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The average age of a SIPA student is 27, which means most of us have had at least a few years of work experience before starting school. While we made the decision to go back to school for our Master’s, there’s little that can prepare you for going back to school. There are some students who make the adjustment from work-life to school-life seamlessly. There are others, like myself, who found it a bit challenging.
When you’re working you have deadlines and short-term projects, and you don’t always have to work on the weekends or past 5 PM. But when you get to SIPA, you are running a marathon. You have to make it through midterms and finals, and you may have to study on weekends or until 11 PM (this depends on the diligence of the student). So naturally, when you’ve been out of academia for a minute, the adjustment back into it can be hard to grapple with.
Here are my top three tips for those thinking about applying to, or arriving at SIPA from the working world.
- Be prepared to play the long game and train yourself to study again. School is hard, and it’s okay to admit that. It’s important to be honest when you need help, and to seek assistance. Professors don’t want you to be overloaded to a breaking point, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed I recommend you communicate that to them. Generally, they’ll work with you to find a solution. Also, make an effort to train yourself to study again. As one professor said to me my first week at SIPA, “If you’re reading every line of the assigned readings, you’re doing it wrong.” Remember this, because there is no way you can do 600 pages of reading a week with everything going on. To strike a balance, I recommend forming study groups, or reading groups with classmates to divide up the work. This really helps if you’re taking a reading intensive course such as “War, Peace, and Strategy” (get ready, all those ISPers out there).
- Make a schedule similar to that of the one you maintained when you were at work. A lot of fellow classmates told me one way they adjusted to school-life was by making a schedule that mirrored the one they had prior to SIPA. They stuck to working hours from 9AM-6PM, and this included classes, recitations, and study/homework hours. This helped them think of school like work, and therefore, they were able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I failed to do this my first semester and wish I had, because I think it would have forced me in to a school=work mentality that I just didn’t come into grad school with.
- Cut yourself a break, and make sure to factor in “Me Time.” Taking time for yourself is important in preventing burnout. Plan time for you to workout at Dodge Fitness Center (or another gym), carve out time to not work on at least one day during the week (for me it was Saturday), or simply make time to go see New York. Getting out of the SIPA bubble is beneficial for a student’s mental health, and can really help put things in perspective. It’s also a great way to connect with fellow classmates outside the classroom.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of things a student coming back in to academia can do to adjust, but these are the main ones I think a lot of us talk about most. Finally, everyone reacts differently to re-entering academia, but we all come out the other end with a Master’s degree and a boatload of experiences. Now that I find myself back in the working world, I feel I have the necessary toolset I need to get to that next level — one that wouldn’t have been possible unless I went back to academia and to SIPA.