Graduate School: Taking the Plunge
You’re thinking about going back to graduate school. Where should you go? What kind of program should you enroll in? Do you move back home? (trick question - the answer should be YES!) How will you balance work and school? Those are some of the top questions I had when I decided to go back to school so I am writing this in an attempt to provide some tips for applying and navigating grad school.
A little bit about my journey: I graduated from UC in 2014 with a BA in American Studies and told myself that I had five years to get my Master’s. I worked in fundraising and development for a little bit while also coaching youth sports – both positions that I loved. But in 2016, I ultimately left a job that was making me miserable and that is when I knew it was time to go back to school. Fast forward to fall of 2017, I was enrolled in the MA program for American Studies at Stockton University. I graduate in May and am so glad that I have a degree (two actually thanks to UC) that allows me to explore many career options: teaching, working in a museum, or nonprofit work. But in 2016, I wasn’t so sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be or what kind of program to choose.
So here are some tips that I wish I had received then.
Step 1: Take a hard look at your finances. You need to decide beforehand if you will work full- or part- time, not work at all (I wish), take out loans, and/or apply for scholarships. I moved back home so that I could be a full-time student and finish my program in two years. I work multiple part time jobs to make ends meet but I did have to take out a loan for classes. Luckily, I was able to secure multiple graduate assistantships that helped finance most of my program. I cannot stress this part enough: fight for those GA positions! When visiting or exploring schools, ask the financial aid office AND the program directors if there any GA positions, if they cover tuition, have a stipend, etc. Sometimes you can obtain a GA position outside of your program or work on campus.
Step 2: Explore all your options. Unless you want to be a neurosurgeon who operates on babies in the womb, you most likely have many paths to the career you hope to have one day. Especially if you received your degree in a humanities-based subject. I looked at programs for American Studies, History, Public Policy, English, Museum Studies, and Liberal Studies. I knew that I could move back home so I only looked at schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as online programs.
Step 3: Utilize all your resources. I really encourage you to reach out to UC – your past professors, the career and post-graduate development office, and other alums that had similar career goals as you. You will need your transcripts and letters of recommendation, so I encourage you to start this process early. Ask your professors if they recommend a program or know of any others that you may have overlooked. Graduate level American studies are few and far in between but Professors Schroeder and Goldsmith were able to provide great insights and suggestions. I even reached out to my high school teachers as I knew that their backgrounds were varied in terms of their degrees and programs.
Step 4: Find a support system. Grad school is tough. You will need to surround yourself with people who motivate you. Mentors that can guide you. Classmates that challenge you. School is tough enough but when you add in working or taking care of a family, it is that much more difficult. Be mindful that you may need to take a semester off or lessen your class load or you may find that you are thriving and can branch out and join an organization on campus. Everyone’s experience will be different, but it is important to remember that your support system, whatever form it may come in, will be crucial to surviving.
Step 5: Do this for you. You may want to go back to school in hopes of potentially earning more or because you want to further your education or so that you can receive a promotion. Whatever the reason, make sure you are doing it for you. Nobody else will be able to continue your program if you need to take a break. Your loans will not disappear if you decide that you no longer want to complete the degree. Do it because it’s what you want.
By: Courtney Stewart ’14