The Best Age to Go for Your Grad School: When?

Most of my friends in my generation were born in 1982, including me. That means this year in 2012 we will be turning to the big Three-O!!! As we entered the month of February, one by one my friends are starting to have their milestone birthdays. Mine is not coming up until the last quarter of the year, but their birthdays made me begin to reflect about life in my twenties.

One of the biggest endeavor (and adventure) that I did during the decade was attending a grad school. I turned 23 during the first week of the program, and completed my college degree just 9 months before that. I was one of the youngest folks in my batch, since most of my friends were in their late twenties or thirties. Sometimes I wonder if I actually went to grad school too early. Will things turned differently had I decided to wait a couple of years? Is there a best age to go for your grad school?

Maybe you’re wondering about the same thing too. While I can’t promise an exact answer, I can tell you my experience attending grad school in early twenties, the good and bad things about it. Here goes.

Pros: An opportunity to change career/specialty. I attended business school for my undergrad. I worked part time and volunteered at a non-profit during my junior and senior year in college. Then as a fresh graduate I worked at a local bank, but I never got the same satisfaction that I had when working in the non-profit. Attending the grad school gave me the chance to learn another topic that I initially came across at the non-profit, something that I genuinely care about.

Cons: Changing specialty meant rough beginning. When my friends were building their graduate studies based on what they already have from their undergraduate, I was learning something that was entirely new to me. That means academically I wasn’t as prepared, and although eventually I can catch up, it did require some extra efforts (and lots of stress) in the beginning.

Pros: Not so concerned about family issues. Some of my older friends were already married and have kids when they attended the grad school. I can’t imagine their pain when they had to leave their family behind in order to study abroad. I’m sure that it must be a really difficult choice. But since I was only 23, I was still single and I can concentrate on my studies without missing a spouse or worrying about sick kids.

Cons: Being single has its own problem and distraction. The distraction is called (ahem…) love. When I look back, I don’t know how I can afford spending hours and hours building a relationship with a significant other in the middle of all the essays, exams, research and assignments. Celine Dion said that love can move mountains. I guess she must be right!

Pros: A chance to expose myself to lots of new experiences, which helped me to be more mature. Living in a foreign country with an entirely different culture and people helped to expand my horizon, and provided lots of learning opportunities for me. When I came back to my home country after the grad school, I wasn’t the same. I had a significant growth, not only intellectually but also emotionally.

Cons: Lacking the maturity. When I look back to my 23 year old happy-go-lucky person, I feel that at that age I still didn’t have enough maturity to negotiate and navigate all the new adventures that I had to go through. I came out okay, but I sometimes think that I was more naive then compared to now, and that could mean I had assumed more risks.

Cons: Minimum language skills. English is not my first language, and it was two times harder to study all the theories since I wasn’t as skillful in using the language. It means it took more time for me to read, to find the right words to express myself, and to try to understand what my professor was saying. Had I waited a couple of years, maybe I could afford the time to improve my English before actually going abroad.

Pros: A chance to improve my language skills. Study abroad means I got the chance to improve my English, although it’s like learning the hard way. Sometimes when I read the writings that my 23 year old self made, I would cringe over the poor choice of words and the messy grammar. But then, if I hadn’t gone study abroad, maybe my English would still be much worse compared to what it is right now.

Pros: Mastering something early – gaining a competitive advantage. I don’t really care about this aspect but it’s undeniable that nowadays people like to start early especially in education, in order to get ahead in this competitive world. They send their children to school early so the kids can get a headstart in reading, writing, etc. Going to grad school early means I got the degree earlier too, and I’m pretty sure it does affect my chances of getting better jobs.

Cons: Not much to give during the studies. I believe that studying is a give and take process. It’s not just about me getting knowledge, but it’s also about how I can contribute to my fellow students or even professor through my existing knowledge or experience. Unfortunately, since I went to a grad school with only two years working/volunteering experience, I only had minimum insights that I can bring to enrich the discussion.

Conclusion?

Based on my reflection above, it seems that for every negative aspect there’s a positive aspect to it (and vice versa). So I guess the conclusion is, there’s no magic number when it comes to the best age for your graduate studies – all will have its pros and cons. And more importantly, when the opportunity knocks on your door, just answer it. As for me, the opportunity for my graduate studies came up when I was 23. I took the chance, and I have no regrets🙂

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