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Graduate School: A Thoughtful & Balanced Approach

By Lorin Marchese, MBA, MEd

“I didn’t anticipate that working on the degrees would affect my work, but I thought it was important for them to know what I was doing, just in case.”

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In the summer of 2013 the Lord brought me to work at Grand Canyon University in their Strategic Educational Alliances department (now called K12 Educational Development). From the moment I began, my boss encouraged me to pursue a Masters degree. I was hesitant at first, but after much discussion with my family, friends and mentors in my life, I decided to move forward. I actually ended up earning two Masters Degrees in my time working at GCU – a MBA in 2015 and a M.Ed. in 2018. It was not easy, but I was blessed to have an amazing support system that helped me get through. Earning these two masters degrees was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. It taught me so much about myself, my relationships with my family and God. I’m honored to share some of my advice with you based on my own experiences. I hope that you will be inspired by and find value in it.

Talk with Your Support System Before You Start

As I said, I was incredibly blessed to have an amazing support system around me while working on both of my degrees. I am single with no children, but I still sat down with my immediate family before I began, to talk about what this might mean for my attendance at family dinners or my ability to help to take care of my niece and nephew, amongst other things. I also had a conversation with my boss and co-workers. I didn’t anticipate that working on the degrees would affect my work, but I thought it was important for them to know what I was doing, just in case. Open communication with those closest to you at the beginning of this journey is imperative, and will remain imperative as you go through your program.

Make Some Decisions and Do Your Homework

Before you do anything, there are some questions you will want to answer. What exactly do you want to study? Do you want a full time or part time program? Do you want a program where you go to campus and learn with others, or learn strictly online? Is there a university that provides your workplace a discount? Will your workplace pay for your program if you pick a certain one? I would suggest taking the time to think through and answer these questions because they are all important, and the answer to one could greatly affect your overall decision. Remember that not all universities offer online programs, and the one you think you want to attend might not have the program of study that you need or want. Take your time and research all of the possibilities before you make any final decisions. And remember that while university websites and admissions counselors are a great source of information, they are often biased. Be sure that you are looking for sources that are honest and fair. My suggestion would be to try and talk to alumni to get their opinion and find out if the degree has made a difference for them in their professional lives.

Set Aside a Place and Time

Once you get started in your program, the best thing to do for yourself (and your loved ones) is to designate a place and time during the week to do the work. Having a place set up for quality learning is important. Be sure that physically it is comfortable for you, as you may be sitting there for a while, and that you can spread out papers and books easily. By setting up a designated time to do your work, it will help you and your family to plan ahead and provide some structure. Your family will know that during that time you need to be left alone so you can be productive. This will allow you to be more fully present with them when you are together. You won’t be worrying about what you have or have not accomplished. Make a plan and stick to it – it will make all the difference for you and your family!

Remember You Are Not Alone

Beginning work for any graduate degree will be an adjustment. It may be difficult to find a routine and get used to the coursework. What I found great comfort in was remembering that just as it was an adjustment for me, it was for all of my classmates as well. At some point in your program, things may go wrong. That’s just part of life. That’s why it’s important to remember that you are NOT ALONE! You have your classmates, your teachers, your admissions counselor and/or student services advisors, and you have the many resources offered by your institution. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings and challenges with your fellow students. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if they feel “dumb.” More than likely there will be someone else in the class that feels the same way or has the same question. The wonderful thing about graduate school (for most programs) is that it is meant to be collaborative. The teachers want you to learn from them, and from each other. This applies not only to the curriculum in the class, but also to the outside world and how to maneuver your way through it. I learned about finance and educational professional development in my programs…but what I remember even more is what I learned about being a business leader and teacher from my classmates that were already doing it.

Through the challenges of pursuing a graduate degree, this is perhaps the most important thing to remember: We are never alone because we have the Lord walking with us through everything. If He has put it on your heart to pursue this degree, then you know that He is right there with you as you do it! Share your heartaches and triumphs with the Lord as you journey through the program. He knows us better than we know ourselves and will be there to listen to you and help you in ways only He can.

“Most importantly, nurture your relationship with God. Whatever you do to pursue that relationship with Him, continue to do it!”

Have a Balanced Life

Obtaining a graduate degree should not take over your life! It is good for us to rest, to enjoy the things we love, and spend quality time with those we hold dear. Continue to have family time and to do whatever it is that makes you happy. Spending time with the people you love and doing the things you enjoy for leisure will help balance out the difficulties that come while working through your graduate program.

Most importantly, nurture your relationship with God. Whatever you do to pursue that relationship with Him, continue to do it! Set aside time for prayer, scripture, the rosary, or a devotional – whatever it is that you do now, keep doing it throughout your program! The Lord wants to share this with you and will be with you every step of the way. Be sure to be there with Him, too.


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