Like most college seniors, I found myself thinking about what life was going to be like after I graduate. Did I want to go straight into work or go to graduate school? Did I want to take a much-needed break from the constant 17 years of schooling I had under my belt and go into the workforce? Or did I want to continue my education for another 2-3 to years and get a specialized degree in my field?
When it came down to it, I was exhausted from school. Late night papers, the constant studying, and the mounting school loan debt – it starts to wear on you. So, like many, I scoffed at the idea of graduate school and went on to graduate with my bachelor’s degree that hot day in May, moved back to my parents house and started applying for any and all jobs that I was half way qualified for. As I learned quickly, those jobs were very few and far between. As most find out the hard way, unless you are in a profession that quickly scoops you up out of school (not the case for a communications major like me), most entry-level positions at companies ask for 3-5 years experience. My question to all these companies, asked from the comfort of my childhood bedroom was always: HOW?! With going to school full-time, working part-time, and having two internships – how was there time for any more “work” experience?
It took me a year after graduating to find my first full-time big girl job that was not waiting tables. After a year and half, I left that company and was offered my current job in a communications office. It was a dream come true. I love my current job and the opportunities I have been afforded by moving to a new city, with a wonderful boss and interesting work assignments. A year into my new job, after a conversation with my boss about where I wanted my career to go, I started to think about what my career goals were and how to make them happen. The same conversation I had 3 years prior came to mind – work or school? But as I am learning now, I can do both.
After buying two GRE study books, three months of studying, taking and passing the GRE, applying to graduate school, and writing a bomb digity personal statement – I got in! I was officially going to be a grad student and full-time employee. This was a decision to help make my career goals a reality.
Currently, I am in my second graduate school course and a couple things I have learned while working full-time and going to school part time are:
1. Make the time for the readings.
Yes, it is a lot of reading, no you will not find it all interesting 100% of the time, but you will thank yourself later for being knowledgeable in class discussions (be it online or in person). Class participation is still a thing.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
I was never one to ask questions in class. I was either too shy or didn’t want to be the one who held up class longer and got the side eye from people. But, when you’re taking these advanced courses and you find yourself confused on a topic, assignment, or reading – ask the professor for help. It is what they are there for. If you don’t understand something and try to wing it, the only person you are hurting is yourself.
3. Buy a good planner.
I am an organized person and to do list maker – have been since middle school when they give me my first agenda and told me to write my homework assignments every day. I find my planner to be a great way to keep up with not only my work life – to which I work with a lot of deadlines, but also my personal life. So when I started graduate school, I was thrilled at the opportunity to justify buying a larger, more organized planner. I personally opted for Emily Lee’s “The Simplified Planner” since it breaks down everyday from 6am to 9pm, has spots for to do lists, and a place for dinner (hello meal planning). For anyone who is not a planner, you need to become one when going to work full-time and going to school. You will need to know when multiple papers, discussion boards, readings and everything in between is due. As well as keeping up with university dates, tuition payment due dates and scheduling meetings with your counselor about class schedules.
4. Buy the books.
Textbooks are expensive, and if you were lucky enough to go to a school with a rental textbook system in undergrad you were lucky. But, as a graduate student, you are taking classes in a specialized field, the field you are in or want to be in, and odds are you going to reference these books again in the future.
5. Pick classes you enjoy.
If you are in a degree program that has some freedom of what classes you can chose to take, do exactly that. You will no longer be required to take the general education courses like you did in undergrad (peace out biology). So take this time to further your knowledge and skills within your chosen field and try a new class.
As a full-time employee and part-time student, I find I do have less free time and have to set aside time for reading journal articles, making copies, and writing annotated bibliographies – but I am okay with that. Because this an opportunity for me to pay off my current debt and work towards a brighter future that will help me reach my career goals. Yes, it is exhausting most days and the daunting work load that is coming my way does not sound appealing (already dreading thesis writing) – but while I am still a young 20 something, now is the time to work as hard as I can and learn as much as I can.