Written by Guest Blogger Emily Hoerner
One of my cohort members wrote recently about going to graduate school straight from undergraduate studies (Thinking of Coming to Maxwell?) While there are certainly many advantages in heading to grad school immediately after finishing undergrad, I’m here to give you the other side of the picture – going back to grad school after you’ve already spent a few years in the workforce.
If you’re currently working right now and contemplating going back to grad school for that all-important master’s degree, I can empathize. Two years ago I was right where you are, thinking about going back to school but terrified of the mountain of debt I might incur, of the prospect of no longer receiving a steady paycheck, and of having to launch full-time back into the life of a student, with all the sleepless nights and hard work that entails.
I understand all those hesitations and concerns, because I felt them too. They’re incredibly valid. But from where I sit now on the other side of that acceptance letter, having spent the past few months diving headlong back into student life, I can also say that coming to grad school has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Going back to school after you’ve spent a few years working can be a real challenge, to be sure. Getting back into the swing of student life is definitely an adjustment. But if you’re up for it and open to it, it can also be incredibly rewarding.
For one thing, engaging with your classes becomes that much richer when you have ‘real-world’ experience to back up the theories and concepts you’re learning in class. Sitting in Maxwell’s infamous Public Budgeting seminar, I felt intimidated and out of my league – until I started connecting the cost analyses we were doing with the complicated budgeting process my former employer used to undergo annually. Having something real to connect the concepts to helped ground my knowledge. It also helped me be that much more enthusiastic about the material, because I could clearly see the real-world applications of conceptual theories.
In addition, going back to school after working for a few years can mean that your educational goals are more grounded, realistic, and practical: Having spent time in the workforce, you know what you’re good at, what you’d like to improve upon, and exactly where you want to take your degree – and what you want it to do for you – when you leave Maxwell. By working for a few years you’ve taken the time to figure out what you do and don’t want to do after you graduate, which means you’ve got a clear picture of what classes you want to be taking and which skills you want to be learning in your next year or two at Maxwell. In a fast-paced, one-year professional program, knowing what you want to do and exactly what you want to get out of the program can be a definite asset.
Alternatively, taking time off to come back to grad school can also serve as a good pivot point in your career. If you’ve spent the past few years working and know you’re ready for a change, grad school can serve as the perfect chance to take the time to explore your options and reflect on where you want your career to go – all the while learning skills and making important connections that will help you thrive when you embark on your new career path.
Finally, the elephant in the room: money. Though cost concerns are certainly legitimate, I can also say that the faculty and staff at Maxwell really do want you here. They want to attract bright, talented students, and they want you to do well here. To that end, your professional experience can often translate into generous scholarships, graduate assistantships, and merit aid that can be helpful in defraying the costs of taking a year or two off work to attend grad school. (If financial concerns are holding you back from applying or from seriously considering attending Maxwell, I’d recommend speaking with the excellent staff in the Public Administration and International Affairs department – those folks can usually work their magic and make just about anything happen.)
Deciding whether or not to go back to grad school is an intensely personal decision. If you think it’s right for you, I can promise that the faculty and staff of Maxwell are ready to welcome you into a program that is simultaneously challenging and rewarding – one that will, ultimately, make you a better student, a better employee, and (just maybe!) a better person.