Nothing worth doing is ever easy. That’s the saying. It’s particularly true when you work a job with variable hours, on a schedule that, while following a pattern, doesn’t leave you with a set “weekend” week to week that leaves your energy levels all over the map while trying to earn a college degree. It’s never going to be easy but that doesn’t diminish it’s worth. Top ranked graduate programs have demanding expectations. I need to meet them.
I’ve struggled recently to balance the demands of my job against my aspirations for school. Then I got fed up. I can’t make my original graduation date with the GPA I want. I’ve given myself one more year. It all has to happen between now and March of 2017. I have six courses left to take towards my Economics undergraduate degree. I must get a solid A in all of them. They are some of my most challenging classes. Math classes with tight, micromanaged deadlines. Writing intensive classes that will leave me with enough different writing assignments and research papers to make into a small book. And another go at the GRE since my old scores will expire next year. How do I manage this? And why is it worth doing?
Well, it’s worth is in the fact that it will enable me to apply to the graduate programs that I want. These are world ranked top Economics programs. Oxford, MIT, Princeton, London School of Economics, Columbia, NYU. I can’t deliver anything but the best this year because they won’t accept anything less than my best. My transcript will speak to the difficulty of trying to earn a degree while being employed full time as an active duty military member, dropping classes when the demands at work gets to high only to try them again later. But my GPA and GRE results will show that I was able to beat those challenges and truly show my ability.
How to do it? Smart planning and working smarter over harder.
Spring quarter starts on Monday. Labor Economics was open and ready to go this past Wednesday. I took this class once and missed some major exams when I got called into work on the days I had allocated for the test (yup, both my test day and my back-up day). It was rotten luck. But I’m familiar with the class material already. The professor is really kind in that every assignment (aside from midterm and final) are open from day 1. Just have them in by the due dates. Class doesn’t start until Monday and I have the first 2 weeks of work full done and half of week 3. I need to do this because Intro. to Statistics is run as rigidly as Labor Econ is run openly. Some weeks will be slammed with Stat work. Work ahead in Labor Economics and I can take a week off from it if I need the time for Stat.
The other thing is just smart scheduling. Never doubling up math courses. Isolating the two most demanding classes and taking 1 each during my last 2 quarters with no other classes alongside. Knowing that I’ll be attempting Energy Economics in Summer quarter (had to drop it this winter because training for a new role at work ate up time that I had hoped to use for class) means using the fact that I obsessively downloaded every reading last term to work on writing assignments during quiet weeks this term. Which frees up time to focus on my research paper for that class and the time needed for my Econometrics class over the summer.
These are efforts that won’t reveal the final payoff of my effort for at least 2 years. The final challenge is how to renew willpower, motivation, and plain stubborn determination when all I want to do is sleep for 12 hours a day after a week of 5 18 hour days. Hanging school pennants on the wall above my desk is one way. They’ll be visual reminders of why I am logging class hours when exhaustion threatens. Visiting school campuses is another. I live less than 30 minutes from Princeton and an hour’s train ride from NYU and Columbia. But I’ll plan a long weekend trip to MIT. I’m talking to my supervisor about the optimal timing for 2 weeks of leave to travel to the UK for visits to Oxford and London. So I have schools I can constantly visit to keep my eye on the prize, a trip to Cambridge, MA to plan, and next winter will bring my first trip to the UK in the name of seeing the two schools I’m willing to cross an ocean for. Steps towards the UK trip – getting a passport, hitting my savings goals to fund the trip, emailing the schools to try and arrange meetings, booking the flights and rooms I will need – will all be reminders of what’s at stake.
March of 2017 I will finish my 2nd undergraduate degree. Hopefully March of 2018 will bring news that I am going on to earn a PhD at one of the top schools in the world.