If you’re researching going back to school, you’ve likely heard the benefits of advancing your education ad nauseam: get a better job, earn more money, gain new knowledge and skills, etc…
You’ve probably heard them all so much that they’ve become clichés. But before you dismiss them as hackneyed sales pitches from universities, let me explain to you how they are true. Going back to school can improve your life in many ways, and I’m proof of it.
Recently, I wrote about a life-altering day for me in an article on finding the right graduate program. On that gray, drizzly morning, I decided it was time to return to graduate school. Here’s why it was the best decision I could have made.
It Helped Me Refocus My Career
I always knew I wanted to advance my education beyond a bachelor’s degree. I’d worked really hard to maintain a strong GPA as an undergraduate student, so I’d be eligible for graduate programs with strict entrance requirements. It was something that I figured I’d do eventually, when the time was right. After graduating from college and finishing nearly 20 consecutive years of school (dating back to preschool), I was ready for the work world and had no immediate plans to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D. I’m sure some of you can relate.
I was fortunate to find meaningful positions in my field during the roaring 2000s and blissfully worked as a writer and editor for many years. Then the Great Recession hit and a poor economy helped nudge me into a job where I wasn’t truly happy. Sure, like many people at the time, I was just happy to have a full-time job with benefits, but the job itself did not align with my passions and long-term career goals. Some tedious days felt soul crushing because I knew I was meant to do more in this world.
As a communications professional, I decided to break free from that job and refocus my career on natural resources. Graduate school helped make that possible. Serendipitously, I had spent a prior summer as a noxious weed technician. I wanted a communications job where I could get outdoors occasionally and discuss natural resources-related topics. I researched schools that had graduate-level classes in journalism and natural resources and found a perfect fit with Colorado State University. Starting classes that would both challenge me and help me on my desired career path was extremely gratifying.
It Expanded My Knowledge and Skills
Of course, at that time, I was a little over-confident and naïve to the true demands of pursuing an advanced degree. Being a grad student wasn’t all sitting on the front porch sipping coffee reading academic articles. It was hard work, but it was worth it to gain new knowledge and skills.
I broadened my knowledge base with courses in science writing, marketing, policy, and human dimensions of natural resources. I studied theory and quantitative and qualitative research methods. It was heady material, but I soaked it up like a sponge. I spent many evenings sipping coffee (yes, there was plenty of coffee) to get through difficult assignments. On one Saturday during spring break, I recall diligently working to finish a lengthy paper. It was a far cry from the more raucous spring breaks of my undergraduate days, but I was happy to be doing the assignment. It was aligned with my passions. To add to a hectic grad school schedule, along with taking classes, I worked as a graduate teaching assistant, developing my pedagogical skills; a research assistant, learning how to conduct surveys; and a student marketing assistant, applying what I was learning in school on the job.
Despite all this hard work, I had the biggest challenge ahead of me: writing my master’s thesis.
It Prepared Me For a Ph.D.
I had thought about thesis topics before even applying to school, but I didn’t select a topic until my second year. It inevitably set me back, but it did afford the time to develop a study that excited me. During that summer between semesters, I returned to my old job as a noxious weed technician in Teton County, Wyo., and rekindled my desire to focus on this area.
I conceptualized the study with my advisor, selected a theory to test, and developed questions to capture certain concepts. I secured funding for the project, designed the study, wrote the cover letters and postcards, coordinated the mailings, posted the survey online, gathered the completed surveys, entered the data, ran the analysis, and wrote the final paper, all with help from my advisor and committee members. But I did most of the heavy lifting on my own (which of course is why professors have grad students of their own!).
It was this experience completing my master’s thesis from concept to final paper that prepared me to pursue a Ph.D. I’m not ready for that step just yet, but I feel confident in my ability to do a much bigger project for a dissertation. For now, I want to make a little money.
It Helped Me Earn More Money
Prior to finishing my thesis, I was lucky to land a job in communications at an environmental nonprofit. It was exactly the job I had coveted on that gray, dreary day when I decided to return to school. It also paid more money than that old job. With a master’s degree pending, I was a great candidate for this new gig and was able to obtain a decent salary. Earning more money wasn’t a primary reason for me to obtain a master’s degree, but it was a well-received benefit.
I now work in communications for the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. I was able to get this job — one that pays well and aligns with my passions and career goals — thanks greatly to knowledge and skills I obtained in graduate school.
It Helped Me Grow as a Person
I certainly gained a great deal professionally from my experiences in graduate school, and I also grew as a person. I developed friendships with peers and faculty members that continue to this day. I learned better how to manage time, deal with stress and find a positive work-life balance.
Most importantly, my wife and I started a family, something we wanted to do after I finished my degree. Well, it almost worked out that way. As I mentioned, I got behind on my master’s thesis, and our son was born before I finished. Helping to care for a beautiful little baby stretched out the thesis timeline even more, but I eventually got it done … and now we have a second child.
I hope my story inspires you to go back to school. The benefits of returning to school are more than just clichés. They were true for me, and they can be real for you, too.
Don’t Just Take It From Me
Hear other students tell of the benefits they gained from advancing their education. Watch videos of students in engineering, computer science, education, integrated resources management and other fields tell their stories. Many people ponder returning to school for a long while before they apply. If that’s you, let these stories inspire you to finally advance your education — and let your return to school improve your life.