When I graduated from the University of Florida in December 2014, I would have told you that I was done with school forever — in fact, I told a lot of people that. I had a BS in Advertising, a BA in English and so much burnout from doing all the things one does to get a job upon graduation outside of just taking classes. With my cap and gown in hand, I waved goodbye to UF and started my big girl job in Tampa.
It was about six months into my job when it dawned on me that I missed school. Work was great (as was earning a salary), but while I was learning technical day-to-day tasks for how to do my job, I had a strong desire to keep growing my higher-level thinking and become more strategic. I talked with my boss, who was 100% on board, and I took the GRE later that year. I then went through the application cycle, as well as some approvals with HR at work, before starting a new program at UF: a Masters in Mass Communication, focusing on Global Strategic Communication.
That was four years ago. A few weeks ago, I graduated with distinction, now Katie England, MAMC. I have been so happy with my choice of program and all I’ve learned in my field. That being said, there was definitely a lot I hadn’t accounted for initially. If you’re looking at going back to school, especially while continuing to work, here’s what you should know:
1. Grad school is expensive.
Maybe this seems obvious, but I didn’t realize until I started that each of my classes would be about $2,600. That’s for an in-state student, without including any books I might need. Since I finished undergrad with almost $30,000 in student loans, I wasn’t about to take on more debt for this degree. My company offers up to $5,000 per year in tuition reimbursement; to make the most of this, I only took two classes per year. Did it take me longer than anticipated to graduate? Yes, definitely. But I paid only a few hundred dollars each year to get my Masters degree.
2. Time management is everything.
Remember when you didn’t want to do homework after being in class all day? You really don’t want to do it after you’ve worked 10+ hours that day. I found the best approach for me was to study or do homework a little each day either before or after work, as well as dedicate larger chunks of my days off from work to getting schoolwork done, so I didn’t feel overburdened. That’s not to say you won’t ever feel like you have too much on your plate (you probably will), but this will help you better manage your increased workload.
3. You’ll need to be flexible.
I have done homework assignments in my hotel room in the wee hours of the night because I was at a conference. I have passed up trivia nights with friends because my final project was due. I have turned in a semester-long assignment almost two weeks early to accommodate for my upcoming travel plans. Were any of these ideal? Absolutely not. But rather than whine (excessively), I recognized the investment I, as well as my company, was making in myself. At the end of the day, what’s a few nights of sleep when the trade leads me to a better position and a higher salary?
4. Use your network.
I have a bad habit of trying to do everything on my own, but let your friends and family help you where they can — they want you to succeed. My mom and husband have edited too many papers to count. I once asked Ayana, as well as one of my clients, for a thirty minute interview for an assignment. Tyler (bless him) manually inputted data that I read off to him. My assignments could have been 900x harder without the help of my network, but as the Beatles sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
5. Decide if it’s worth it.
There’s a lot that goes into this one, and only you can make the decision for you. Evaluate whether the time and money you put into it are likely to benefit you. This could be a great opportunity to change fields or grow within your current one, but you don’t want to put a lot into a program that won’t eventually give you something back. If you want to learn and grow, but you don’t necessarily need a new degree, there are tons of free online courses available. I’d recommend starting with edX and Lynda, but you can also explore in-person classes, such as LaunchCode’s programs.
I am very happy to be done with my program, and I’m enjoying some time off from school. Will I be going back? Probably not, but I’ll never say never…