To go to grad school or not go to grad school?  

That’s the question I asked myself countless times the summer before my senior year of undergrad. 

The answer for me was to go to grad school at the Penn Graduate School of Education, a vibrant community consisting of passionate students, professors, and faculty who are working their best to make significant improvements in the field of education. 

I completed my undergrad in Canada, where I had lived for the past four years before coming to the United States for school. Leaving a familiar place, one I had begun to call home during my undergrad years, was not an easy choice. 

Many questions ran through my head: Where should I go after graduation? Should I stay in academia or should I start working full time right after? Should I take a gap year to consider my options? I didn’t want to leave the familiar view of the CN Tower on my walks back home. I’d miss the Booster Juice that a friend from residence and I would frequently visit between classes and the trips to Tim Hortons with one of my college friends after our weekly morning lectures together. The list went on and on.

I spent hours watching vlogs of grad students on YouTube to get a glimpse of what grad student life would look like. I would read articles online with mixed answers on what I should do. The articles that advocated for going to grad school did so strongly. At times, it seemed like the words “GO TO GRAD SCHOOL!” were being screamed at me. 

However, several articles, which focused more on logistics, suggested I make many of the following considerations before deciding: my future goals, my field of interest, and what I plan to do after earning a master’s degree. These were all tough questions, many of which I was not sure I had an answer to. I just wanted to hibernate under my blankets and think about all of it at another time (which really meant never).

Deep down, I had a desire to keep learning and studying. I wanted to delve deeper into my field of interest, which is a combination of education, sociology, communication, and the creative arts. As a sociology major during my undergrad, I enjoyed learning about the multifaceted aspects of societies.

What made me choose to study in the United States for my graduate studies, then? It was a desire to leave my comfort zone, to try new, unfamiliar things, and to learn more about the field of education through a linguistic and sociological lens. This led to me ultimately deciding to major in intercultural communication, an interdisciplinary graduate program that combines sociology and linguistics situated within an educational context. Studying in a different country would bring about drastic life changes. What adventures would that bring? My curiosity got the best of me. 

Now that I have a semester at Penn under my belt and another semester currently in the making, I feel compelled to share a few of the things I have learned so far.

First, don’t be afraid to reach out to classmates, professors, and faculty for support. Entering a new environment can be difficult. Adjusting to the academic expectations of schoolwork can be difficult. You aren’t the only one who feels this way. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone when you need support, whether it’s a loved one, a professor, or a teaching assistant! You can also contact your academic advisor. I find it helpful to describe my feelings to someone I trust. Putting your thoughts and feelings down on paper can be absolutely cathartic be it through writing or other forms of expression.

Second, it’s okay to struggle. Speaking from experience, it was not the easiest to adapt to a new environment. Will I adjust to living in Philly? Will I like my courses? Will I be able to find my classrooms? To answer the third question, yes—I found all of my classrooms, but that one time at the beginning of my first semester when I asked a kind stranger where the seventh floor was even though the building only had a total of five floors will forever be ingrained in my brain.

Anxiety can creep up on you during tough times. But it doesn’t have to be this way. When you are feeling anxious, take your time to organize your thoughts. You can tackle the tasks on your to–do list step by step. Prioritize. Remember to put yourself before your schoolwork—you are always, always more important. 

Finally, you can create your own choices. There is no one specific path to life. The possibilities are endless—you can study as a part–time student while working full time, you can brainstorm startup ideas during your gap year. You are allowed to create your own choices. If you like the choices given, that’s completely fine, too. What matters is staying true to yourself. The choices we make can determine the outcomes of our lives. And now, because of a choice I made, I get to call Philly home.

Grad school may not be for everyone, and that is completely okay. My experiences in grad school so far have changed the perspectives I have about myself and the world I have come to know. Did I always make the right choices? No way. But will I keep trying? Heck yeah. After all, that’s what life is about.

To me, life is a series of tries, hoping the next try will be better than the previous one but also knowing that it’s okay even when that’s not the case. 

So, if you are asking yourself whether to go to grad school or not go to grad school, that is completely valid. Trust yourself, and trust the process. Whatever you decide to do in the end, try, try, and try some more.