Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pondering a Master's

For several years now I have been casually considering continuing my education by getting a master's degree. I think a few fears have held me back from really pursuing graduate school. The first big fear is that I am not smart enough, or just wouldn't be able to handle it! The second is financial, I always told myself I would pay off my first degree before starting a second.

I also think when I finally finished my bachelor's degree I just needed a break! I was not a traditional undergrad student wrapping  up my education in a neat four years straight out of high school. I had many bumps in the road, including leaving college at one point and thinking I may never finish my education. I did go back in my mid-twenties, after transferring to a new school, and added a sizable commute to my experience (3 hours in the car every day). After all of that I deserved a rest!

Now that I am working in higher education, the thought of a master's degree is ever-present. I google institutions within a drivable distance often and am always seeking out online or distance programs as well.

One of my issues is that my interests are a little scattered. I have looked into a master's in communications, because my bachelor's is in communications. I have also looked at various degrees in writing and editing (I have seen them called several different things) because they are lifelong interests of mine. Along the lines of my love for writing is a MA in English, something I hadn't considered until very recently. MA in English programs seem to vary widely as well. I am not so much interested in literature, as I am in writing in general, learning to edit, and teaching others to write. Public relations, marketing, publishing, professional writing, and corporate communications programs have all sparked my interest to some extent.

Education is also something I consider as a field of study, as well as counseling. Education and counseling are not because I exclusively want to be a teacher or a counselor. I have had a few experiences in my life (including teaching dance for five years) where I have worked with young girls (elementary and middle school ages). Either of those degrees may help me pursue that interest in the future. I also see a degree in counseling come up in job postings quite often.

My undergraduate degree, which I enjoyed thoroughly, was through my university's "visual and communication arts" department. It included study of writing, art, photography, film, graphic design, web design, and visual communication theory. However, I initially began my undergraduate study at a different university as a mass communication major which was more journalism and media focused. I took classes such as media law and ethics, sports writing, and public relations writing, and worked or interned in television, radio and at several newspapers. I enjoyed my time in mass communication, but not as much as the more visual and creative communications program that I graduated from. I know that I need to narrow my focus and really think hard about my future.

I envy the women I know who finished a master's degree before starting a family, or in some cases before even getting married. I have a husband and two stepchildren to think about, not to mention the fact that we are trying to add to our family. I also have a full-time job, which I need to keep, and I carry the health insurance benefits for my family as well. I don't have the luxury of being able to commit my life 100% to the pursuit of a graduate degree. I know it is possible, and I know people do it all the time, I just need to figure out how to make it work for my own personal situation. I am lucky in that I have a husband who will support me in my pursuits.

I have seen programs that are 100% online, programs that are only on weekends, some that are two days a week. Others are more traditional, a full load of classes, during the day mostly, taken in person on campus. The latter probably won't work for me, unless I found the right degree program and my husband and I moved to live close to the university of choice.

All of the choices are overwhelming, and I haven't even begun to consider how I would fund graduate school. I do think a master's degree could improve my job outlook in the future. And that is what is really important, aside from the fact that I love learning, I want to better myself and ultimately better my family's life.

Who should I talk to to figure this out? Admissions at individual schools can only answer questions about their particular programs, and that's not what I'm looking for at this stage. I need help figuring out the right questions to ask in order to decide if a master's is for me, and if so, which direction I should go in.

Any advice? I'd also love to hear from women who balanced grad school with working full time or moms who started or finished grad school while growing their families.


Extra Credit - If you know of any great programs in my areas of interest in the Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, D.C. area that I should look into, please let me know!

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