6 Ways Grad School Launched Me into the Career of My Dreams

Three and a half years after I finished my bachelor’s degree in journalism I was stuck. My degree could’ve gotten me a job at a fledgling newspaper or perhaps an internship at a magazine. So far it had helped me make about 10% of my income annually. I knew none of that was where I wanted to be. I wanted to have a magical career where I had autonomy and got to help people communicate their stories better. Oh, and I still did not want to give up performing in theatre. I needed more options so I decided to go to grad school. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Here are six surprising ways grad school got me to my dream job.

1. I actually saved money. You read that right. No, graduate school did not leave me $100 Grand in the hole. Quite the contrary--I had a graduate teaching assistantship and got paid (not buckets and buckets but something) to dip my toe into the deep end of teaching while I got an education. By spending 20 hours a week teaching and grading freshmen work, I was able to get a free M.A. and get a stipend that helped me pay my bills and function like a 20-something who was not dependent on her parents. Score. This was an integral next step in the process of getting on my feet and starting my business. No debt!

2. I suddenly got credibility in my field.  Over night, the fact that I had decided to go to graduate school to study communication and media gave me major street cred in my field. Suddenly I was called a social media expert because people saw that I was serious about studying the inner workings of digital media. By studying a subject in graduate school, people saw that I was serious about it. I was no more passionate about learning about how people connect online than I was 6 months before, but now people saw that I meant business, so they listened to me and opted to hire me.

3. I was surrounded by people who got excited about the nerdy things I did. I, perhaps like you, perform better with fierce competition. I didn't know to be grateful for my classmates' commitment to the books at the time (sorry guys) but the fact that I was in small classes with people who were at the top of their classes in undergrad lit a fire under me. We had conversations (for fun!) about marketing, social media, and the digital landscape. We debated advertising techniques and product placement. This not only happened in the classroom, but it happened when we left class and went back to our cubicles, when we went to grab mexican food, and it continues to happen through mediums like Twitter. If I hadn't been surrounded by people who were passionate about this field, I would not be as knowledgeable in my field as I am now.

4. It bought me some time to figure out how my dream and reality could jive. I think this is really the reason a lot of people go to grad school. Not knowing what your next step should be is neither a bad reason or a good reason to go to grad school. For me, going to grad school gave me a little time to better formulate my vision for my future. I knew I couldn't and wouldn't be giving up performing any time soon (or well, ever permanently) but I also knew that during time between performance contracts I could not indefinitely go back to folding sweaters (as much as I LOVED that Anthro discount). I knew I needed a second marketable skill to support my arts habit. Grad school gave me time to figure out exactly what that could be and how I could make it all work.

5. I became a better writer. In elementary school I learned to write imaginatively. In high school I learned how to write a snazzy college essay. At university I learned how to write articles. In grad school I learned how to write a well-researched thesis. All of these different kinds of writing have helped me become a well-rounded writer. The academic writing is no replacement for professional writing but it certainly did not hinder my writing skills. It only helped me improve them. The more ways I know how to connect with an audience, the better.

6. I honed the skill of balancing. By taking classes, teaching classes, and working part-time freelance gigs, I learned the art of managing multiple tasks for multiple "clients" (whether it was 19 year-old students, my graduate school professors, or a client who wanted a press release). This delicate skill of balancing has transferred beautifully into my sole proprietor work. On any given week I knock out work for 8 or more clients. I need to balance deadlines, client personalities and their business goals. Grad school prepared me perfectly for that.

So often today experts are saying not to go to grad school. I know for me it was the absolute right decision. What about you? Did you regret going? Do you have plans to go? What are your concerns? Sound off in the comments.