Is Grad School Even Worth It?

One professional with a master’s degree tells all…

Rebecca Costantini

By Megan Guinane

Everyone has had “The Talk”. Maybe you received it towards the end of your undergraduate career during senior seminar, or maybe you had it with yourself while you were reevaluating your professional direction. No, not that talk, the graduate school talk. Depending on your major, you may have had to go to graduate school in order to apply for your dream career. Maybe you decided after graduating you realized there was an entirely different industry calling to you. Or maybe, after a few years in the workforce, you realized that there are programs out there that can give you the skills you will need to become the dynamic leader you have always wanted to be.

I myself have spent the last year wading through GMAT reviews and applications. It’s a difficult decision to go back to the classroom and just getting started can be overwhelming. In order to better feel out this process, we enlisted our friend Rebecca Costantini to be our official Grad School Guru. Besides being an inspirational young professional, she has a Master of Arts in Professional Communication that she achieved while working as an academic publishing professional by day, and an adjunct professor at William Paterson University by night. #educationgoals

How did you make the decision to go back to school and how did you choose what direction to go in?

R: I was primarily inspired by a professor who became my mentor as an undergrad. She was very prominent in trade publishing, (I originally wanted to go into trade) but then realized I had some sort of passion for helping people. I was a writing center tutor on campus for three and a half years during the duration of my time at William Paterson. It was very rewarding to teach people how to construct a sentence or a difference between a comma and a different punctuation mark. It was nice to give people that perspective and understanding. So I had some inkling I wanted to teach at the university level. I decided to pursue academic publishing with my mentor’s advice that it could lay the foundation for really understanding the backbone of the industry which is ultimately publishing content for the instructors, professors, etc. That’s where my profession originated from; a mentor and the idea that the publishing industry would help me advance to become the professor that I wanted to be in the future.

Degree-wise, I have a master’s in professional communication and I decided to go that route because it is a practical degree, more so that an MFA (which is something I was also interested in). I decided to move toward that route of because it coincides with what I do at my current role. In the publishing industry, there is a lot of writing and coordinating, and I brought a lot of experiences from my job into my program. I chose my program for the convenience monetarily, the ability to commute easily, and the ability to keep my job.

In your opinion, what are the benefits of furthering your education and what doors have opened for you since then?

R: Sometimes I feel as if people [go back to school] for the wrong reasons, like the expectation of a higher salary — which is a benefit most of the time — but that should not be the main driver. Personally, my reason for furthering my education was derived from wanting to learn more, wanting to advance and refine the skill sets I gained from my undergrad tenure, and although this may seem cliche, I genuinely love school. Continuing the learning process is something that I always need and is part who I am as a person; that aspect of being in school and being in that learning environment, being around inspiring professors while gaining new skills and really seeing different perspectives from a more detailed and specific level than undergrad.

Pursuing that further degree enabled me to become an adjunct at William Paterson University which is part of what I want to do and hope to continue. It has also opened opportunities to travel to conferences and to present research I have conducted.

What questions would you suggest a prospecting student ask themselves before going through the application process?

R: Are they serious about the commitment? It is not only a monetary commitment, but a time commitment. You lose a lot of your spare time when you are going through your program, especially your weekends which can be dedicated to completing homework that had not been completed during the week, especially if most of your classes are taken during the evening.

Are you willing to dedicate your time to homework, studying, reading, writing?

You should ask yourself about your five-year and ten-year plans and where you ultimately want to see yourself. If you cannot map out your five-year plan at least, then you may need to reevaluate your current position. For a master’s program, you must be serious about your life goals and your professional plans. It is not like undergrad, where you could easily transfer.

When considering grad school, you must take in an introspective evaluation of who you are, your skill sets, and if you are mentally and physically prepared to sacrifice a lot of your time especially if you are working full time. Graduate school can feel like another full-time job, even if you are going part time.

“Graduate school can feel like another full-time job, even if you are going part time.”

What sacrifices have you made?

R: I missed an opportunity to move out of my parent’s house. I decided to pursue the degree and directed my money to fund schooling instead of directing it towards an awesome apartment living by myself.

What are the expenses incurred during the application process?

R: The application process can get quite expensive. I have paid hundreds of dollars in application fees. Also, requesting transcripts from your Alma mater can add up, it can be around $10 for every transcript request. If you are planning on applying to five or six schools, it is a good idea to set aside a couple hundred dollars.

Graduate school is a higher standard of education, and the costs go up in every way (including tuition) because the programs are more specialized.

Insider tip: sometimes if you attend an open house or an info session, you can waive that application fee

What are some ways to fund the high costs?

R: I waited a year before I started my program to save some money, and I also wanted to gain some professional experience. Most programs advise waiting at least a year to gain tangible, professional experience that relates to the coursework and that also helps you curtail some of the expenses of grad school by saving money.

You could also apply to be a graduate assistant or a research assistant. Those are full-time jobs, so it may be difficult to work outside of an assistant-ship, however you get your tuition waived.

Your place of work can also provide some tuition assistance. For example, my job did that for me. They provided some assistance for a year if my studies coincided with my current role.

Side note: you may have to maintain a certain GPA for financial assistance from your employer.

How has your academic publishing career helped you in graduate school?

R: I have been with my company for four years now. I started off as an editorial assistant right after I graduated from undergrad. I graduated in three and a half years. Instead of taking classes in the spring, I took 21 credits in the 2012 fall semester and wrote a thesis. I spent the spring semester looking for a job and was hired here in March 2013. The experience I gained here has helped me with practical application processes in my master’s program. It helped me put things into perspective because I was a working professional. Like I said before, it is important to have a professional background going into a program. It helped inform my interests and it helped me recognize where I needed to improve my skills.

How has your career projection changed given your experiences in both work and graduate school?

R: Teaching at the collegiate level is something I have wanted to do for many years, and I still want to get my Ph.D. That career projection is still on track pending the funding offers from Rutgers or Texas A&M. However, if that does not work out, I will take a step back and reevaluate what I want to do, ask myself what I want to do next.

Side note: a few days after our interview, Rebecca learned she had been granted funding to the Ph.D. program in Communication at Texas A&M.

What advice do you have for balancing work and school?

R: If you are motivated by success and are passionate about your degree, it can be done. Budgeting your time is tough when you are working 40 hours a week and going to school; you just try to make it work. In my experience, I had to take it on a week-by-week basis, and sometimes I had to take it day by day. There were times where I was finishing up my papers or studying during breaks at work.

What are your top studying tips?

R: Creating outlines for the different chapters and the units that were covered helped me conceptualize the lessons from that week and it was easy to go back and review. Actively writing notes while you read, adding questions in margins and notebooks. When you are reading a 100-page journal article, you must be able to summarize it, and taking notes has helped me, and can help other people succeed in their courses.

Always ask questions! No question is a dumb question. That is the key to life’s successes, always asking questions, working through different problems through question asking.

Utilize your professor, and inquire about their experience. You are paying for them to be giving you this knowledge and their time. They are a great resource, use them to the fullest.

Rebecca is successful in her academic and professional career due to her desire to learn and become the best version of herself. As of this week, she is now one step closer to her dream career as a professor at the collegiate level. What drives you towards your success?