Reflections on Grad School: How Do You Know If You Made The Right Choice?

So, what are you going to do with your masters degree?

It’s a question I get asked fairly often. And rightfully so.

I don’t need a masters degree to get my dream job // consulting solopreneurs and small businesses in the wellness space on how to harness the power of social media.

But here I am, in grad school. Turning down potential job opportunities. And questioning whether or not this program is the right choice for me right now.

Back track: Why I applied in the first place

I always pictured myself as the kind of person that goes to grad school. Partially because I’m competitive with my brother and he has his masters (I should note that he is NOT competitive with me) but also because I’ve always loved learning.

Sure I didn’t love learning calculus in high school and I didn’t always love my theater studies classes in college, but I’ve always had this unquenchable thirst for new knowledge. To always be learning.

What better place to learn than grad school?

Grad school has been on my mind since college. But I was never sure what I would go to grad school for. Would it be for music therapy, my dream career when I was in high school? Or maybe exercise science to match my passion for fitness and personal training experience? I danced with the idea of getting my doctorate in physical therapy, until chemistry and biology kicked my ass.

And then I became interested in business school. The idea sparked from my first job in the start-up world.

Maybe I should get my MBA.

I wanted to learn everything I could about marketing and running my own business. And I wanted to make up for my undergraduate theater degree and lack of business training.

Once I get an idea in my head, something I really, really want, it’s hard to shake that idea. It usually happens with an article of clothing — I couldn’t stop thinking about buying a pair of white, canvas, Converse sneakers. Finally I caved and bought them. You win brain! After nagging me for six months I freaking bought them!

Business school was another nagging idea. So I listened to my nagging brain and took the GMAT. The ball was in my court and with my mediocre test scores I could start applying to schools.

The plan wasn’t to apply one month later. But then my full-time marketing job was downsized to a part-time position… and eventually eliminated. The thought of applying for jobs once again and writing endless cover letters was unappealing.

I also I wanted to create my own thing. But I had NO idea how — or even what — I would create.

So, I met with career counselors from my alma matter praying they would tell me what I should be when I grow up. Eventually my vision of being my own boss came into the conversation. Why don’t you pursue a freelance career in social media.

Yes.

So freaking obvious.

But then I realized oh fuck. I don’t really know what I’m doing. Sure I’ve run the social media for a few start-ups and have learned a thing or two from promoting this blog. But do I know enough to actually get clients? Uhhhhh, good question.

 

So, I applied to grad school.

To fill in those knowledge gaps. To bolster up my confidence and resume. I applied to a program in social media and mobile marketing, to be exact.

I did my due diligence researching the program and talking to current students about their experience.

And I crossed my fingers they would accept me. Because I didn’t have a backup plan. And I didn’t want to write cover letters about why I’m the perfect candidate for your company.

In the meantime I did my yoga teacher training, another lifelong goal of mine, and waited to find out my fate. When I graduated teacher training I was left with a ball of anxiety in my belly. If grad school doesn’t pan out, I don’t know what I’m going to do.

When eventually that acceptance email arrived, the day after yoga teacher training ended, I was crying happy tears. Everything was falling into place.

 

Flash forward to now…

I’m a semester and a half into grad school. And have mixed feelings about my experience. So much so that I’m questioning if it’s worth it to continue the program.

Ugh, I don’t know.

Grad school is not what I thought it would be. And more specifically this program isn’t what I envisioned. For starters, we’ve barely touched social media. And when we do, it’s using an outdated article from 2011 that doesn’t mention instagram 🙄. I’m still not gaining the knowledge I crave.

My life has also changed in a way I NEVER could have predicted. My wellness event business, Holistic Happening, is taking off. Even this blog is getting more attention lately than it was a year ago.

I’ve also had to turn down job opportunities I really wanted.

School has started to get in the way of my career. Which is ironic because I went back to school to launch my career.

grad school reflections1

I’m realizing a few things about grad school and education in general:

Learning doesn’t have to happen in a traditional setting.

Graduate school is not the only place to pick up new knowledge as an adult.

In my head I equated grad school to legitimacy, but that’s not even necessarily true. There are so many other ways to learn a skill, whether it’s social media, digital marketing or how to be a better writer.

I wanted that badge of honor, that I went to grad school so I clearly know my shit. But there are other ways to get a badge of honor that cost a heck of a lot less and are less time consuming.

I’ve started looking into alternative diploma programs that will get me the social media knowledge and know-how I crave.

 

Maybe I’m not as academic as I think I am.

This one has been difficult for me to digest.

I’m realizing there’s a difference between having a hunger for learning and being academic. I always thought both described me.

Learning means teaching yourself how to use photoshop and taking a course on SEO. Academic means writing a research paper about your social media internship and studying for an exam.

I’m struggling to be academic. Because the truth is, I don’t want to write a social media research paper. It’s an assignment that I don’t feel prepares me for my actual career goals.

 

You don’t know until you live it.

I thought grad school was the answer. This program in particular. And I did all the proper research to confirm this hunch. But the thing is, you never know until you live it. All the research in the world could not tell me what my actual grad school experience would be like.

In many ways I had to experience it for myself to know if I made the right decision.

 

I’m scared what others will think.

I know I’ve jumped around from job to job, career to career. It’s not something I’m proud of. Every time I run into an old friend, I inevitably have to tell them about whatever new thing I’m up to these days.

It’s something I’ve become self conscious of.

Add in there the fact that I choose to share my life on the internet. So, yeah, I am a little scared of what others will think. Yet another thing I gave up on in life.

IF YOU ARE NOT OBSESSED WITH YOUR LIFE, CHANGE IT

I don’t know what I’m going to do. Stick it out and finish the program? Look for something else? Consider the experience yet another failed attempt at getting my life together?

I really really don’t know.

I write all this not to be a Debbie Downer and woe-is-me about my grad school experience, but to say it’s okay to question if you made the right choice. Even if it’s a bit after the fact.

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  • Kayla! Awesome post! Grad school is something I have a lot of thoughts about, since for a PhD it’s a way of life (and my husband is in business school at the same time).

    I totally understand the feeling of wanting to give up. When I first talked to my undergrad advisers about getting a PhD, they made me sit through four different lectures on why, if you can do anything else, you should. Grad school is in some ways an end in and of itself, not just a means for doing something greater. And because everyone who does it already has so much experience in school and in life, it’s not like college and the work matters in a different way. In that sense, I think it’s perfectly valid to get there and realize that it’s not really necessary and that putting in the effort to being good at grad school isn’t always worth it. If you can already do what you want to do, grad school could legitimately be holding you back. And it’s important to remind yourself that you’re in a new field that doesn’t necessarily have established rules that other people can tell you how to follow and leverage for yourself. Maybe grad school will have been the step that taught you how to believe in your own ability to teach yourself the rules. One thing PhDs are reminded to consider a lot is imposter syndrome – the fear that you don’t belong where you are because you are actually a fraud who convinced some dupe that you’re better and more knowledgeable than you are – and you should consider how much your sense that you don’t know enough to make it in this business is a reflection of reality or just a reflection of your anxieties.

    The flip side is that you have to succeed to justify quitting. That sounds scary, but it’s the truth that we like to call people quitters when they change direction, unless they do really well and then they’re mavericks and visionaries. But if you’ve already had job offers and you can see how they would lead you to where you want to go, then, as you’ve said, what is grad school really doing for you? But you don’t know what you don’t know. You might find that year two is where you get to flourish and explore your industry with a safety net. The question is whether the potential benefit of that leg up outweighs the detriment of having to wait out the program.

    I hope this is a helpful way of looking at things and doesn’t add to your anxiety. My point is to say that I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here, and you should follow your gut as long as you can make a reasonable plan.

  • Kayla,
    I found you on insta after you liked one of my yoga photos. I purused your killer kute fotes and read your blog. Girlfriend, we have a lot in common: I’m a yogi MBA who adores social. We have the same pants! Love spin, barre and yoga. Yoga. Yoga. I did my YTT. I am a marketer full-time. I lived in NYC for 4 years. East Village. I drink a lot of coffee and thrive of getting shit done and yoga – did I mention that? See? Lots in common. Here’s where we are different: I’m older. So… I can’t help but chime in with unsolicited advice about grad school. I can hear your confusion, the angst in your blog post. I am sure it’s eating you up, but i think you should hang in and finish it up. It will only open doors for you in the long run. You will be so proud when you finish. You can take social contracts and build your business when you are done. As a personal trainer, you tell people to set a goal and finish it all the time. With an MBA, you can attract a whole new kind of client or career. I appreiate that it’s a slog and the material is dry and journal articles aren’t practical and the cohort is filled with people you don’t identify with, but it was one of the best things I did for my career. I finished 12 years ago now at age 30. I have been offered VP jobs bc of it. With my undergrad in anthropology, I couldn’t have secured jobs at my level without it. Anyhoo, keep killin it Kayla. I hope my 2 cents is worth something. Drop me a line if you want to chat more.

  • I think it’s incredibly awesome for you to share the fact that you’re confused about what comes next! I know how difficult those types of decisions can be, and how frustrating when you realize that no one can tell you what to do – you have to figure it out for yourself *eye roll.* 🙂 Good luck, and no matter what you choose, make the decision with confidence and excitement for whatever comes next!