How to get over advanced-degree-phobia.
October 26, 2007 7:13 AM   Subscribe

I want to shake my irrational fear of going back to school. It's for my own good!

I know, rationally, that getting a master's degree would be a really good idea for me. In terms of where I want to go in my career and life, it's just a smart choice. My employer won't pay for all of it, but they'll pay enough that it won't break the bank even to go to a very good nearby school (it will definitely not be free either...but I can do this, probably without going into debt at all, is my point). However, I just graduated from undergrad recently and my last few terms were so hard that the idea of going back and taking more classes completely freaks me out. I did some ambitious stuff, got burned out, and while I know I should go back I just lose it every time I think about it.

I don't anticipate any upcoming events that will really put a fire under my ass to get an advanced degree. It's just a practical thing for me to do and I have no reason other than fear to wait. In fact, this is a good time to be undergoing academic challenges since the demands of my work are still fairly modest. Furthermore, I know the longer I dilly-dally, the harder it will be to get back into the swing of things, so it's not necessarily now or never - rather now or harder. But the fear is pretty major, to the point where I look at course descriptions, kind of get shaky, and end up spending the rest of the night reading webcomics and humming "School's Out" emphatically to myself.

I know the best way to get over the fear of school is to go take a class, see it's not that bad, and just do general exposure techniques like for any other phobia. But I'll never get there if I keep going like I'm going, because I get to the point of signing up for a class and all these alarms start going off in my head. Alarms that say "Why pay to be back in a classroom, which you hate?!" and "This time you will actually fail miserably instead of just thinking you will and then getting an A-!" and "But you always hate all the other students in your classes, remember?!" and "Look at you, the only girl! You don't belong here and everyone knows it!"

These alarms are very hard to ignore, but my goals require me to ignore them anyway and just do this. How can I drown them out? Better yet, how can I make them go away? Don't recommend therapy, please. I know that if I found the right therapist it would help a lot, but I've wasted too much time on therapy for these kinds of problems with no positive results.

Posted anonymously because I would rather this insanely vulnerable question not be traceable back to me WHEN I eventually do make it back to school. Throwaway account at
posted by anonymous to Education (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What’s the rush? Would a master’s really make a difference in the short term? If not I’d wait.
It seems to me that you really have no desire or fire to get this done and if I were in your shoes it means I’m doing it half assed.

Many schools now have accelerated master’s programs (EMBA for example) for those with time under their belts. Have you looked into those programs? My recommendation is to wait.
posted by doorsfan at 7:32 AM on October 26, 2007

I was in a similar position as you. I burned out my last year of undergrad as well, and turned down a grad school acceptance. I worked a year but found myself getting a bit bored and thinking I should go to grad school after all, but I was anxious about it as well. Finally, I signed up for a no credit/no pressure summer class in the area I'm interested in and (surprisingly?!) it was "great success." That was really all it took to get me back on my feet. It's so much easier once you just bite the bullet and and get the ball rolling. Good luck!
posted by infinityjinx at 7:55 AM on October 26, 2007

Yeah, I'd go the auditing route for one course. You'll get a feeling for how hard the course work will be and if it doesn't work out, you can bail without a black mark on your record.
posted by 517 at 8:52 AM on October 26, 2007

In addition to auditing, you should consider taking a grad class or two as a non-degree seeking student. If this is a grad program set up to accommodate people who are working 9-5 during the week, they almost certainly allow people to enroll in classes and get credit that can later be transferred into the master's degree if you decide to apply. If you do well, you're not stuck having to re-take the class like you would if you audited; if you don't do well, it's kind of like it never happened, since it's not leading anywhere.

Although, I also should point out that I don't at all agree with your assertion that being out of school longer makes it tougher to go back (particularly if you're working in the field that you'll get your master's in!). When people say that, I think they're usually referring to the fact that people find it hard to go back to being a full-time student (read: poor) after having worked for a while (read: made decent income). However, doing your degree while working--which is what I assume you're talking about, given that your employer will pay for part of it--is a totally different ball of wax. I worked full-time for two years before starting my program part-time (while continuing to work full-time), and I can definitely say that those two years made it much easier. I'm much less stressed about my classes. If you're feeling anxious about going back to school, taking another year of just working is probably the ticket. Once you really make the transition to thinking of yourself as a person with a career (work as your primary focus), rather than a student, the level of anxiety around classes just goes way, way down. You're no longer defined by what your grade is; your primary goal will be getting useful information for your job out of the class, rather than scoring well on a test.

In fact, the difference in stress levels between the people in my classes who work full-time and those who are in the grad program full-time is pretty palpable. Since I'm someone who's pretty predisposed to get stressed out about doing really well in classes (why hello, Type A personality!), it makes me realize even more that I'm much better off for having held off on school for a while, until it wasn't such a referendum on my inherent intelligence and worth. (That's what WORK is for. Sigh.)
posted by iminurmefi at 9:22 AM on October 26, 2007

You don't sound ready to go back to school. Don't just go to school to go to school. I believe in lifelong learning, but don't force yourself to do something you seem hesitant about and probably aren't ready to embrace. Going back to school should be an exhilarating thought, not a chore. If you aren't there yet, there is no shame in that--wait until you are ready to go back to school and all this mental torture you are heaping on yourself will evaporate.
posted by 45moore45 at 12:48 PM on October 26, 2007

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