There are multiple timelines for a student attending graduate school - there's no "right" timeline, but rather different paths to graduate school for different people.
Some students prefer to take time off between undergraduate and graduate school
Taking time off between graduate and undergraduate may make sense for both personal and professional reasons. Many competitive graduate programs look more favorably on students who have work experience related to their career goals, with some programs even requiring relevant practical experience as a criteria for program eligibility.
And, of course, most people need a break after undergraduate. Some time off may even be necessary to prevent burnout in graduate school, particularly if a student is considering a longer-term graduate program like a Ph.D.
Some students decide to go to graduate school directly after undergraduate
Going to graduate school directly after undergraduate could make sense for a few reasons:
1) You have a strong commitment to a particular academic field, and are certain that you want to pursue advanced, independent research in it
2) You are completing your undergraduate program with a strong academic record, and have a substantial independent research project at least in progress at the time of your application (for example, a senior honors thesis in your major)
3) You have a particular career in mind that requires graduate-level credentials, but does not necessarily require hands-on work experience
These are not the only reasons why you might apply to graduate programs directly after undergrad - but, they are some of the most common, and probably some of the most justifiable.
While there are many good reasons to go to grad school after undergrad, here’s a very bad one:
DO NOT use graduate school as a way to avoid leaving school, and entering the workforce.
Of course, a little avoidance may also be wrapped up in some the better reasons mentioned above. For example, your passion for academics might be, at least in small part, motivated by a dislike of a more typical 9-to-5 work week.
Still, as you think about applying to graduate school, make sure you are motivated, above all, by your positive interest in more in-depth academic work, or by a specific career goal.
Accelerated Bachelor's-Master's Tracks
If it makes sense for you to go to graduate school right after undergraduate, you may want to consider one of the Accelerated Bachelor's-Master's tracks available to CAS students. Students on these tracks earn graduate credits while simultaneously completing their undergraduate degree, and eventually complete their Master's degree at an accelerated pace.
Tracks are available with GSAS, Wagner, and Steinhardt - learn more at the Accelerated Bachelor's-Master's Tracks website.