Classes are Coming: The Long and Slow Path

Posted on August 14, 2017

By Susan Barkman, LinkedIn and Twitter 

First off, I must acknowledge that I was lucky my supervisor and co-workers were incredibly supportive of my pursuit of a Master’s in Public Administration… even after four years.  I took four years, because I was in a tuition benefit program and did not want to take out more student loans.

I attended CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs. It was one of the best educational experiences of my life. Before I had started school, my job was restructured. Grad school provided a different perspective and shaped new found values. I affirmed that local government was where I should be, and if I could go back in time, I would do it all over again.

What I wish I would have known about tuition benefits…

  • If you are using a tuition benefit program, use it for everything you can! Programs vary in how they work. Look for ways to get it done faster.
  • Keep an eye on your tuition benefit program and ANY changes. The calendar cycle for how credit hours were calculated changed about midway through my degree pursuit. There was a summer of free classes, and I missed it. This was not a well-advertised change. Let’s be honest, every staff member using it would have taken all their vacation and sick time if they could have knocked out two or three classes.

Things I am VERY GLAD I did…

  • I live in Colorado and my family lives in Michigan. Spending time with them before I started was important.
  • A year before I started school, I became more conservative with my vacation time so I would build a nice bank of time. I started with about ten days of time, and graduated with about ten days despite my job being re-classified which doubled the number of days per month I received.
  • I took the summer off after my second year. This was huge for me. I recharged and was ready for the remainder of graduate school.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite places in Colorado (pre- #FindYourPark). I had spent a lot of time hiking and doing photography there after I got my Bachelor’s. I would go there during the nicer months of the year to study. I would find a little picnic spot or make my own and read. Sometimes I would study at a little restaurant, near the park, has a beautiful patio and great views of the Aspen trees in the fall (and conveniently placed electrical outlets).
  • My capstone project for a small city on the western slope of Colorado helped me find a passion for citizen engagement. I loved working with their citizens, and leaders to find a way back toward increased engagement, and trust.

Some advice…

  • Work on papers and projects on topics that you are less familiar with. You’ll expand your knowledge and provide knowledge to use in future interviews.
  • Be social! Grad school is a great place to build your network, and get to know future colleagues.
  • Take care of yourself. Work/life/school balance is important and you have to find the balance that works for you.
  • The public library is a great place to study. Go there and be nice to librarians so they don’t give you the evil eye at closing time.

Good Luck!


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