequences. – Azor Ahai -him- Feb 10 '17 at 17:07
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Linguistics professor here (at a big public university in the U.S.). I think this is an excellent question.

The first thing I want to point out is that all else being equal, that extra year of lab work is going to be an asset when it comes to graduate applications. It attests to you having research experience and lends additional credibility to the areas of interest that you point toward on your statement of purpose. A big extra plus is if the extra year helps to net you any presentations or publications.

That aside, this is an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, this is your last real chance to enroll in classes outside your major; a Ph.D. in linguistics would not typically leave any room for it. Having other interests is still possible in grad school, but a reasonable expectation is that they will be squeezed into a corner (you might read the occasional book about them, for instance). On the other hand, an admissions committee will see your entire transcript, and if you take courses to help you prepare for graduate school, that will not go unnoticed.

My advice is as follows: compile a list of Ph.D. programs that you want to apply to, and then pay very close attention to the preparation they want to see among applicants to their program. Do they strongly advise applicants to have completed a class in linguistic field methods? Do they like seeing applicants with background in (e.g.) phonology or syntax or morphology beyond the introductory courses in those subfields? Is having training in statistics an advantage?

If you've already maxed out on the requirements for the program(s) you apply to, then you have some freedom to select other classes. If you are missing something recommended (or optional but clearly well regarded by the department you're applying to), this is a chance to fill in the gap and become a more competitive applicant. Similarly, one of my colleagues tells gap-year applicants that if they have completed a core linguistics class but scored below about the B-minus level, taking that class again in an attempt to mitigate the weak spot on the transcript is advisable.

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If you have time, you could audit one class and take one for credit. A language class is particularly well suited to auditing. Taking two classes might work best if the language class isn't very challenging.

The advice given in a comment of trying out one approach during the next quarter and then adjusting your direction as needed seems sound.

In terms of preparation for grad school, you might be able to detect one or two particularly helpful courses by looking carefully at the program of studies and the sequence of prerequisites in a couple of target programs.

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  • I could, but I'm working full time, so taking two classes isn't really feasible – Azor Ahai -him- Feb 11 '17 at 2:12

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