Some people always knew they wanted to pursue a post-graduate degree. For others, such as Rachel Lopez, Affinity Mentoring development director, the revelation came later, once they were in a leadership position.
"It was then that I understood how a post-graduate degree would elevate my professional skills, upward mobility, and expand my network," said Lopez, who has an undergraduate double major in Public Relations/Advertising and Spanish and earned a Master of Science in Communication Studies from Grand Valley State University.
"My husband and I had talked about pursuing post-graduate degrees and after we got married, we both enrolled. We actually missed our first class because we were on our honeymoon! Luckily, our professor was understanding."
Lopez notes the most challenging aspect for her was balancing a career, family and school.
"I had been out of school for several years, so it took some time to get used to homework and class projects again," she said, adding it was hard when evening classes conflicted with childcare availability or work events. Fortunately, she had family close by who were able to help when her husband was traveling for work.
Since graduating, Lopez's current job is exactly what she was hoping for—combining organizational communications, inclusion and racial equity work, community relations, and strategic planning.
"I absolutely loved my classes and professors. I was able to have high-level discussions with community leaders across sectors, varying from marketing to nonprofit to business. It was extremely beneficial to hear various perspectives and experiences."
Amanda McVay, Group Vice President, Grocery, at Meijer, knew she wanted to continue to feed her natural curiosity. Since obtaining her Executive MBA from the University of Michigan, she feels more connected to the larger economic factors that are affecting her particular area of business.
"Re-entering school later in my career allowed me to reflect on my previous career journey and gain confidence in regard to where I would be successful and happy as I moved into the next stage of my career."
McVay, who had vast support from her husband and two young children, suggests taking the leap if you're thinking about it.
"It will never feel like the perfect time and you'll never know how you'll make it work until it starts. You will need to ask for help. You will learn how valuable time can be and will in turn learn to be very selective with how you spend it!"
David Weinandy, Ph.D., Professor of Communication at Aquinas College, says to start by telling yourself you're grad school-capable and speaking with people who've been through it. He offers these points to consider:
- You may have to gather reference letters, write essays, and take placement tests or prep classes.
- Consider your learning style: Do you learn well with online classes or thrive on classroom interaction?
- Visit the program, meet with the faculty director and sit in on classes.
- You're not restricted by what you've studied in the past. Look at program specializations.
- Consider your purpose. You should feel passionate about your area of study.
- Have honest and open conversations with your family.
- Keep yourself healthy by following the 8/8/8 rule: Eight hours of work/school, eight hours of sleep, eight hours of something leisurely. It's all about balance!
- Learn to say "no" when something doesn't fit your schedule.
- Establish yourself in the professional community by going to conferences and joining professional organizations.
- Use the resources offered by your school, such as accessibility services, advising, counseling and job placement.
"Let go of self-doubt," Weinandy advises. "Being nervous is normal! Success starts with your mental attitude. If you're eager to learn, you're on the right track."
You have nothing to lose by trying.
Are you thinking about post-graduate education?
The Grand Rapids Area Higher Education Network (GRAHEN) is a useful resource—from direct contact info for colleges and universities to corporate sponsorships and educational fairs.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in West Michigan Woman.