Starting right away may be a good idea if you are completely sure about what you want to study, have the record you’ll need (grades/ experience/GRE scores, etc.) to get in where you want to go, and feel ready to commit to a graduate program.
However, many students aren’t ready to start graduate school right after college. If you’re one of these, taking the time to clarify your goals and enhance your qualifications is a smart decision because it will help prepare you to make the most of graduate school when you go. One good idea is to first gain work experience relevant to the degrees/careers that you’re considering.
- If you think you want to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology, it can be helpful to work in a research lab for a couple of years before applying to graduate school. Note that if you’re particularly interested in a doctoral degree in clinical/counseling psychology, research experience is far more important for your application than direct experience in the helping professions, but you can get both at once if you work in a research lab that studies patients, treatments, etc.
- If you think you want to pursue an applied field (e.g., social work, counseling, etc.), it can be a good idea to first gain full-time work experience helping diverse people cope with stressful situations. For example, you could get a job in a residential treatment center, in a school helping children with special needs, or in a community program for people dealing with homelessness or domestic violence. Of course you won’t actually practice therapy in these bachelor’s level jobs, but you will gain skills that will be useful for graduate school. The experience you gain will also give you important insight into whether a career in the helping professions is really the right path for you.
For further reading on this question, see Before You Apply to Graduate Programs in Psychology:
Knowing When You’re Ready and Gaining Post-Baccalaureate Experiences by Casey D. Calhoun, at this link