Being a grown-up is hard. It’s mostly about finding that perfect balance of family, friends, work, and health. When you decide to go back to school, that balance gets totally out of whack.
Today, I head into my final year of law school. While the light is at the end of the tunnel, it can’t get here soon enough. I’ve sacrificed a lot over the last three years and am ready to get back to focusing on those family, work, health and friendship.
Maybe you are thinking about going back to school to get another degree. Or maybe you are going to school for the first time since high school. Either way, it’s a big commitment and you should be proud of yourself. Whatever degree or reason you are going for, there are some things you need to know before you make this choice.
While I’ve sacrificed much, I’ve also learned some great lessons (and not about the law). Let me share with you some thoughts and guidance to help you with your journey.
You can’t do it all.
This is something I quickly learned when I started law school 3 years ago. At the time I started, I wasn’t married, but I worked full time, had a pretty active social life, and lived a fairly healthy lifestyle. My boyfriend (now husband) and his girls were definitely important to me, but my daily responsibilities to them were minimal. I lived in a small apartment in downtown Indianapolis. Adding school on at the time did not seem like that big of deal.
Fast forward one year from that time. Everything changed. By the start of my second year, I owned a home with my husband. My commute went from 10 minutes to 40 minutes. Not only did I have a bigger space to clean, but now I had three people who expected me to feed them more than just cereal for dinner (yes, that was my dinner often. Don’t judge. It’s delicious). All the responsibilities of owning a home were now amplified.
Furthermore, going to the gym at 6am was out of the question. I tried for a while, but waking up at 4:45am to get there in plenty of time was wearing on me. Working out after class wasn’t an option since I didn’t get home until almost 9pm. Which was also the time I ate dinner every night. So I had to walk on my lunch break or workout before work at 5:30am.
And as for my social life, it pretty much became non-existent. My weekends were filled with studying because I couldn’t study any other time. I didn’t have the luxury of going out to dinner with friends during the week because I had class every night. Most of my friends are at that point in their lives where their kids and families dominate their schedules so getting together seemed impossible.
Luckily, I have a wonderful husband willing to take care of the house and the girls. Knowing my friends are just as busy as I am takes some guilt off my shoulders for not being a better friend. Meal planning and prepping helped me eat healthy. Learning to adapt to your new schedule will be crucial to keeping your sanity.
Know what you want to do.
Part of the benefit of going to school as an adult is that you know more about what type of careers are out there. It is no longer throwing darts at a career you might like. I studied political science in undergrad with every intention of going on to law school afterwards. I was going to be just like Jack McCoy in Law and Order. But that dream eventually faded away. After working 10 years in government, I was at a standstill in my career. Logically, the next step was to go to law school.
Looking back, I realize I did this out of what my experience told me I should do, not out what I actually wanted to do. As I go into my final year of law school, I have no real desire to be Jack McCoy or any other type of lawyer. The idea no longer seems exciting or adventurous. Instead, it seems mundane and boring. I know wish I was getting my MBA so I could work in marketing, media, and communications.
My advice is to go back to school for something you really want to do, not what you should do. Don’t take out loans for a degree that you will regret or one you may never use. It’s not worth it.
Younger students will annoy the crap out of you
Most of my fellow students possess some life experience. They either work full-time or part-time, have families, and just lived life a little. However, every once in a while, a student straight from undergrad shows up in a night class. And it is completely obvious this person knows little to nothing about the real world. They are young and ambitious, which is really great and refreshing at times.
But it can also be a little irritating. Typically, these are the students professors call “gunners.” They are the first to raise their hand so they can hear themselves talk in class. More likely than not, they will also complain about how stressful school is and it just takes up so much of their time. Blah blah blah.
To some degree, it isn’t their fault. Most of them are pretty young and haven’t the opportunities to get married, raise kids, or take on all the responsibilities that come with being an adult. I get that. But hearing them complain about how they had to study this weekend instead of going out gets to be a little taxing.
Professors will respect you more.
On the flip side, your professors will likely treat you differently because you are an adult. Several evening law professors said they prefer the adult students because they choose to be there despite of all their responsibilities. Therefore, they are likely to work harder and bring different perspectives to class.
Your life experience will likely add to what you are learning because maybe you have applied the concepts in your real life. For example, my state constitutional law classes talked about several cases in which were extremely relevant to my current and previous work experiences. Your professors, and even some of the younger students, will appreciate your “real world” perspectives on the topic of the day.
Find another adult friend to share your pain.
I am really lucky. Several of my fellow students also work in state government. In fact, my supervisor and good friend from my previous position started law school the same time I did. Because we have the same sorts of responsibilities, we understand what the other is going through, sometimes much better than our spouses. Being able to complain about my workload or share course materials is, in itself, a stress reliever.
I definitely recommend finding someone in a similar situation as you so that you have someone to talk to about everything you are going through. Yes, you have your friends and family and they will do their best to be sympathetic. But trust me. Having someone in your life that understands exactly what you are going through will be so helpful.
Renting books will save you money.
I’m not the biggest fan of higher education. In particular, I believe it isn’t ran with the interest of students in mind. One obvious examples is textbook purchasing. One of my biggest critics of higher education is the cost and use of textbooks. The professors either used every single part of the book or none at all. And the books cost a ridiculous amount of money to which reselling them only get you about a quarter of the original cost. So here you are spending $500 on books that you only crack once during the semester. So dumb.
After my first year, I quickly learned how to get my books cheaper. It’s called Amazon (what in the world did we do before Amazon??). I think there are some other websites out there, but I prefer Amazon. Students can rent their books considerably cheaper than buying them at the bookstore. Then, at the end of the semester, you just ship them back. No reselling. No storing giant books you’ll never use again. Just send them back and be done with them!
Sometimes, the book isn’t available to rent on Amazon, only to purchase. Also, some bookstores let you rent books like Amazon. In those cases, you should definitely check to see if it cheaper to buy at the bookstore or pay for shipping to buy on Amazon.
If you are going to school this fall, I wish you the best of luck. It will be over before you know it and you’ll be able to go back to your normal life. And I know it will be all be worth it!