What It’s Like to Be An MSPP “student of a certain age”
Being in my 2nd year now, I think I can speak reliably to the experience of being a “student of a certain age” at MSPP. There is a lot to say, and not a whole lot of room in which to say it, so I am going to break it down into four topics: being a student of a certain age, knowing why you’re here, the 1st year, and the 2nd year.
As you read this, keep in mind that I am in my 2nd year. In other words, I made it through the 1st year and I am still going strong!
“Students of a Certain Age”: We coined this term last year when Gretchen Nash, the Director of Multicultural Affairs and Community Service, responded to a request from an older student for an opportunity to connect with her peers. Gretchen, supported by the Dean of Students Office, sponsored a happy hour off-campus for anyone who was similarly interested. Those of us who attended were thrilled to meet each other, have a chance to compare notes, and be able to recognize more faces around the school! Some of us became friends, others became better friends. One thing I would strongly recommend is that, if you come to MSPP as a Student of a Certain Age, find your peers. In a sea of 20-somethings, it’s always a relief to find someone who looks and dresses like you, and speaks your language.
Know Why You’re Doing This: I can say with a fair amount of confidence that during the first year, you will likely ask yourself repeatedly, “WHY am I doing this??” You may find yourself listing all of the sacrifices you made to pursue this path, and wondering if it was all worth it. Being clear about why you chose the path is essential, because eventually you’ll come back around to it, after you’ve listed all the reasons why it’s looking like a bad idea. This is another area where it’s helpful to know your peers. It’s comforting to know that they are asking the same question, and it’s empowering to come back around, together, to reasons for staying the course.
The First Year: There’s no way to sugarcoat it: The first year is tough. (This is why it’s so critical to know why you’re doing it.) There are a myriad of reasons for this, but I’ll just highlight a few of them.
- First of all, if you’ve been away from school, transitioning back to being a student is challenging. There’s a completely new rhythm to one’s life, and – though it’s a bit painful to admit – it’s a blow to the ego to be back at the low end of the totem pole.
- Second, the first-year workload is heavy. The curriculum consists mainly of foundational courses, and a lot gets packed in.
- Third, MSPP’s integrative learning model tests the stamina of everyone who lives it – including the 20-somethings. And if they struggle, imagine what it’s like for the older students! It is unavoidably daunting and taxing to spend (at least) 16 hours at a field site and 13-14 hours in the classroom. But it is also absolutely worth it: Moving back and forth between the classroom and the clinical setting is an incredibly powerful way to learn the craft. If you do the math, you’ll also see that having a life beyond school/field site takes some creativity.
- Fourth, it’s lonely at first for those who are atypical students in any way, and are not surrounded by peers.
- Finally, if you are moving here from out of state, it’s going to take a while to learn the new city and its culture (it did for me).
All that being said, the school – as an institution, as community, and from within its culture – does its utmost to try to offset the stress. Their efforts include, for example:
- Community lunches, when the Dean of Students Office provides a free lunch for everyone on campus that day.
- The atmosphere around the school is always relaxed and welcoming.
- Class time itself is relatively comfortable and collegial, so the time spent in the classroom isn’t a total brain drain. The professors are understanding and flexible; as long as the students are talking to them about difficulties, they’ll do their best to be supportive. For the most part, assignments and papers are interesting and relevant tasks.
- There are no grades. For me, that made a big difference. I still worked as hard as I would have normally (which in itself was a challenge having been away for 12 years), but it was a relief not to be driven to get the “A.” It also effectively eliminates competition with peers.
- The best part, after all is said and done, is that the classes are really interesting and stimulating, and often fun.
The second year has been the antithesis of the first, and not just for me. My classmates and I are all accommodated now to the rigors of the schedule, and we know and support one another. (We’re still tired, but we’re pretty used to it now.) We all have friends, and that makes everything easier. We definitely feel like we are a part of the school – we’re not newbies anymore. Also, the 2nd year curriculum, truthfully, is even more fun than the 1st year’s. We learn all of the major theories and then we get to play with them and practice, at our field sites. Our yearlong Research class is designed to get us thinking about our doctoral project, and offers us the opportunity to begin laying the foundation for it, if we have an idea we’d like to pursue. For those of us who wish to specialize in a particular area, this is the year we sign on and we can begin to look forward to concentrating our studies in the 3rd year. Personally, I am very excited about starting the Health Track next year!
My final word is this: Think carefully about why you would like to pursue graduate studies at MSPP, but if you have a dream and a passion, I would heartily encourage you to go for it!