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How I Decided it Was the Right Time for Grad School

Alexis Perrotta

Alexis Perrotta on a bicycle, heading for her graduate career.
Illustration by Marian Blair

If there is one thing that is certain these days, it’s that many of us (if not all of us) are experiencing some level of uncertainty. Perhaps it’s time to move, leave a job, sector switch, re-enter the workforce, or maybe you’re starting to seriously consider returning to school to earn a graduate degree. 

If you’re wondering whether now is the right time for grad school, you are absolutely not alone. And in fact, I’ve been there, too!

Why I chose to go to graduate school

Early in my career, I was considering whether a Master’s of Public Administration was the right move for me. I was working in membership services and program management at a children’s museum, and while I was really enjoying my job, it felt like quite a few things were missing. I couldn’t clearly see a career ladder for myself and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to really settle down and plant roots (I was living in Denver, CO at the time, having initially made the move to serve as an AmeriCorps volunteer). 

Ultimately, my desire to define my career path and concentrate on the unique needs of the nonprofit sector, combined with an aspiration to change careers and an interest in developing a professional network in a new city, all came together and convinced me to take the leap. 

Check, check, and check!

The following year, I was accepted to and enrolled in NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service nonprofit management program, and to be completely honest (and perhaps a bit cliched), it was everything I had hoped for and then some! Heading back to academia after spending some time in the workforce helped me to to see school in a whole new light. I was eager to make the city my classroom and my classmates my first real network of social-impact professionals. The transition back into the classroom was easier than I had anticipated and everything that I was learning felt applicable in real time; it was amazing.

A lesson in expecting the unexpected

What I wasn’t prepared for however, was what it would mean for my professional trajectory to earn a degree right in the middle of the Great Recession and add three shiny new letters—MPA—to my resume mere months before the stock market crash. Would I find a job? Would I have to leave the city that I had only recently settled into? Was my graduate degree a huge mistake? I’d wager a guess that if you’re considering earning a master’s, a lot of the same questions have been coming up for you.

Luckily, those three deciding factors that led me to grad school in the first place were there to save the day. In focusing on the social-impact space in my new city—New York City, to be exact—I discovered an interest in the field of workforce and career development. And amazingly, that was one of the fields that actually grew as a result of the events of the preceding two years; people needed jobs and funding was readily available to support the agencies and organizations doing the hard work on the front lines. 

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when a member of my new network mentioned that an agency I was interested in was coming to campus to discuss upcoming opportunities and initiatives. Attending that on-campus presentation was what launched me straight into serving job seekers right here in NYC.    

So as you can see, any time can be the right time for graduate school! 

Attend a Virtual Idealist Grad School Fair  

If you’re considering attending graduate school, the Virtual Idealist Grad School Fairs are the perfect opportunity to chat one on one with program representatives and get answers to all of your questions. So whether you’ve only just started researching master’s programs or you’re elbow deep in brochures, register today (it’s free!) to reserve your spot at an upcoming Virtual Idealist Grad School Fair.

Alexis Perrotta

As the Senior Editor at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.