I went to graduate school part time, while working full time (at least for the first two years of school) at a law firm. This meant I took an extra year to complete my degree (three years instead of the normal two) but it had its benefits. I was able to avoid graduating in the worst of the economic downturn; to get some very practical experience in the law firm’s library when our librarian went on maternity leave; and to study at a pace which was comfortable for me.
There were also, unsurprisingly, downsides. Because I worked full time, I was limited to classes on evenings and weekends. Several of the great classes and great instructors held their courses in the afternoon, and I missed out on courses in areas of personal interest, like information architecture, research methods, and user experience. One of the worst things was that going to school this way made my days very long. On class days, I was leaving my house at 7 AM and not getting home until 11 PM. (Did I mention I was living and working in New Jersey and my library school was in New York City? It took me roughly an hour to get to and from school. On a bus.) Most of my then-friends were well-established in full time jobs, and never really understood why I went back to school, why I could not go out on the weekends because I had to write a paper.
In 2009, shortly after the New Year, my law firm announced they were moving out of their urban home in Newark, NJ to western New Jersey that fall. Later that afternoon, administration called me in to their office and told me that they really didn’t see this move working out for me - in short, a 9 month layoff notice. For the first time since college, I would be working part time or not working at all.
By the time the move took place midway through my final year of school, I was able to secure a part time job that was 10 minutes from home, and I took my first ever afternoon (3:30 PM) graduate class. For the first time in three years, I was getting home at a reasonable hour two days a week. With money I saved from working full time, I wasn’t held to a 40 hour work week. If I needed to take a day off to write a paper, I could with little financial impact. For other reasons unrelated to school, those friends that gave me grief about going back to school weren’t around either (and still aren’t). No more cramming in work on weekends, lunch hours, and during the work day when I needed to look busy. No more worrying about money. No more feeling like a bad friend for missing a party for homework. I could devote myself even more than before to an education that would be my future, and simultaneously regain my life.
So, the one thing wish I had known in graduate school? That it was okay - financially, mentally, emotionally - to go back to school full time. I wish I had done it sooner.
Kate Kosturski is JSTOR’s Institutional Participation Coordinator for the UK and Northern Europe, where, in her words, “I tell people in Europe how awesome JSTOR is and then hopefully they buy some.” A 2011 ALA Emerging Leader, Kate received her MLS from Pratt Institute in 2010 and is the co-founder of ALA CraftCon, a relaxing crafting hour at the Midwinter and Annual Meetings. In her spare time, she enjoys crafts, reading (duh), cooking, baseball, running, photography, politics, and technology. View her blog at blog.katekosturski.info and follow her on Twitter @librarian_kate.