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Starting Graduate School After Years of Working

January 21, 2016

By Kelly Pedersen

Students who have been working in the real world for a few years may be nervous about re-entering an academic setting. You may feel that you are too old to go back to school or fear that you will encounter issues that you never had to experience as an undergrad. The decision to return to school is never easy, especially if you have been out of the classroom for years.

Mason has more than 10,000 graduate students in over 100 programs across 3 campuses and our students vary widely in age. In fact, the average student in the MBA program is 39 years old. So, there is no disadvantage or stigma in going back as an older student. Many programs seek out older students with work and life experience because of the value they add to the discipline being studied and discussions in the classroom. A confident and established working adult can easily overcome the hurdles of graduate school, but some of the following issues may surprise you and could cause you initial anxiety.

  • Starting Graduate School Makes You Feel Like a Rookie

If you have been in the work force for a few years, you probably feel secure in your position and abilities. Returning to school may make you feel as if you are starting over at the bottom. If you commit to your program, you’ll find a routine in your studies and your old confidence will return. You may also notice that professors value your experience and the insight that comes with life experience. If your graduate program is related to your work experience, you will be able to offer real-world, practical scenarios and applications of theories and research that you are studying. As an older student, you have a lot to contribute.

  • You Can’t Remember How to Write

When it comes to writing your first paper, or even your application essay, you might feel that your research and writing skills have diminished. The thought of producing long and articulate reports could have you feeling anxious. Many successful professionals have felt daunted by the expectations of grad schools, fearing that an executive career can’t make up for a lack of writing skills.

Don’t be afraid! you never lost your writing skills; they are just a little rusty. With a few papers, it will all come back to you. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you can access the George Mason University Writing Center. They support writers from the beginning, exploratory stages of the writing process to polishing the final version. The Writing Center offers the opportunity to meet with tutors face-to-face or to receive email-based tutoring through the Online Writing Lab. They also lead writing workshops designed to address the needs of student writers.

  • You Don’t Have Enough Time

In addition to dealing with problems related to your self-esteem and age, you may find that the free time you’ve grown accustomed to after work seems to evaporate. Spending your evenings and weekends binding Netflix or pursuing hobbies may no longer be feasible. Your down time will likely be limited and it can be difficult to accept. For every 1 hour you spend in the classroom, expect to spend 2 hours on homework, studying, or research. So, before you pursue more schooling, work to create a realistic time management plan. Figure out what you can handle time-wise, and don’t overextend yourself.

Balancing graduate school work with other life roles can also be challenging. Many Mason graduate students hold full-time jobs. Many also have family commitments, such as being a parent or a care-giver to another family member. You can still be successful in graduate school while balancing these roles! It may require a thoughtful approach to time management, dedication, good communication with your academic advisor or faculty to plan your course of study, support from your family and employer, and flexibility above all.”

If you’re beginning a graduate program at Mason, you should be aware of what you think you can and can’t handle. Carefully examine your abilities and limitations and make a practical plan for work, family, and studying. If you need guidance on how to plan your time, consider joining our upcoming webinar,  Maximizing Productivity during Graduate School.Taking place on Jan.29, the topic is scheduling and time management. With confidence in yourself and your abilities, you can be a leader in your program here at George Mason University.

Kelly Pedersen is a Graduate Assistant with University Life Arlington and masters candidate at the College of Visual and Performing Arts in the Arts Management program.

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