Today, I really regret the decision I made to go to grad school. Looking back, I feel like a lot of my assumptions weren’t that sound, and there’s not much I’ve learned here I couldn’t have figured out otherwise. That said, I’m here now and I’ve got to make the best of it, so I need to let this go.
Now, I’m still in the thick of things and in the most hectic part of a pretty intense program, so I can’t really speak to the ROI or what the lifetime meaningfulness of this experience has been. Sure, there are things I’ve gotten here that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else, but that’s true of all the experiences I’m not having because I’m in grad school. Maybe God has a reason for me to be here, but I don’t see it yet. I do trust that everything happens for a reason, but that doesn’t mean this was the best decision.
Still, I did the best I could with the information and immaturity that I had at the time, and I’ve learned a lot of really important things, which i will share with you now.
1. Higher ed is a business. Don’t believe that the instituion that admits you does so because they really think it is in your best interest, or that they are in any position to judge what is. In other words, getting in does not mean it’s a good idea to go.
2. MBAs are for designed lily livered people who want to have risk free corporate jobs and have a clear path for their lives. Sure, they try to teach you how to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity a little, but the goal is nearly always safety and not growth.
3. Grad school is not about personal growth, unless you make it so. It is usually for training you in a profession, which many people don’t even know if they will like or not. I think grad school often impinges on personal growth, because it’s easy to get driven into the hive mind of your fellow classmates and the whole institution which doesn’t like to question itself.
4. Grad school is a good place for figuring stuff out about yourself- either because it’s right for you or painfully not right for you. That said, there are other ways, probably less painful and more inexpensive.
5. Grad school (professional masters) is not necessarily about learning. It is not in the program’s interest that people drop out. Critical thinking may or may not be encouraged. The goal is to get you out of there with a piece of paper and put you into a job the school thinks will add to its brand. Maybe this is what you wanted for yourself too, in which grad school would be good for you. There are some good fits for grad school.
6. An MBA teaches you next to nothing about the social or environmental context in which business is conducted. Ethics are an afterthought at best. Placing students is the primary concern, which has little to do with critical inquiry, especially into ethics.
7. Prepare to just do stuff and not have a clear idea of why, because this is still academia and sometimes things are nonsensical just like in real life.
8. If you don’t love business, don’t go to business school. Ditto for beer and sports.
9. Grad school will make you more of what you already are- like nearly any experience in life. Don’t be that surprised if halfway through you realize you went into it for the wrong reasons.
10. Grad school does not allow you to pass over the trials and tribulations of starting a career. It is not a (very expensive) pass to go get a nice job. Maybe it can be, but if you are slightly out of the box of what your grad school is best at, it is probably not.
11. Grad school will just give you the tools (which you may have been able to obtain elsewhere) to make the best of what you already know and who you are. You will succeed because of your own persistence, ambition, and hard work. They should be paying you to build their brand, and even if they are through a scholarship, nothing can reimburse your time or blood sweat and tears.
12. Grad school is like getting married- don’t do it until you know who you are and what you want from life. Take your time. It’s hard to divorce once you have kids (aka debt and have publicly committed to finishing)
13. Grad school does not mean you have it all figured out, but many people will think you do and those who aren’t in the loop don’t realize higher ed has become little more than a ponzi scheme in many circumstances.
14. You can’t really measure the value of your degree, know where it’s going to take you, or be able to make an informed evaluation until LONG after you’ve done all the hard work.
15. Don’t go to grad school, unless you can’t help yourself. Don’t do it for your mom or dad, for your mentor or boss. Just don’t do it unless you really really really want to and will be able to keep convincing yourself it was worthwhile.
16. Remember that even if you hate grad school, you still have yourself, this is your life, and it’s all what you make of it. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned in grad school. I may have lost a lot of my faith in my decision to come, but I can’t lose faith in myself. Help or hindrance to my personal growth it might be, but I’m going to do my darndest to get what I want out of it.
That pretty much sums it up. I could also add stuff about being aware of the institutional politics of your institution, aka they want stuff to look good in the rankings because that’s how they measure themselves usually. Which doesn’t really say much to what they will do for you, except occasionally provide an average salary figure which may not have any relevance for your particular case.
I guess the biggest lesson I’m learning from grad school is to just shut up and deal with my mistakes; don’t let what you do during the day define you, and most importantly:
CAVEAT EMPTOR (Buyer beware)
Thankfully I was already a person of enough limited erudition to be familiar with this phrase (I study business, after all), although my accounting professor who likes to teach latin phrases to show off with rather than accounting probably could have taught me that as well.
I think that pretty much sums up how I feel about my education right now. Is it a waste of time and money? Only time will tell? It’s not quite a sunk cost at this point, but it’s a decision I’ve chosen to live with. And regardless of whether coming was a good decision or not, I am going to get a lot out of it, because that’s the way I am, and no institution will ever define me.
So here’s to passing on a little bit of wisdom learned the hard way, and letting the wound of my own self-doubt heal. There may be a little scar, but that will only be proof of how much life I have in me still to come. And I will let myself forgive what feels like a giant mistake right now.
Best of luck to you all,