Pursuing Your Passion Through Further Education

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Sawyer HeadshotThis week we will feature guest blogger Sawyer Baker, a graduate student at The George Washington University and intern for Pathways to Housing D.C. Sawyer began her education at Iowa State University, earning degrees in Political Science and Sociology. While earning her degrees, Sawyer had the opportunity to serve as an ex-officio member of the Ames City Council, participate in internships on and off campus and served on the Government of the Student Body, all experiences that helped to guide her decision to continue her education by earning a Master’s of Public Administration. In this first of two blog posts, Sawyer shares her experiences and discusses what drove her to apply to graduate school.

In the fall of 2009, one of my first undergraduate assignments was to craft a “projected resume” based on what my next step after graduating from Iowa State University would be: workforce or more schooling. The intent of this exercise was to make us think critically about steps we would need to take during our undergrad years to align ourselves to be successful after graduation. Fair enough. However, after writing the assignment based on the premise that my next step would be more schooling, I admittedly forgot about it. That is, until I was packing to move to Washington, D.C. for graduate school. I found my “projected resume” in a stack of papers—and to my surprise I had accomplished a lot of my faux goals. I projected being heavily involved in student government, having an internship in D.C. for a summer, traveling abroad and continuing my education after my undergrad, all of which I was able to do.

Today, I am currently a Master of Public Administration Candidate with a field concentration in Homeland Security and Emergency Management Policy at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. So, how did I decide to apply to graduate school?

Timing

I asked myself, “Is it realistic to think that I will return for more schooling after starting a career related to my majors of political science and sociology?” I answered no for two reasons: 1) I heard it was difficult to leave the workforce to return to school because one may be caught-up in his or her career. Additionally, one’s mind is primed for education coming out of undergrad and it may be hard to get back into this mindset (though this could be unfounded). 2) Honestly, I did not know if I could afford to pay back my student loans while working and still have the opportunity to go back to school. I love learning and always view it as an investment. To me, the benefits outweighed the costs.

Opportunities for Professional Development

In my field, hands-on experience is needed. When you start the job hunt for an entry-level position, employers often require 3+ years of experience. But wait! I am just now graduating from undergrad. How am I supposed to get professional experience and a bachelor’s degree at the same time? Even with my multiple internships and campus leadership positions, it was not enough. Going to graduate school gave me this experience. My program features a semester capstone project where, as a team, we do pro bono consulting work for an organization. This direct experience often leads to careers. Capstone aside, the connections, alumni networks and career services have led me to opportunities I would have been unable to participate in with just my bachelor’s degree.

Specialization (well sort of…)

What I love most about graduate school is gaining a broad knowledge base in my field of Public Administration while also being able to dedicate portions of my curriculum to a specialization: Homeland Security and Emergency Management Policy. While a MPA is applicable to many government and non-profit positions, being able to specialize also allows me to hone my skills and direct my opportunities and internships down a path where the final destination is a career.

Location

After having an internship in Washington, D.C., I knew I wanted to come back. Therefore, I narrowed my search for graduate schools in the D.C. metro area. My program lasts 2 years, so why not venture out and live in another part of the country?

These were all factors that lead me to graduate school. Be sure to check back in with the blog next week for tips on selecting a graduate school!

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