Exercises in decision-making: grad school

I’m typically anti-grad school.

Let me try to rephrase that. I’m typically anti-money-spending when there’s no guarantee of a return on investment (ROI). You might ask, “Lindsey, have you gotten a return on investment on those $10 dresses you purchased from Old Navy and have NEVER worn?”

The answer would be no, not at this time, but ANY. DAY. NOW. I believe this will be a true story. I bought a super cheap dress from H&M at least five years ago and have not worn it a single time because it never fit quite right. Now, thanks to being 32 and all my weight shifting from one area of my body to other areas mysteriously, the dress fits. My weight has stayed approximately the same, yet my clothes fit completely differently. It’s annoying and rewarding all at the same time.

But my opinions about higher education and ROI will have to wait for another post. This post is about my inability to make a decision.

Do you change your mind very often? I change my mind all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. I haven’t figured out if it’s entirely good or bad. One week I will only be a bargain shopper, the next week I’m telling someone they should spend a little more money on name brands. One week I’m a cardio-girl only, the next week I’ve decided strength training is the only way to go. Some days I want to work in an office every day, other days I think working from home full-time would be amazing. Sometimes I’m super happy we don’t have cable because I’d never get anything done, and sometimes I think having 24-hour access to HGTV wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

This post isn’t an advice post, by the way. It’s a Lindsey-ranting-about-something kind of post. The only value you’ll receive is entertainment, and that’s only if you enjoy my writing style. A lot. Like you really need to enjoy the way I write in order to get anything out of this post.

I’m in the process of researching masters programs. Technically I found one, and was like 87% sure it was the right program for me, so I applied for it, asked people to write letters of recommendation, paid for transcripts from my previous school – the whole kit and caboodle. (Do people still say that?) There was this little part of me that was terrified I had made the wrong choice – analysis paralysis – but I convinced myself that it was the right thing to do.

On the final day of my recent road trip vacation with my mom, I got an email from my admissions counselor at the school saying that, unfortunately, the school I had applied to doesn’t have a particular kind of authorization that the state I live in (Minnesota) requires. I don’t know exactly what this means, beyond “we didn’t feel like paying the state of Minnesota a ton of money to obtain this specific authorization.” More importantly, it meant I wouldn’t be going to school there.

Back to the drawing board.

I had spent months researching masters programs. Part of the problem is that I’m interested in multiple areas: Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Organizational Development, and Organizational Behavior. These three programs are very similar, but there are some nuances that make them a little different. Another part of the problem is that with technology, it’s possible to go to schools from all over the country (or world) by attending classes online. I think you have to be very careful about which schools and online programs you choose, but that’s a different post.

I’m targeting schools that are similar to where I went for my undergraduate degree: schools where most students live on-campus or near campus and attend courses in a classroom. I realize it’s maybe hypocritical for me to want a mostly campus-based school when I plan to attend 100% online. Call it what you will.

Because there are so many schools and programs available, it is nearly impossible to be confident you’re picking the right one. Well, it’s nearly impossible for me. I’ve looked at more than 20 schools. Here are the things I’m paying attention to – let me know if I’m missing anything:

  • What’s the degree? Master of science, management, art or education.
  • What’s the program? Organizational development, organizational behavior, organizational psychology.
  • How many credits are required? I’ve seen anywhere from 30 to 64.
  • Do I have to take an exam to get in, like the GRE or GMAT? If the school requires a test, the school is immediately removed from my list; I don’t have time for that, seriously.
  • How interesting do the classes sound? And how doable are they? If there’s more than one statistics class, it usually means it’s not the right program for me.
  • How credible do I believe the professors are? I read through all their bios to find out where they went to school, what’s their area of expertise, have they written any papers, do they also act as consultants for any companies, etc.
  • How many semesters are offered per year and how long is each semester? I’ve seen as few as three semesters a year or upwards of six, and anywhere from 12 weeks to as few as six weeks per semester or session.
  • How much is the tuition? I’ve seen as cheap as $415 per credit up to more than a thousand per credit.

I’ve spoken with six admissions counselors from different schools, and I’ll cross off any counselors who know nothing in-depth about the programs they’re trying to sell me on. One guy I spoke with kept calling the program the wrong thing. I’ve had some who are over-the-top salesy and others who are strictly informational.

As I sit here today, I’ve narrowed my choices down to three programs. But I’m still researching. I’ve Googled every combination of the different degrees and programs to come up with the most likely career paths, and they tend to be nearly the same. That should be reassuring, because it means no matter which of the degrees/programs I choose, I’ll probably be able to do the same kind of work. But I’m still terrified I’ll pick the wrong program.

Right now, I think I know what I want to do with my career. But I’m so worried about investing a significant amount of time (and some money, although not a lot because I’ll take advantage of tuition reimbursement opportunities at work) into something that might not be the direction I want to go with my career in a year or two, let alone by the time I finish in three or four years.

Why am I so worried?

Because I’ve changed my mind before, after investing time and money. In my mid-20s, I started my master of public health in health education. I was SO SURE that I wanted a career in health education. Almost to the point where I’ve never been more sure of anything else. I had a few job changes during the time I was pursuing my degree, and ended up at a financial services company where I felt like I’d never end up using my degree (plus my employer wouldn’t have contributed any funds to it since it wasn’t related to my current job or a future job with that company). I stopped pursuing my degree, and focused on work. Today, only five or six years later, I’m confident that I don’t want a degree in health education anymore.

So despite being so absolutely sure I wanted my masters in health education, I’m now so thankful that I stopped when I did rather than sinking any additional money or time into it. What if the exact same thing happens again?

Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be sure until I get into the program and start doing the work. I’m hoping to incorporate some aspects of my schooling into my current job. I hope everything just sort of “clicks” for me and the study/work feel right. Only time will tell, I guess. Patience is not one of my virtues, so we’ll see how this goes.

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