How to go to OT graduate school after being out of school for a long time — Step 2
Step 2 — Managing your time and money as you prepare to apply to graduate school
If you read my last blog, you know the classes you need to take and are starting to get some idea of some of the other requirements you need to complete to apply to graduate school. (Oh, if you don’t know about those other requirements like finding volunteer/observation hours with an occupational therapist, or finding people to write your recommendations, I’ll touch on those in my upcoming blogs.) So, now what? You need to come to terms with how this change will impact your time and money. Below is what I did, but you may decide to do something different. Remember to do what works for you. You do you!
Before I even took classes and while I was working full-time, I mapped out a timeline for how long it would take me to complete all the requirements to apply to OT graduate school. I looked at all the schools where I was going to apply and found the one with the earliest deadline and worked backwards to make sure I would complete everything by that deadline. (Side note — I failed to make that deadline — whoops, life happens. However, in retrospect, no big deal because that mistake led me to be here!) Next, I thought about what I would be doing while I was waiting to find out if I got into grad school (usually about 3-4 months of waiting), and I thought about what I would do in between getting into graduate school and going to graduate school making sure to factor in moving. I also made a contingency plan for if I didn’t get into graduate school the first time. (I didn’t make plans for applying more than two times. That was me and you might feel differently.)
In the end it took me approximately 22 months to complete all the requirements to apply to graduate school, and then an additional 6 months until I started school. During the first year, I worked full time and took one class each semester. Financially this was manageable because my classes were very inexpensive, and I still had a good income. In terms of time, it had very little impact on my work week. Once a week I went to class for 3 hours at night right after work. While the class time was manageable, it was an adjustment to my weekends. Now Saturdays and Sundays meant studying or doing assignments. I hadn’t been to school in so long; my studying skills were rusty. Also, getting used to Blackboard and submitting work online was a bit strange. My first written assignment I printed it out and tried to turn it into the teacher — whoops.
During my second year, I got a part-time job, and started taking two classes a semester while also volunteering/observing at least 8 hours per week. Six months or so before leaving full-time work for part-time work my partner and I examined our expenses then and came up with a household budget that could be sustained not only once I went part-time but also when I went to graduate school. We basically came to an agreement about what my piece of the pie had to be while going back to school. While my income would be less, working part-time in the service industry gave me so much more time to study and more importantly gave me the chance to see occupational therapy in action so that I could get a better understanding of the profession. Once I finished the application process, over the next 6 months I continued to volunteer, and I also worked as much as possible to save, save, and save more. Fortunately, I did not have to factor in moving because I moved prior to applying to graduate school where there were schools that I had been considering applying to anyway. (My partner and I decided to move before I even started the application process because we wanted to be closer to family.) However, after talking to many of my classmates who had to move across country once they found out they got in and during a pandemic, I will say this, DO NOT underestimate the amount of time, money, and mental head space that goes into a move. Not that moving is ever easy but moving to a city like Los Angeles and figuring out the housing situation can be very hard to navigate. FYI — Reach out to me or another ambassador if you are from out of town and thinking about going to USC. We can give you some ideas about where students live and how much it costs to get a place in LA.
I never imagined going back to school let alone getting myself together to apply to graduate school because it seemed almost insurmountable. I didn’t have the time or the money. Also going from working adult to student with no money seemed like a far stretch of the imagination. After one year into going back to school, I recall sitting in one of my community college classes after working a night shift at the restaurant and thinking here I am in my forties, I said to myself, “What am I doing?” Well, I’ll tell you what I’m doing, and what you might be starting to do too. Learning and changing! Has it been hard? Yes! Has it been worth it? Absolutely! As we occupational therapy students have learned, don’t forget to break it down into manageable steps, chunk it up! Give yourself the time and space to make the insurmountable doable. Then get it done!
Quick note if you have a partner —
Although I had the full support of my partner during this time, I needed to redouble my efforts to consistently consult with them about what I was thinking about doing. I also needed to actively listen to their ideas and feedback, and to remain steadfast in collaborating with them to do things that would work for the both of us. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t do this so well. Like the time I came back from my first day of community college and said, “I think it would be best if I stopped working and just took classes.” At which point my partner said, “Best for who?” Fortunately, I have a very understanding partner who gives me numerous opportunities to work on things together…So, before you make any plans about your time or money as you prepare to apply to occupational therapy graduate school, listen to your partner, make sure you and your partner are on the same page, and above all else remember this is a big change for them too.