Get Into the Back-to-School Mindset

From how to prep for graduate school to how to just be a student again, our graduates give their tips for success

The wave of workers handing in their resignation slips since the start of the pandemic isn’t crashing, according to Fortune.com. In fact, a McKinsey survey cited in the piece puts that number at 40 percent of employees are thinking about a career move or change during this “Great Resignation.”

Are you part of the 40 percent?

As August and September are traditionally seen as the beginning of a new school year-a time to think about the future and whether or not to further your education-we gathered some sage advice from our graduates who successfully took the back-to-school leap.

Take Katrina Souder, who is senior assistant director of admissions for Brown University. Working full time meant that Katrina didn’t have time to commit to a master’s program, but our Certificate Program in Student Affairs and Higher-Education Administration allowed her the flexibility to earn a respected certificate.

“I would encourage students to pace themselves,” she explains, “and don’t be afraid to prioritize your time management. I was able to balance two courses each term, but that might not be best for everyone.”

For example, Dana Neufeld, who stayed at a one-course-per-semester pace to complete our Certificate Program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages within three years.

Or in contrast, consider Mark Summers, who registered for the Certificate Program in Project Management: “I was working full time and taking two to three courses at a time; I believe at one point I had four concurrent courses. I also had a young child and a second child on the way. And I really wanted to finish the program and pass the PMP® Exam before my new baby was born, which I did!”

Process. Time management. Resilience. End goals-all important guidance for students of all ages. As you prepare to go “back to school” this year, consider the following words of wisdom from our other graduates.

1. Determine what you need in order to succeed.

There are always going to be some things you can’t negotiate or compromise on. Maybe it is the location or the course schedules or the ability to pick your own path forward.

Alexander Craig (Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program): “I needed something that had a flexible, do-it-yourself schedule, and that also offered courses at night so that I could do other things to help get into medicine.”

Yves de Souza (Certificate Program in Accounting): “I had to learn how to balance my personal and professional commitments. I also had to develop new levels of discipline and execution in my study plans. I had a set schedule that I followed weeks after weeks, and this is how I was able to stay on track. These are skills that I will be able to leverage in the next chapters of my life.”

Ester Fernandez (Clinical Laboratory Scientist Preparatory Program): “Take the classes at a relaxed pace so you can fully comprehend all of the material presented. I would also suggest taking as many of the laboratory classes that coincide with the lectures as possible. My knowledge of hematology grew immensely after taking the hematology lab course, and the extra lab is what solidified my knowledge on the subject.”

Nancy Tompkins (Certificate Program in Writing): “I’m a striver. I like having a little Mount Everest before me. I knew that aiming for the certificate would keep me on track and have me sign up for more classes. I also liked the distribution requirement: the need to study some literature, for example, and grammar, which I love.”

2. Test the water with a course or two.

Not everyone wakes up one August morning and knows the right career path. If you are interested in multiple topics within a field, one of the best ways to aid in your decision-making process is to start with one course on the subject. Then, build your career from there.

Jeff Peeler (Post-Bacc Health): “I took a general biology course to make sure I enjoyed biology and could ‘hack it’ as a student again.”

Anita Satish (Post-Bacc Health): “I would encourage students to be strategic about how they spend their time. I think there’s more value in taking a small course load and making more time for meaningful clinical, work and research experiences, than in focusing solely on school and finishing your courses as quickly as possible.”

Lulu Wang (Professional Program in UX Design): “I recommend taking courses or getting certificates in areas you are interested in. Don’t worry about whether it fits perfectly with your current career path or not. Many careers in the future will require multidisciplinary talents, so feel free to let your curiosity lead you.”

Kelly Kraft (Certificate Program in Marketing): “The classes aren’t meant to take up a huge amount of your time, but they are still a time commitment. Especially if you work full time, make sure you’re choosing the courses that you’re most interested in and are ready to carve out the time to do the work.”

3. Create a structured schedule to absorb the information.

Flexible education and online courses allow you to attend class from anywhere in the world.

Robin Duong (Accounting): “Online education is incredible because it’s one of the only types of education that will meet you halfway and allow you to learn whenever, wherever. My commute would have taken anywhere from one-and-a-half to two hours one way. So instead, I took the bus and train to work for two to two-and-a-half hours a day, but most of that time was spent reading a textbook or completing an assignment on my laptop.”

Hristo Gueorguiev (Certificate Program in Software Development and Programming): “Know that you will be busy and not likely to get through the material at the same pace as when school was your full-time occupation. Divide the work for courses into small actionable steps with good breaking points and fit those steps in openings for focused work that are present in your schedule. A steady and consistent approach can be less stressful, allow you to enjoy the experience and get the most out of it. As well as maintain some semblance of work/life balance.”

Milly Vega (Professional Writing Program): Because of the online format, “I could study at a university in the U.S. mainland without leaving Puerto Rico. Its flexibility allowed me to study in my free time because I could schedule when to read the modules and complete the assignments. The coursework was closely related to my job functions and aligned with current industry trends.”

Alison Kranz (Professional Sequence in Editing): “The forums were lively, and I got to nerd out with fellow editing geeks about all sorts of topics. I also found that I preferred the online discussion boards. As a somewhat shy, introvert-leaning person, I had the chance to think through and compose my thoughts and not be put on the spot. I found myself actively engaging with my classmates in a format that worked well for me.”

3. Build your community.

Camaraderie among like-minded students with similar goals can benefit your return to the classroom.

Maria Heintzinger (Editing): “Ask questions and learn from one another. Not only was it nice to see familiar classmates as I moved from course to course, but it also created a sense of camaraderie between those of us completing the sequence together.”

Anna Kuzmenko (Project Management): “My advice to you is be open and ask as many questions as you have-even if you think they are silly! You are there to learn. Always be open about sharing your experiences and listen to others. If you work in a group, work as a team player. The projects are most successful when the team is dedicated to work.”

Ramin Partovi (UX Design): “Start networking right away with classmates and other designers who are currently in the field. They will be a valuable resource in helping you find a job after the program.”

Take a Deep Breath

When Lisell Perez-Rogers found herself challenged by “readjusting to life as a full-time student after working full time,” she feared she would not succeed in meeting her educational goal: graduate school. What she learned from her experiences may help you as you assess where you are on the path back to school.

“While I was completing the [Post-Baccalaureate Program for Counseling and Psychology Professions], I eventually stopped to reflect on my many commitments and responsibilities and admitted to myself that I had taken on more than I could handle,” Lisell recalls. “I was worried about completing all of the requirements for my final course in the post-bacc on time and didn’t think there was anything I could do except retake the course the next time it was offered. I ended up reaching out to the program staff and my instructor and they supported me in applying for an extension. I am grateful to them for being so understanding and flexible and allowing me the extra time I needed to complete the course to the best of my ability.”

Success in preparing yourself for a return to the classroom-in person or online-really comes down to Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Visual Arts graduate Elinor Cheung’s advice: “Experiment, work hard, have fun and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

And now that you’ve read how others reinvested in their education, we can’t wait to see you in class.

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UC Berkeley Extension is the continuing education branch of the University of California, Berkeley. We empower learners to meet educational and career goals.

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UC Berkeley Extension

UC Berkeley Extension

UC Berkeley Extension is the continuing education branch of the University of California, Berkeley. We empower learners to meet educational and career goals.