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The Graduate School Decision: Going Back

By Peterson's Staff updated on Friday, January 10, 2014

If you’ve been out in the real world and working for a few years, when you return to graduate school you may encounter some issues that you likely never had to deal with as an undergrad. If you’re a confident and established working adult, these hurdles can easily be overcome, but their emergence may surprise you and can possibly shake up your self-confidence initially.

Graduate Programs May Make You Feel Like a Newbie

Even if you’re a well-known executive, you may feel like a relative newbie on the bottom rung of the academic ladder when faced with an increased workload and professors who seem so incredibly smart.

If you stick with your graduate program, you’ll likely settle into the routine of graduate school and find that your learning experience is not only rewarding, but that the majority of your professors don’t view you as a naïve underling, and instead, view you as an adult whose experience and insight enhance the learning experience for everyone—even themselves.

Grad Schools Require Report-Writing

You may also find that over the years your research and report-writing skills have grown a bit rusty and the thought of producing good papers may create some angst—unless, of course, you’ve been writing research reports for a living!

Many a successful professional has found themselves intimidated by the expectations of grad schools, appreciating that an executive career can’t make up for a lack of writing skills. No secretaries or executive assistants can do the work for you (although you could probably pay someone to do your typing).

Don’t panic, though! It’s like riding a bike: you never forget how, and it will eventually come back to you.

Graduate Programs Include Students of All Ages

If you choose to return to graduate school, you may find yourself in classes with students—and professors—younger than you. At first, you may feel a bit out of place, but many grad students find that their real-world experiences bring added learning to the classroom. For the younger students, hearing a perspective from “one who’s been there” can offer a candid look into what their chosen career path may really have in store for them. As an older student, you have a lot to contribute. Don’t think of yourself as older but as wiser when it comes to real life and your professional insight.

A Lot of Time is Required to Successfully Complete a Graduate Program

In addition to dealing with issues related to your professional prestige and age, you may find that the free time you’ve grown accustomed to (when you’re not at work) is hard to give up. Thursday nights watching your favorite television show may have to go out the window for a while. You can still have fun when your obligations permit, but your down time will likely be limited.

Professors at Graduate Schools May Understand Mitigating Circumstances

Lastly, if you have family commitments, the demands on your time may seem overwhelming. However, many graduate schools have programs that are designed with working adults in mind. Classes may be scheduled in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate student needs, and professors may be flexible in their expectations when they know their students have jobs and families.

Professors are human and understand when things come up. However, you need to make sure that you don't overuse work and family as an excuse.

If you’re considering going back to graduate school for a degree, you should have a keen awareness of what you think you can and can’t handle. The workload and the juggling act may or may not be too much for you. Carefully examine your abilities and limitations before taking the plunge. If you feel confident you’re up for it, go ahead and dive in!

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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