Life Lately

Master’s Life Lessons: The five things I learned in my grad school journey so far

things i learned while in grad school

It’s the last year in my Master’s and I have so many feels. Indulge me as a look back on the five things I learned in my grad school journey so far.

September 2016. I was a tall, tanned, 24-year-old blonde travel blogger working for a non-profit, applying for an MBA at a private university halfway across Metro Manila. It was a contradiction of sorts, considering most people were in business attire who seemed to thrive peacefully in 9-5s. I watched my two worlds merge — one that was hedonistically carefree and another that was more analytically structured.

Despite feeling slightly out of place and fickle-minded, it felt right to walk into this trap called graduate school.

Three years later, I only have three subjects left… and a hundred “feels” to accompany them. Part of me wants to stay, and the other can’t wait to see the finish line. So allow me to sit down and look back at the toughest years that defined my adulthood.

My passions are not mutually exclusive

When a blogger friend learned I was applying for Master’s, she said, “It’s going to kill your blog!”.

True. One could say grad school could kill my career, savings, social life, relationships, or my sanity. But instead, I felt like I really thrived on most of my pursuits while I was in grad school.

Rather than being a hindrance to milestones I want to attain, grad school complemented the efforts in life I have already made. And obviously, this blog is far from dead.

PS The tuition fee is a good motivation to finish

I will occasionally fall short

Looking at my Facebook college memories, I laugh at my definition of “hell week” because it was nothing compared to grad school. Studying with a full-time job, I had to accept my own limitations.

Academics actually wasn’t the hardest part. At work, I had to define boundaries so I’ll have time to write papers. Likewise, I have skipped enrolling some terms because of busy seasons at work. Sometimes, I devote my weekends purely to study rather than to see my family at my hometown. Yet I have also put off time to study to be just there for a friend in need. There are times I gained weight because I can’t even workout, and days I don’t show up for people just to get extra sleep. This was the price to pay, but I don’t beat myself up for occasionally falling short.

There are no guidebooks on how to manage your time. People will say various things depending on where they stand in you life. My boss, my professor, and my friends have different opinions for sure. The skill to occasionally choose between equally important things (and not feeling guilty about it) is valuable.

Grit is essential

As if grad school isn’t hard enough, I’ve heard unsolicited advice and comments like: “You should apply to a nearer school / take online classes instead / study abroad”, “Business should be learned outside of school, why are you sitting in classrooms?”, “You should’ve used the tuition money to go on annual Europe tours”, “How do you know if it’s really for you?”

Had I listened to all of these, I never would have finished anything!

Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t 100% certain and I also had a million reasons to not enroll. There was much more at stake for me financially since I’m no longer living with my parents and I’m paying my own rent and bills. But when it became personally clear to me that MBA is my way to go, I drowned out all negative opinions to see where my choice takes me.

Whenever someone asks what course they should take, I always say it depends on their objectives. The “why” may be the hardest to figure out, but will be your shield when negative comments and tough times hit.

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Proof of being blonde

Trust others and collaborate

Before grad school, I have always been comfortable working alone and doing everything by myself. Until now, I’m still an introvert despite my own job requiring to maintain relationships.

Yet by some twist of fate, grad school put me on unlimited group works to force me to learn how to collaborate, delegate, and manage a handful of personalities. And I mean a handful — one term, a groupmate was so pissed at me, she dropped the class!

Sometimes, I was the slow learner they had to drag forward; other times, I push the group because a topic was my expertise. It was a humbling experience because I learned to trust other people and trust that I don’t know and can’t do everything. I think this has made me a better manager at work, and a better partner in life.

Good support systems are life-saving (and diploma-earning)

I never thought about it at first — but it takes a village to finish an education. I never would have persevered without:

  • Friends who took Master’s ahead of me and inspired me so much to apply
  • Josh, who has been my co-pilot and sounding board during times I crumble under pressure. He deserves a footnote on my diploma
  • My parents who, having had their own Master’s journey while having kids (a feat in itself!), approved of this decision and encouraged me to finish
  • My closest friends who somehow have also pursued grad school around the same time, in various fields! It was decompressing to rant about life during catch-up sessions
  • My classmates, since most of us are in the same boat (full-time jobs and a life), inspiring each other to show up weekly nevertheless

Personally, I have convinced a minimum of four people to be on this journey too, which is amazing! By sharing my story, maybe I can reach others who are searching for that last push before applying to this roller coaster journey.

Final Words

Grad school is a luxury not everyone can afford because it demands a lot of resources — time, money, and energy to say the least. It was the greatest effort I ever put and I take nothing for granted. Yet during the process itself, grad school has already paid me back in terms of knowledge, social skills, and character.

I walked into grad school feeling not 100%prepared, a bit hesitant, and feeling out of place. Soon, I hope to walk out wiser, grittier, humbler, and knowing my need for others.

My adult self is immensely grateful to the tall, tanned, and very blonde 24-year-old who decided to experience this.

If you’re currently in grad school, what are your learnings in your own journey? If you’re looking into taking up Master’s, what are your considerations?

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