This past summer, I had the opportunity to manage three college interns. Being back in school myself and working closely with my interns has offered me the unique opportunity to reflect on some of the similarities and differences between undergraduate and graduate school. This was certainly on my mind as I prepared to return to school, and I would imagine it has crossed some of your minds as well. Though my list is obviously not exhaustive, I have highlighted some of the most salient similarities and differences between my undergrad and grad experiences.
Similarity #1 – School is school. There will be reading, quizzes, papers, finals, class discussions, and group projects. For me – this was very much like my undergraduate experience. I will say the amount of reading seems to be greater in graduate school. However, I also have more demands of my time and brain power this time around. I mean, in undergrad, my sole priority was school. There were the host of extracurricular activities, social gatherings, and extended naps that seem to steal my time from school. However as a graduate student, there are far more demands of my time, that are not as flexible or negotiable as those in undergrad. I have classes, 3 full days at my internship, and a part time job. These are all in addition to friends and family obligations, volunteer activities, and everyday life responsibilities. The most important thing to remember is balance. I always remind myself to make time for the people/activities that are important to me. Those help me be a better student and re-energize me for the work that I have before me.
Difference #1 – This time I am sure. As you all know, the undergraduate curriculum is full of variety and most institutions require that we take a host of classes on any number of topics before we concentrate on our majors/minors. However, once you select a graduate program, you are committing to the content and course work that you are passionate about and have a strong desire to gain expertise in. This is not to take away from the broad liberal arts education I received in undergrad. Yet this time around, I am learning and experiencing curriculum that is directly applicable to my next career and future plans. I gain a greater sense of energy knowing that I am learning material and having field experiences that directly relate to my future as a social worker. Also, I count it a privilege to be in school with very like-minded individuals. There truly is nothing like going to school with future therapists! Needless to say, you get a lot of free therapy and get to practice your skills regularly with classmates. We push, support, and encourage each other. Of course I had close friends in undergrad. However this program has provided me with an entire cohort of friends and peers that I can go to for support and encouragement.
Bottom Line: Have fun! The two years (or one or three, for some of you) will pass SO FAST! It seems like I just entered the doors of Tate-Turner-Kuralt for an information session. In just a few short months, I will exit those same doors equipped with my MSW and a brand new career path. Certainly, there will be lots of similarities and many differences from your undergraduate experience. However, being a social worker is about having a heart for this work and a heart for the clients you serve. So regardless of the host of similarities and differences, it will be your passion for this work and deep commitment to our clients that will fuel your two years and beyond.