UNITED STATES—After completing my undergraduate degree in 2008/2009, I had it made up in my mind that was it for me when it came to my college education. I didn’t want to pursue it any further. Why? Not only was it the costs, but the idea of being in a classroom didn’t excite me people. However, I consider the prospect in 2016 that took me back to college, this time in graduate school to purse my Master’s Degree in Sociology.
Don’t ask people, because when you’re an undergraduate you dabble with a lot of various programs. I have a BA in English, a BA in Film Studies and a BA in Psychology, but the pursuit of a Sociology degree always excited me. Why? I was always intrigued with the social sciences, in particular psychology as I wanted to understand more about the brain and how it operates. Let’s just say the brain is perhaps the most complicated organ in the body and it excited me to the core when I took Abnormal Psychology.
However, I also took some Sociology courses as an undergraduate that peaked my interest and I always found it interesting to see how that study is applied to everyday life and it impacts the choices and behaviors we interact with people. With that said I applied to the graduate program at my Alma Mater and got accepted. However, you soon discover that a graduate degree is a bit daunting, it is not that easy. The courses are far superior, the classes are so small there is nowhere to hide, the professors are quite blunt, the study load is gargantuan and the homework or work (depending on what you consider work) is brutal. Oh, the grading scale for the professors is heightened.
It wasn’t so much an adjustment to taking graduate courses that were difficult for me; it was so much a focus on sitting in a classroom for 3 to 4 hours and literally having a seminar about certain topics depending on your course of study. I would not call the seminar courses debates, but extended dialogues and these dialogues were super long. Chatting about a particular topic from a reading for 3 hours is exhausting, and you can’t play like you don’t care because the professor is going to call you out.
I wasn’t a massive talker in any of my courses as an undergraduate and I wasn’t that much as a graduate student, but I did open myself to talking more and more in the classroom. Why? Participation is a massive element when it comes to your grading. Think 20 to 25 percent of your overall grade. Now this isn’t to say that I was raising my hand quick as hell every time the professor threw out a question, but I did engage more. You can say after a bit of work experience my confidence level grew and expanded when it came to talking in the classroom.
The other gripe is the course load was so intense. You’re really only going to class like once a week, but the time you’re in class is so long that a ton of material has to be covered during that time frame. So you’re talking easily 100 to 200 pages if not more of readings per week. You decipher the material while in class; then there are essays and projects on those readings. Rather it’s a group presentation in class, a solo presentation or defending an argument assigned to you, the notion of public speaking becomes more and more seasoned as I call it.
The difficult thing for me as I pursued my graduate degree was focusing on my dissertation. I had to find a subject matter that I felt I could chat about for a period of time. I am a writer; it is my God given talent as some people would call it. However, it is easier to write when you are writing about something you like. When you tackle a topic or a subject that you’re not that enthusiastic about, not that easy people and that was a challenge for me. It was something I struggled with majorly for like the first 12 months into my program. It got progressively better, but it was not easy as my thesis was the culmination of all my studies people.
A thesis vs. dissertation; they are different people, but have some overlap when it comes to higher education. A thesis involves research and a scholarly paper that ranges 40 to 80 typed pages. A dissertation is pursued for a doctoral degree and it is even longer, more in depth and more analytical. Take what you know and double it.
Yeah, the longest critical essay I ever wrote before graduate school was maybe 10-12 pages. So think about having to do another 30 pages. Yeah, that’s a lot, its intense, it’s stressful, but the challenge can be fun because it shows what you’re capable of. The notion of tackling homeless was something intriguing for me so that was the focus of my thesis and the research done was eye-opening, scary and an opportunity to learn more about myself and others. Then you take on the notion of defending your thesis to members of the faculty, those who are tenured and have quite a bit of seniority is scary as hell.
If you think you’re prepared or have your A-game, after a Q/A you quickly learn there is plenty of work that you have to do and they can be brutal. The most confident student can be ripped to shreds in a matter of minutes and you might shed a few tears, but the tears are good because it helps you pick yourself back up and fine tune your thesis so it’s a polished piece of work that is top tier.
There is something I haven’t talked about when it comes to graduate school: the cost. If you thought an undergraduate degree was costly, why don’t you double or triple that cost to earn a graduate degree. Yeah, one class alone can cost thousands of dollars or worse, it can put you in financial ruin to earn a graduate degree with the amount of money you take out for student loans. If you’re able to work an actual job to cut costs it helps, and then you also have the opportunity to teach as a graduate student to curb costs, but even the money you earn there is almost like teaching to pay for school, you’re not left with a ton to play with.
So graduate school requires a massive amount of commitment and discipline because the workload is heavier than before and if you wait till the last minute it will have ripple effects. Let it be known, it was a tough 2-3 years, but in the end I managed to accomplish it, but the question lingers would the MA be the last degree in my portfolio or would a Doctorate Degree be in my future.