Grad School Reflections

Grad School Reflections

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On Saturday I will graduate with my master's in Old Testament Biblical Studies from Denver Seminary. After three (plus) long years, I am finally done. I have moved for this degree, gotten poor for this degree, tried to learn the Greek verbal system for this degree, and cried for this degree. Was it worth it? I'm still deciding. There's a lot to ponder as I wrap up my graduate career. If you're thinking of going to grad school sometime in the future, here are some things I've learned along the way.

Be Confident About Your Degree

When I graduated from college, my dad thought I should go on for my master's right away. My undergraduate degree was in journalism, so I probably would have continued on to a master's in journalism the very next fall. I thought about it, but decided against it — choosing to go to the Focus Leadership Institute instead. It was a wise choice. While I was there, I did a magazine internship and then ended up getting a job as an assistant editor for a new college webzine. I eventually became the editor of that webzine, and when that job ended, my experience made it easy for me to get another job writing curriculum. During my years as a working professional, I definitely learned more about my writing style, but I also became fascinated with the Old Testament and learning more about the culture of the Bible. That is what eventually led me to Denver Seminary and my Old Testament degree. If I had gone to grad school immediately after college, I would have pursued a master's in something I wasn't fully interested in. Grad school is a lot of work, so it's worth it to feel passionate about what you're studying and why you're studying it.

Know Your School and Program

I chose to go to seminary, which is different from many master's programs. My degree was more than 60 credits, and for my specific program, I had to take a six-hour comprehensive exam and write a thesis. Some programs require fewer credits, projects versus theses, oral exams versus written comps, etc. Know the amount of time you are willing to take to complete your program and the requirements you will have to fulfill along the way. Visit your school, and see what the campus and faculty are like. You'll be spending a lot of time there, so you want to make sure it's an environment you're comfortable in. If you're considering seminary, learn about the theological beliefs and practices. Some seminaries are super conservative, and others are quite liberal. Learn what you can about the beliefs promoted by the school and what the professors say about the Bible.

Prepare for Your Life to Change

I moved from Colorado Springs to Denver to go to grad school. I also quit my full-time job and became a freelance contractor. Not everyone's life changes so drastically for a master's program, but it's possible. I have gone from a steady income to piecing together work so that I had time to sit in the school library for 12 hours each day, writing about the Exodus motif in Scripture. (Why did I choose to do this?!) I have accrued debt, which is something I never had before now. I have stumbled through three languages and multiple theology classes. I have cried a lot. My life is very different right now from what it was three years ago. My life is different, but not in a bad way. Yes, I have debt and painful memories of parsing Hebrew verbs. But I know so much more about the story God is telling in His Word. I have come to appreciate the complexity and continuity of the biblical text. I have made wonderful new friends, been blessed by a Gospel-driven church, taught Old Testament classes at the college level, and met an amazing man — all because of my decision to go to grad school and move to Denver.

There is still a lot for me to process as I graduate. I don't know what is next for me career-wise. I often wonder if I will end up doing a job I could have done without this degree. But even if I do, I am grateful for what I have learned. Learning more about the Bible, being forced to grapple with the Scripture and singing the words of the Shema in the original language, are wonderful things. Overall, I have been blessed by the time I spent getting my master's.

What has been your experience with grad school? Do you recommend it or not? Are you pondering grad school? What are your pros and cons?

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  • Denise, if you got your grad degree because you were convinced that's what God wanted of your, then it will always be worth it.

    However, spiritual issues aside, one should only get an advanced degree after carefully performing some analysis including the time/money involved.  Going into severe SL debt to obtain a degree, any degree which will only marginally increase your earning power or career advancement is not very wise.  Spending over $100K for a degree in "Gender Studies" or "Fashion" is not very smart(and yes, it happens: www.nytimes.com/.../college-degree-required-by-increasing-number-of-companies.html)

    When I went to grad school, I went full time and ALSO worked full time.  Those were a rough 2.5 years.  But it was in a technical degree and opened all sorts of doors for me.  I was also fortunate that I paid next to nothing for it because of scholarships and financial aid.

    So GO to grad school (sooner the better) if you are in a field where it would significantly benefit your career and you're reasonably sure you'll have the aptitude and constitution to finish it..  Also consider how much debt you will incur.  I'd say if the degree cannot pay for itself (after living expenses) within about 5 years of working after you've received it then it isn't worth it (with some rare exceptions like med school).

  • I am actually planning to start a grad diploma at a Christian graduate school in the fall, with the potential for it to turn into a masters degree.  This wasn't something I had ever planned to do, but I feel as if I am at a crossroads in finding my place in the Kingdom, and need a push in some direction.  Like you said, Denise, had I gone to grad school directly after finishing my undergraduate degree, it would have been in a much different field and probably not benefited me in the long run.  

    Thank you very much for sharing your reflections on your experience - it's helpful for me to hear from someone on the other side.  And congratulations!!!

  • A colleague once told me that the higher degree you get, the easier it is. Not that you write easier papers or have less work, but that it's more focused on what you want to learn and therefore, you're more motivated to complete those papers. This was definitely true for me and grad classes and I'd definitely recommend going to grad school if you can study something you're passionate about.

    I took a two-year 18-credit cohort on literacy and then transferred credits to an online M.Ed. program. I can't speak for all online universities, but my online university was so organized and structured that it was very easy to get my Master's with a full-time job and a social life. We had videos that we watched, articles and websites to read, a discussion board, and other online blogs and wikis where we communicated with classmates. I could easily fit my learning times into my busy schedule whenever I wanted. No set day when I had to go to class, just set deadlines for assignments. Online programs are often slightly more expensive than state tuition, but they're so much more convenient, at least for me.

    As far as finances go...I was blessed that my county reimbursed me for a lot of my coursework. While not all public school counties or districts are as generous, many have some sort of incentive program where they will reimburse some graduate courses or even pay for, say, 3 credits per semester. In my mind, if you can get reimbursed for some or all, that's the way to go! I've heard that some companies have those kinds of programs as well, where after working for a few years, your company will pay for some or all of your graduate courses. Some hospitals also have this kind of thing--we'll pay for your education in nursing if you work for us for X number of years. So it's definitely worth doing some research.

  • Congrats Denise :-)

  • I have a master's degree and often times, I wrestled with the "usefulness" of it.  I finally felt a sense of peace when I realized all of the gifts that I have received as a result of my degree such as my friends from school and my much improved writing abilities. You will use your degree because it was not an accident that you went there for three and a half years.  I can't tell you if it will automatically translate job qualifications, but God will use your experience.  Congratulations!

  • Congratulations! Hope to finish my doctorate in two years, so I understand the hardship :-)

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