I often hear young people grapple with life decisions after graduating college. For those thinking of attending graduate school, many wonder if they should do it right after their undergrad or after some time in the workforce. As someone who took a 13-year break before attending grad school here are my thoughts:
- Spending time in the workforce before grad school gave me a huge appreciation for education. I was a terrible student in my undergrad days. I did what was necessary to get by. As an older student, I was so appreciative of the opportunity that I looked for ways to learn everything I could. This meant going beyond the assignments including free classes, networking, outside reading, and volunteer work. I felt that my master’s program was book learning at its base with the intent that I would be aggressive in my own learning.
- I know how to read a syllabus. Sounds ridiculous right? Believe it or not, many students in my classes barely looked at that thing. They showed up ill-prepared for class and therefore negatively impacted the group learning. I used the syllabus to schedule my studying well in advance and frequently checked the online class portal for any updates on the course content. As a side note, the syllabus and writing assignments are framed from the perspective that you have a contiguous academic history. If you have been out of school for a billion years like I have, research your assignments. Google how to write case studies, literature reviews, and research papers. Or, ask the professor – well in advance of the deadline!!! As a result of this extra effort, most of my work was the highest grade possible. It wasn’t necessarily because I was smarter than anyone else, it was because I gave myself time to learn the material.
- I know how to dress for a presentation. If you show up in a wrinkly t-shirt or sweatpants that say “juicy” on your butt, we need to have a side conversation. Not taking pride in your appearance during a presentation gives the impression that you do not care. Show respect for your peers, your professor, and your profession by dressing professionally.
- I have learned to follow directions. You learn early in your career to follow instructions from your supervisor, and this translates well to the student-professor relationship. Following instructions also means that you will complete your assignments correctly.
- Being in the workforce provided me a rich understanding of the textbook material. Book theories are relevant, but they are not always accurate of how scenarios play out in the real world. One of the most significant learning experiences I had was to hear from other working students about how textbook theories translated into their real-world experiences.
- There is some wisdom that comes with age. It occurs through life experiences, failures, triumphs, and the evolution of technology.
I am so thankful for my time in grad school – even though I was an older student. For me, I am confident that I got more out of it now than I ever would have at 22. But that is not the case for everyone. Some people think it is best to just push through and get it over with. However this begs the question, are you getting the full experience of what higher education has to offer?