Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Go Back to School Without Ruining Your Life


If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I love school. When I was in high school, I counted down the days to college; after getting a BA, I earned a Masters of Library Science; a few years after that, I left a good job in my field for my current student loan funded adventure – an MFA in Creative Writing. According to my parents, I collect degrees like limited edition stamps. I’m not sure if they’re proud of me, or just confused by my refusal to get a real job. For now, I’ll stick with proud. 

While each journey back to the classroom has been unique, a few lessons I’ve learned have been nearly universal. If you’re thinking of going back to school, or you simply want to laugh at my mistakes, this is for you.

  • Plan ahead. Getting into my current program was a three year process, which included writing stories for my application, researching programs, gathering Letters of Recommendation, and finally applying. If you’re considering going back to school, don’t expect to start next month. Take time to do your research, make your plans, and prepare yourself emotionally and financially for what will be a very big change. 

  • Stock your savings account. There are so many hidden costs of school – moving half way across the country, buying books and supplies, paying tuition, going to the bar to meet new friends (it’s an investment!). While I saved a lot of money before I quit my job and returned to full time student status, more would have been helpful. 

  • Apply for scholarships and assistantships. I currently have a teaching assistantship, which means that I teach two classes a semester in exchange for a yearly stipend. The first year I applied to programs, I wasn’t offered an assistantship. I waited a year, applied again, and finally got the offer I needed. If financial assistance is important to you, work hard at finding those positions, and make the necessary sacrifices to get them. 

  • Don’t forget your people. Do you have a partner? Children? Friends? Do you want those people to be around after you graduate? Then talk to them. Tell them why going back to school is important to you. Make time for them, even though you should probably be studying. Nathan and I got married last year, when we were both in the midst of equally rigorous programs. While this wasn’t the best timing, it kept us close and strengthened our relationship. I’m not saying you need to get married while you’re in school, but do find a way to show your loved ones that you appreciate them. 

  • Love what you do. I don’t mean this in that annoying follow-your-passion, law-of-attraction, Oprah-said-so way. I mean going back to school – especially as an adult, when all your friends are buying houses and having babies and getting promotions – is hard. When you inevitably question your choices while eating yet another dinner of Ramen and Two Buck Chuck, the knowledge that you’re doing something you love will be invaluable.

Going back to school is like any major life change, full of challenges and bumpy transitions and dark moments of despair. But if you can prepare yourself by planning ahead, surrounding yourself with supportive people, and trusting your passion, it will be a tiny bit easier. Trust me. I’ve been there, and I’ll probably be back.