Is Graduate School Right For You?

I have always been career-minded and with that, came the traditional mindset; more education = more success. So when I finished up my undergraduate, it only felt natural for me to move on to the next step – graduate school.

I did a lot of research about the type of program I wanted to pursue and the model by which to do it. Brick and mortar was not an option since I worked full-time and I wasn’t willing to give up my early evenings with my family. But I also knew I wanted some elements of a traditional classroom setting, given me the opportunity to learn from classmates and experience the personalities of the different professors.

SO – I found this hybrid model. Where I could stream into the classes LIVE or catch them at a later date. And connect with my peers virtually.

That was my jam, for sure.

Once I chose the college and program that met both my financial and personal needs, I embraced this new journey with open arms. Like, WIDE open arms, and was incredibly naive to the scale of commitment that I had signed myself up for.

And by commitment, I mean hell.

At the time, my oldest was five and my youngest was two. My husband also deployed for four months right at the beginning of my first semester, which was obviously super inconvenient, making this period of my life one of THE MOST challenging.

And when people come to me to ask me my opinion about whether or not it’s worth going back to school, I have to tell them to come back and ask me in about 5-10 years because I feel like I’m still suffering from PTSD.

Overly dramatic much? No.

All jokes aside though, I really wish that someone spoke to the reality of graduate school and some considerations to follow prior to committing. Maybe it’s a good thing that I went in blind, but SOME heads up would have been nice. So this is mine to you. And some little tidbits (for what it’s worth) about  graduate school, whether or not it’s the right thing for YOU, and next steps.

First – you must understand WHY you are going back to school.

Are you interested in expanded your knowledge base? Or are you doing it JUST because your current organization requires it for some sort of promotional / advancement opportunities?

If it’s just the latter – I caution you.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE proponent of education. But I strongly believe that experience (both professional and LIFE experience) is often overlooked and some organization focus too heavily on the credentials behind a name.

There are many reasons why an organization may require a master’s degree, and it’s becoming more common to have one than not, but don’t let that be the sole reason you go back. College (in general) is a major time and financial investment, and the decision should be made based on a holistic approach of personal + professional growth, situational factors like career path, cost, sacrifices, etc., and should NOT be driven solely by the requirements of ONE organization. This may leave you feeling like you’ve been pigeon-holed into a program you don’t love and it will make it much more difficult to survive. And really, that’s what it boils down to – who will or won’t survive!

Secondly, consider your specialty. Most people desire to stay in the lane of their current field because that seems to be standard practice. But I would encourage you to think outside of the traditional process. While it might seem practical to specialize in the area you are currently practicing in, you may find more value in broadening your educational reach. Many of the things I learned in graduate school were concepts I already knew. I was – in a way – paying an arm and leg for busy work, not necessarily broadening my skillset (other than learning new survival techniques).

Lastly, do your research. You will want to consider the model of a program, the cost, and the college/program credentials. Don’t base the value of the programs based on the tuition costs. There are many programs that are crazy high-priced, but don’t necessarily yield more value than those that are on the lower end of the price scale.  Ask around, look at reviews, and spend extra time researching different programs. Keep in mind, graduate studies is not the only way to advance your learning or skill set. There are mass amounts of educational resources out there that are shorter, more affordable and/or have more value to add than traditional college courses.

In summary, if there’s anything that graduate school taught me – it wasn’t statistics, the leadership skills or even the most efficient way to operate a business (this I already knew). It was finding courage and strength in all things challenging, pushing the limits beyond what I had originally set for myself, and recognizing that I too, considering all circumstances, CAN SURVIVE.

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