Graduation Day, 2015
Both my husband and I went back to school “later in life” – for me, it was an abortive (but still hugely impactful) stint at NYU to study hospitality management, and for Kendrick, it was Yale Business School. Making the decision for him to attend a school located an hour and a half away from our Westchester home and spend days at a time away from his two-year-old son and pregnant wife (and later infant daughter) – not to mention move from being a two-income family to a one-income family for the duration – was, as you can imagine, a big deal.
But we did it. And we’d do it again.
I bring this up because I recently got an email from a reader with a question for Kendrick, because she recently found herself in almost exactly the situation he was in when he enrolled at Yale, and she was looking for advice. I know there are lots of parents who struggle with the idea of going back to school. Basically: is it worth it? And if it is…is it even possible?
So I asked Kendrick to tell you what it was (really) like. (Note: this is what it was like for him: he was in a very odd situation where he was commuting to a relatively faraway school, and going full-time as opposed to being enrolled in a part-time program. Also, we have a follow-up post planned that I’m really excited about; it’s going to explore more of the relationship dynamic that took place during this time, because I think the decision to go back to school presents a pretty massive challenge within the context of a family.)
Summer 2014: We moved across the country for a summer internship, and had a baby in the meantime
Kendrick’s Advice for Married People with Kids Contemplating Going Back to School, And Who do Not Want to End Up Divorced and/or Bankrupt
So, about five years ago, I got a call from an admissions officer. I told Jordan the news, and she screamed and jumped up, threw her legs around me, and yelled, “I knew you would get in!” I went into work the next day and said I was sorry, but I’d have to resign. I was going back to school, you see, and saying farewell and good riddance to an industry that gave me the shivers. Saying hello to…well. I wasn’t really sure. Something good! …Probably.
To recap: I had a wife, a baby, a mortgage, and a job, and decided to quit and go to business school full-time. In another state. How’d this brilliant decision turn out?
Fantastically, actually. I was looking for something good, and I found it. Would I recommend this to someone else in my shoes? The answer to this question means taking a cold, hard look at the facts.
LET’S BREAK IT DOWN
1. School is wonderful. Learning is wonderful. I’d forgotten how nourishing it can feel to immerse yourself in learning, and it was a wonderful surprise.
2. School is f-ing hard. It requires weird hours and collaboration and participation and occasionally (OK, frequently) makes you feel like a dolt, especially when you’ve been out of the academic world for awhile and most of your classmates are ten years younger than you and enrolled straight out of college.
3. You’re an adult now. Which means you are proficient in things like waking up early and keeping responsible hours and scheduling meetings and such. You’re, you know, a professional.
4. …Oh, but wait, you have kids. Bad news first: If, like me, you make the choice to attend a school that’s too far away to make a commute possible (because remember, commutes eat significantly into studying time, and studying time eats significantly into family time, and so on), you may have to end up renting yourself a crappy apartment to crash in a few nights a week, so that you can power through what needs to get done and be present with your family when you’re there. Your kid will miss you. Your partner will miss you. And the volatility of your schedule (papers, midterms, labs, whatever) might mean your kid feels like he or she never knows when you’ll be around.
Now, the good news: School schedules are also fairly flexible. You get breaks and vacations; you have days without classes; you have weekends. In many ways, school presents opportunities to spend much more concentrated (and special) time with your children.
5. …Aaaaand you have a spouse. I rely on my wife. I spend all my time with her. And she needs me. (Mostly to carry heavy things and clean up dog poop.) School is a needy mistress, and it can be hard on a relationship; there’s just no getting around this. Communication helps. Setting boundaries helps. But mostly, reminding each other (and yourself) that this is a finite period in your life that will reap enormous rewards down the line? That really helps.
6. Your partner is shouldering a massive burden. There’s no way around this: he or she is supporting you while you not only forgo a paycheck, but also pay a really unacceptable sum of money just for the privilege of forgoing that paycheck (ok, and for an education, too). You’re also spending all your time with a new group of friends you‘ll get incredibly close to, and he or she will likely never really be able to share that with you. So what do you do? You understand when your partner feels overwhelmed, or angry, or just needs you to take out the garbage because you haven’t been home to do it in weeks.
7. School is f-ing expensive. You can get loans that help offset the loss of income in addition to the cost of your education, but every penny you borrow you’ll need to pay back (and then some). You can go part-time: although not every school offers this option, I know lots of people who did this, and they reaped many of the benefits of a full-time program.
8. School is worth it. It’s not just about “making back your money.” Further education offers a chance to take a step back, and look at where you are. Who you are. You’ll meet remarkable people, with stories and callings that will inspire you like nothing else ever would. It offers a chance to step away from the corporate treadmill, take a look around, and decide if you want to walk – or run – in another direction. In other words: it gives you perspective, and inspiration, and clarity.
9. You need a support system. If you want to go back to school as an adult with children, you cannot do it alone. You need help. You need a plan. You need to be a professional, and be willing to stretch yourself in ways that aren’t necessarily comfortable.
TL;DR: You can do this. It will cost a lot, both financially and emotionally, and it will be hard, but it is worth the work. Not just because of what a degree has the potential to do for your career – more importantly, there’s this: your kids will have a front-row seat and get to watch their mother or father working hard to figure out what it is that they love. And they just might remember that one day.