The 5 Most Valuable Lessons Grad School Taught Me

17 Mar


I honestly can’t believe it. 43 days till I’m done with school… forever!!! There are no words to express how absolutely elated I am. No words at all.  

For the past two years, I’ve been working full time while pursuing my Master in Public Administration degree.

I’ve written paper after paper after paper…

I’ve had more group projects than really necessary…

And I’ve also been sleep-deprived (Dear God I so look forward to getting more sleep.)

So now that this chapter in my life is coming to a close, I thought I’d get drunk and celebrate  reflect on the most important things I’ve learned in Grad School. Because I really have learned a lot.

Not just about my field of study, but about life in general and about my future in the workplace.

And in writing this, I’m really really happy. I’m happy because I DO feel that I’ve learned things.

Two years and way too much money later, it really has been worth it.

1. It’s the quality of your work, not the quantity.

I’ll honestly never understand why some students feel the need to write 20 page papers when the professor asks for 5. I mean, come on… really? 15 extra pages?? Do you have nothing else to do? Some people really think that by writing more pages, they’ll get a better grade. It’s kind of funny actually. Some people think to themselves, “I have no idea what to write this paper about, but if I hand in a really big stack of paper, and write 10 extra pages, I’ll probably get a better grade than someone who hands in 5.” Well…um…it doesn’t work that way.

In both grad school and in the workplace, your teachers and your bosses are more often concerned with the quality of your work rather than the quantity. It’s all about efficiency, people… producing great quality work in the least amount of time. So you can be the student who spends 15 hours on a paper and turns in 15 pages, and yes, gets an A. Or, you could be the student who spends 3 hours on a paper, turns in 5 pages, and ALSO gets an A.

At the end of the day,  who’s more efficient?

It’s no secret that companies want efficient employees. It’s no secret that employers want great-quality work. So if you can find a way to be efficient with your time while still producing great quality, I’d say you’re pretty set in terms of life after college.

2. Importance of time management.

I don’t care if you have the world’s best memory…Nor do I care if you can memorize a whole deck of cards in under a minute. If you don’t have a calendar/planner/phone reminder system, you will fail miserably as an adult.

Like, big time.

Like I mentioned before, these past two years I’ve juggled work, school, my slowly-becoming-non-existent social life, a relationship, a house, crossfit, this blog, and my family.

Miraculously, I’ve managed to keep some of my sanity.

When you get to grown-up status, you realize just how crazy and hectic life becomes.Like, there’s really no time for anything. While in grad school, I’d go to work, then go to school, and by the time I got home, you know what I wanted to do? NOTHING!! Absolutely nothing!

I’ve been living a life of pure exhaustion.

But I’ve certainly found that having a planner helps organize my brain, because without it, I’d have zero idea about what I have to do.

So regardless of how crazy things get, make time-management a priority. It’s super important. Because as you get older, there’s a lot more to your life. More responsibilities, more to remember, more to accomplish. 

But I’m absolutely positive that if you organize yourself you can somehow become a fully-functioning member of society. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

3. Corporate America is very bad at implementing best practices.

This lesson makes me very sad. This lesson also makes me want to punch a giant hole in the wall and the only reason I don’t punch a giant hole in the wall is because I don’t have money to fix it if I did.

But anyway, this lesson that I’ve learned makes me extremely mad. Because I go to school and I read these massive books that are more often than not, quite boring. And then I write paper after paper after paper. And then somehow, throughout that process, I learn things. Through my Public Administration degree, I’ve learned about…you guessed it! Administration! Administration, and leadership, and organizational behavior. I’ve learned about HR practices and what it takes to run a company in the most ethical way possible.

I’ve learned and I’ve studied extensively about what the workplace SHOULD LOOK LIKE.

And then through my work experience, I’ve seen what it REALLY LOOKS LIKE.

Total opposites most of the time.

There’s so much dishonesty in the workplace and there’s a lot of poor leadership. That’s the reality. And it’s hard to deal with in a sense because knowing what I know, there are days when I just want to slap people and say, “Hellooooo?!?!?! What are you doing?!?!?! This is NOT how you’re supposed to do things! That’s not what I learned in my HR class!”

But I don’t slap people at work because that’s also one of the things I learned. You don’t slap people if you want to keep your job.

So what does that mean for us? What does that mean for us recent college grads? It means that we have a lot of work to do. It means that we’re going to see things that we don’t like in the workplace. And really, it’s up to us to do something about it.

Maybe we’re not in the position at this point in our careers to make a huge difference, but one day, when we can make decisions, we’ll need to make the right ones. Because, maybe naively, I still believe that the workplace can be a much better place if we fight for it.

4. People will surprise you.

When you’re in a class that requires you to complete a group project, you spend approximately 5 minutes praying that your group members are smart. So that’s what I did a few months ago and well, my prayer was not answered.

One of my teammates, let’s call her Ashley, had zero interest in the class we were taking. Why do I say that? Well, we had a quiz a few weeks into class and our professor allowed us to use a note card as a “cheat sheet” to write down stuff so we wouldn’t forget.

She was filling out her note card 3 minutes before the quiz.

Let’s see… she also rarely attended class. Then, the day of our group presentation, while our whole group showed up 15 minutes before class…she was late. We almost had to start without her. So obviously, my impression of Ashley was that she was the worst group member ever and that she wasn’t very smart.

A few weeks after our group presentation, we were doing another group project where our goal was to build the tallest structure using marshmallows and spaghetti… one of those team-building, hands-on kind of projects. And as time was almost up, my group had no idea what to do to get the marshmallow to stay at the top of the structure without knocking it down. Point is… Ashley had an idea. And you know what I did with her idea? I didn’t listen to it.

Not a single bit.

Because I had completely written this girl off as my incompetent teammate who shows up late and doesn’t study. So we obviously failed, we didn’t have the tallest structure. And when our professor briefed us on how we could have done better, that same idea Ashley had…that’s what he told us we should have done.

People will surprise you. Good ideas come from anywhere. So you need to be open to listening to them.

5.  Importance of a strong support system.

I’ve had serious panic attacks in the past. Like, I-can’t-breathe-I’m-never-going-to-finish-this-paper-but-it’s-my-own-fault-because-I-procrastinated- panic attacks. They’re not fun. There have been days when I’ve gone to work on 2.5-3 hours of sleep and I look and feel like a  zombie. It’s just like being drunk. Only I’m not drunk because I wasn’t able to go out and drink because I was finishing an assignment.

There have been days when I’ve felt like just quitting half-way. “So what if I’m only 9 credits away from graduation? I’m totally over this.”

And I definitely would have, if I didn’t have such a strong support system in my life.

I have an amazing family that has encouraged me my whole life really, but especially these past two years.  

My boyfriend, who I live with and love like crazy, has endured my mood swings, calmed me down during my panic attacks, and has reminded me that I’m not allowed to stop.

Must. Keep. Going.

So in 43 days when I graduate, I’m going to wear some weird dress/robe thing and I’m going to be handed by diploma, and I’m going to look out into the audience and I’m going to see my family and my boyfriend. And I’m going to feel so eternally grateful to have them in my life. Because without them, I know for a fact that I would have given up. I know that I wouldn’t have made it this far.

Because life in general is just way too crazy and too much for any one person to deal with alone.

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32 Responses to “The 5 Most Valuable Lessons Grad School Taught Me”

  1. jimmygamito March 17, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    Goddamn so-called Ashley!


    Super proud of you! Congrats on graduation! I’m sure April will be GREAT!

    • Kayla Cruz March 27, 2014 at 8:59 am #

      Jimmy!!!!! I know it’s a little late, but THANK YOU! Super excited…picked up my cap and gown this week! A few more papers/presentations to go, then I’m free lol! Hope you’re killing it at your job! Thanks again for reading :D

  2. Samantha Afetian March 17, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    Amen! Grad school or not, these are important life lessons–especially having a support system. Our careers are only a small portion of life. Sometimes we forget that.

    • Kayla Cruz March 27, 2014 at 8:57 am #

      Thanks for reading, Samantha! Definitely…our careers are PART of our lives…we need to make sure to make time for the other parts too. Have a great day! :D

  3. Peter March 17, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    After I got my masters, I learned that I really needed to get my PhD., but that never happened, money, marriage, etc. etc. You’ve got nothing to lose by looking into and considering a doctoral program. Enjoy your graduation, it’s a great day!

    • Kayla Cruz March 27, 2014 at 8:55 am #

      Thanks, Peter! I really appreciate it! One day, when I strike it rich, I’ll look into a PhD program lol for now, I’ll catch up on some much needed sleep! Hope you’re having a great week :D

  4. Phil March 17, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

    Congratulations, you learned the right lessons. I too got a PA Masters and never wrote so much in my life. I write full time now and still don’t write as much as I did in grad school. It’s more of an endurance course than a learning experience. The real learning starts now. Good luck!

    • Kayla Cruz March 27, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      Hahahaha yes! Sooo many papers…imagine if we had to write them by hand. That would be painful lol. Thanks so much for reading :D

  5. Jessica Johnson March 18, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    Congrats! Great blog piece, so many excellent points. I especially love that people can surprise you which is so true so we really have to put our judgments aside and be open to all ideas no matter where they come from.

    • Kayla Cruz March 27, 2014 at 8:53 am #

      Thanks so much, Jessica! Glad you liked it! Have an awesome day :)

  6. Terry Robinson March 18, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    The “learning” part continues throughout your career. Congratulations on your upcoming graduation.

    • Kayla Cruz March 27, 2014 at 8:52 am #

      Thanks so much, Terry! And yes, definitely. You never know it all, there’s much to learn, always. Hope you’re having a great week :D

  7. Agent Q March 18, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    I’m still on my first year of grad school, and already anticipated these points. Time management, definitely. Thank you for your reminders, and congrats on your upcoming graduation! :)

    • Kayla Cruz March 27, 2014 at 8:51 am #

      Thanks so much, Agent Q! Means a lot. Hope you’re enjoying grad school!

  8. Alisia March 18, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

    Congrats! I’m studying to take my GMAT to get into Grad School. I cannot wait to get it over with. I will be like you….going to school, working full time, maintaining a relationship, social life and family as well as my blog. I know it will be hard work but it will be worth it in the end. Congrats again!

    • Kayla Cruz March 27, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      Alisia! Thanks so much! Hope you kill that GMAT and that you keep your sanity through grad school. Best of luck to you and if you ever need anything, let me know! Have a great day :)

  9. Virginia Downing March 19, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    I really enjoyed this post! I am almost done with my first year of Grad school and am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel (1 more year! woo!) Throughout all of the ups and downs, I know I am learning a lot even if It may not be what I exactly expected.

    A support system (the members in my program, my family and friends) has helped to maintain my sanity so I definitely agree with the importance of having that support!

    Congratulations on your soon to be completion of your Masters!


    • Kayla Cruz March 27, 2014 at 8:49 am #

      Thanks so much, Virginia! And good luck to you! That last year will fly by! Hope you’re having a great week :)

  10. Juliana March 20, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    Reblogged this on 30 Minute Reflections and commented:
    Great Tips! Especially now that I’m applying to Grad school!

    • Kayla Cruz March 27, 2014 at 8:46 am #

      Thanks so much for reading, Juliana. Good luck with your applications!

  11. Danita March 31, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    It’s crazy how perfectly you echo my thoughts! When reading most of your posts, but especially this one, I sit here nodding my head saying: “Exactly!! Someone gets it!” And it’s really cool, because I’m in a similar place – just finishing Masters etc – and keep thinking I’m the only person who feels this way :) Also, you have an amazing ability to sum up valuable lessons and points that clarifies my thoughts. So thank you for taking the time to write this blog, and congrats!

  12. Allison Leighann April 7, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    I saw this a few days ago and loved the quote so much that I made my own background! I thank you tons for posting it in the first place and reminding me that I DO love to learn. It just gets confused sometimes. :)

    Here’s the post if you wanna see the background!

    • Kayla Cruz April 7, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      Hi Allison!! No problem! Glad you liked it! And I loveeee your design! Great job! :D

  13. Russel Ray Photos April 14, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    One of the reasons why I never went back to school and never will (you’re never too old!) is because I dislike studying and I dislike tests. Let me learn at my own pace on my own time and I’m pretty happy. I guess that’s why I like the blogosphere.

  14. Steven A. Branson, Esq. February 13, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

    Good list! I especially like #4 – something you do not see on many lists, and yet it is both true and so unexpected when it happens (good and bad surprises). Good work … now to see more of what you have posted


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