By Stephanie Small
I had finished my undergraduate degree a few years prior, and had since lived in Latin America for a few months. When I'd been home for a little while after my travels, it seemed time to figure out the next step in my career. Also, and possibly more importantly, my mother had been diagnosed with cancer. I knew she would need me to be close by and available, but at the same time I wanted to be sure that I was doing something for me while I helped care for her. I decided that getting an MBA would look good on my resume and would hopefully increase my earning potential. So, it wasn't really a love of business (or school), but instead a concern of feeling "trapped" while helping my mom without moving ahead in my own life and a desire for more cash money that really framed the decision.
2. How did you decide on your particular school?
Eastern Michigan University (EMU) was nearby, it had a fast turnaround time in terms of the application process (meaning that I could start quickly), and it seemed less intense than some of the very well-known graduate business programs. I never had any intention of entering the "real" business world of Fortune 500 companies, so I didn't want that extra pressure and intensity. Also, EMU offered programs in the evening, which allowed me to have a lot more flexibility in my schedule.
3. How did you fund grad school? What was it like to figure out finances - both in advance of and during school?
LOANS! 100%. I knew I would do it that way, because I was only working part-time (so I could help my mom) and I even needed extra loans to cover my living costs at the time. It wasn't too stressful to figure out financing before and during school-- I think it was only after I graduated and had to start paying on the loans that I fully realized (gulp) that I had committed myself to a 30-year repayment program and many thousands of dollars of debt. So, I struggle with it now more than I did then.
4. What did you think of your grad school experience?
I did not have a positive opinion of my experience. In choosing a school that was less rigorous than others, it ended up feeling silly and pointless -- a lot of the subject matter felt "dumbed down" or uselessly difficult given how the info would be used in the real world. The caliber of teachers seemed fairly low (one old professor who was in charge of teaching us about Excel, silly enough already, would forget what he taught us, so we spent 3 classes on parentheses in equations). But this is all filtered through me, someone who was never really able to appreciate school-- I always struggled with feeling that college was annoying and silly.
5. Did you work during grad school? Participate in extracurriculars? Why or why not?
I did work part-time. No extracurriculars related to EMU. This is mostly because I was not interested in engaging with the school in any way that wasn't absolutely required, but also their sports and other offerings were much less prestigious than those from my undergrad college, so they didn't draw in the community (me included) very well.
6. Did you network much in grad school? Why or why not? If you did, what benefits did you obtain from networking?
No, I didn't network. First, I was shy and it would have been out of my comfort zone. Second, I was grouchy about being there and not fully engaged in the process, so I didn't want to engage.
7. Looking back, would you have attended that grad school again? Why or why not?
For sure I didn't enjoy my experience there. However, I understand that a lot of that had to do with my perceptions of school and how I showed up. And, it did give me the outcome I wanted-- I was able to double my salary basically upon graduation and I believe it gives me additional credibility when people look at my resume. So, I think I would indeed have attended that grad school again.
8. What advice would you give to prospective grad students - about any stage in the process - from application to graduation?
Hmmm... In a sense I feel like a very different type of grad student, since I carried a grudge about being there the whole time. So, I think I would say that it's important to make sure that you want to be there and engage in the process. I would also suggest that they truly understand the loan process, and how much they will eventually have to pay (and over what period of time). Finally, make sure it engages your passion whenever possible, or at least be very aware of how this degree will help you get to where you want to go.
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