First of all, it’s important to know that it’s not a bad idea to tread carefully when considering grad school. While graduate degrees can pave the way to a more satisfying and higher-paying career, outcomes vary by industry. Plus, you can only get out what you put in: if you head to grad school unprepared or unenthused, you have to expect less than satisfying results.
That said, not all fear is a sign that you’re contemplating the wrong path. Major changes in our lives are often scary. Sometimes, being afraid is a good sign — or at the very least, nothing to worry about. Here’s how to tell if that’s what’s going on with you.
1. Your nerves are because you’re leaving your comfort zone.
When you’re on the right path, moving forward, and challenging yourself, fear tends to shows up. It’s because you’re stretched. It’s because you’re excited. It’s because you’re doing something outside of your comfort zone. And that is a very good thing. When we push ourselves and take on new and exciting endeavors, it can be a little nerve-wracking. Try viewing these feelings as normal, and give yourself credit for taking on an exciting challenge.
2. It’s just your impostor syndrome flaring up.
Impostor syndrome is the nagging feeling that you’re something of a fraud professionally. It’s an internal fear, or sense, that you’re not as capable, or even as knowledgeable, as folks think you are. And, it often comes with a worry that you could get caught or discovered, and that you’ll promptly be demoted or removed from your current role. Impostor syndrome is normal, especially for some people (women are more prone, the way you’re raised matters, etc.) But, there is something you can do about it.
First, know that this “syndrome” might be affecting you and that feeling this way is super common. It tends to rear its ugly head when we are advancing professionally, or when we’re too hung up on perfectionist tendencies. Also, keep in mind that a lot of your fellow students are feeling this way too. That should help you begin to move past these feelings, or at least kind of settle into them in a different way.
3. Your primary concern is fitting in.
Some people worry that they’ve passed the age where they can or should go back to school. They worry they’ll stand out, or that they won’t be able to keep up in the same way as the younger students. But, going back to grad school after spending some time in the working world is more common than not. Many schools have an older graduate school population that’s in their mid-to-late 30s on average. In fact, nontraditional college students are the new normal, and the same trends apply to graduate school. If you’ve had some experience in the working world, you’ll fit right in.
It can be a little scary whenever we embark on something new and challenging. But that’s no reason to shy away from the exciting opportunities that come with attending graduate school. Once you’ve had some time to settle into your program you’ll hopefully feel more at home and secure in your decision. There are certainly a lot of potential benefits.
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