College round 2: what it takes to head back to school
Graduate school is demanding for anyone, but for those who've taken time off between undergrad and grad, it comes with some unique challenges. We polled six New York-area students who've gone back to school for an advanced degree after working for a few years to find out their biggest surprises, hurdles and pieces of advice for anyone considering a return to student life.
YASMINE GALVEZ (pictured above)
Undergraduate: Boston University, ’06
In between: Teaching in Japan, working at Kaplan Test Prep (which she still does)
Now: Enrolled in part-time MBA program at NYU Stern School of Business
My biggest surprises: How collaborative people are. Because it’s a part-time program, we’re all in the same boat. People just really help each other out, both with schoolwork and networking...
My best advice: ... Ask yourself why you want to go back. It’s not a cheap investment — it’s not just a monetary issue, but also in terms of time. You need to figure out whether graduate school is going to help you achieve whatever goal you’d like to achieve. You also need to consider priorities — you’ll lose out on other things you used to spend your time on, like your social life and family.
And on taking the GMAT: It isn’t easy ... It’s essentially just a reasoning test, so it’s all about ... having a lot of practice. If you’re really good at studying on your own, you can get one of the books. If you think you need assistance, definitely go for one of the classes.
Undergraduate: Haverford College ‘04
In between: Worked in education and curatorial publications at the Jewish Museum
Now: Seeking an MFA in Interior Design and Lighting Design at Parsons
My biggest surprises: I was surprised at how fun school is. Having the chance to explore and research my own ideas is special and a privilege for which I am grateful. However, I am paying a lot for that privilege with my time, the financial constraints of no longer having a full-time job and for many years to come as I pay off my loans. Also, I miss my friends and family and sleeping.
My best piece of advice: Make sure to really investigate the school, instructors and your own reasons for applying. If you can’t summarize in a few sentences why a school and program can advance your career, it might not be worth the money to apply.
Undergraduate: University of California, Santa Cruz ‘03
In between: Teach for America, MS in the Science of Teaching from Pace, teaching in NYC public schools and then stay-at-home mom
Now: Seeking a Masters in Social Work at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College
My biggest challenge: It is a huge adjustment in terms of time management. I have endless reading to do and significantly less time with my son. I’ve been finding myself to be a better time manager than I ever have been before to try to make sure I have at least two-to-three quality hours with my little guy each day.
My biggest surprises: I guess I should have expected this but it’s been a shock to be online so much for school. I was in undergrad from 1999-2003. It was a very different landscape back then. Now I have mandatory blackboard postings and videos to watch for some classes.
My best pieces of advice: Try to stay organized and on top of readings and assignments so you don’t find yourself overwhelmed at the last minute. Also, make sure you schedule in some downtime to do the things you enjoy. I get up early so I can run pretty much every day.
Undergraduate: Farleigh Dickinson University ‘05
In between: Worked for Child Protective Services for the State of New Jersey
Now: Working on her thesis for a degree in Global Communications, from The American University of Paris
Some of the biggest surprises: Once I got to graduate school, I realized I wasn’t as great a writer as I thought I was. The job I had before required that I write factual reports. But in grad school, my papers, which were 15-20 pages, were much more analytical. I also found that pulling all-nighters — something I’d mastered in undergrad — was not as easy as it used to be.
Best piece of advice: Have an open mind and be optimistic. You’re not as out of the loop as you think. You’ll easily catch back up. Especially since many graduate students are older and support each other. That said, do it now. Do it while you’re thinking about it. The longer you wait the harder it is.
Undergraduate: Widener University ‘74
In between: Worked in Human Resources at several companies, including Merrill Lynch
Now: Human Resources Director at Long Island Automotive Group and teacher at Adelphi’s accelerated G.O.A.L. MBA Program, where he completed his MBA in 2010
My biggest surprises: How much hearing about my fellow students’ experiences complemented me and helped me to understand a whole new demographic. I helped them with my practical experience and they helped me. We were at different stages of our lives. Being with them was a learning experience. I also think my leadership skills in business transitioned in the classes.
Why I’d tell anyone to go back: I believe in lifelong learning. I got my job at Long Island Automotive Group right after I finished my MBA. Anybody today who wants to go back will see how practical knowledge helps in case studies.
My best piece of advice: You need to be dedicated, and to warn your family that it’s time consuming. You need to be able to balance school, work and personal life.
Undergrad: George Washington University ‘05
In between: Assistant director of athletics at Yeshiva University, got a Masters in Sports Administration at Northwestern, did branding and marketing for an online startup
Now: Seeking a Masters in Social Work at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University
Learning some tough lessons: Nowadays the way the job market is ... you have to be a specialist. ... People who are hiring have such small capital and ... want to make sure people are skilled in the particular field.
My biggest challenges:
Group projects, in particular, can be hard. Everyone has a lot of other things going. At work, you have an alotted amount of time that you’re in the office, so meeting is no problem. But juggling different people’s schedules is difficult.
What I should have done differently: I should have done as many internships as possible, both during undergrad and graduate school. I could have spent more time volunteering with the Chicago running clubs, working at WNBA games. People want to know what you’ve been doing besides studying. I’m doing a lot more field work now that I’m in social work school and it makes a big difference.
My best piece of advice: Don’t go to school just because your burnt out at your job ... You have to be dedicated to the subject or you won’t stay motivated ...