On My Lack of an Advanced Degree

Due to my husband’s education and career trajectory, I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life surrounded by people in possession or pursuit of doctorate-level degrees.  Between world-renowned researchers, PhD candidates, optometrists, and optometry students, many of the people I’ve met in the last six years are some kind of doctor.  I became immersed in that world without being a member of it.  I participated in research studies and volunteered to be a practice patient.  I won acclaim among these brilliant scientists for my black bean chip dip and my banana chocolate chip bars.  I’m used to hearing about complex eye-related topics that fly over my head during dinner conversations and weekend cookouts.  I’ve laughed over the things that exceptionally intelligent people say while drunk.  And through all this, somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ve always been aware that I just have a bachelor’s degree, nothing more.  Not that I’m ashamed of that.  I’m proud of my career and I’m a darn good teacher, but it is weird to be surrounded by people who are or will be doctors, while all I have is a BA.  

I may not have an advanced degree, but for what it’s worth, I did graduate undergrad summa cum laude. 🙂

While I have no intention of trying for a doctorate, it does make sense that I would at least go for a master’s degree.  This is was true even before I discovered a desire to pursue counseling, since getting a master’s is the teacher’s version of “climbing the ladder.”  However, when I graduated from college, many people advised me not to pursue my master’s right away.  As a new teacher in the Midwest, not having a graduate degree actually made me more hire-able.  I was cheaper than someone with a master’s.   I’ve learned since that the coastal regions of the United States are different.  I probably would have landed a full-time job in Seattle if I’d had some graduate work under my belt.  Nonetheless, as a first year teacher in the Wisconsin, putting off grad school for a bit was better, so that’s what I did.

Plus, I would have picked the wrong field of study, anyway.  If memory serves me correctly, I believe I was toying with the idea of a master’s degree in literature right out of college.  I didn’t discover my desire to study guidance counseling until my third year of teaching.  If I had gone to grad school right away, I still wouldn’t have the degree or certification I need now to take my career where I want it to go.  So it’s better I waited.

But now I do know what I want to do.  I’ve researched the universities with school counseling degrees, and I’ve weighed the pros and cons of online vs. live programs.  Now I’m just biding my time until circumstances align that will allow me to pursue my goal.  The glib line my husband and I tossed around for the last few years has been “when he’s done with school, it’ll be my turn to go back.”  My husband now has two doctorates (OD, PhD – yeah, he’s awesome).  Now he’s done.  In theory, it’s my turn.

Being honest, though, despite my husband’s graduation, applying to graduate school isn’t financially realistic right now.  There are so many other factors that will come to play in this decision that I can’t place a real timeline on it yet.  Some of our other needs and dreams may have to take precedent over this one.  More reliable cars, a house, hopefully kids…  Though I won’t stop looking into it, grad school may have to be a “someday” dream for a little while longer, and that’s OK.

Until then, I’ll keep dreaming and doing what’s in front of me to do.  I’ve built my career on a sense of uncertainty that could have easily destroyed it.  I know what I think I want, but my own ideas and dreams have changed so much in the last several years that even in this, I’ve learned to plan my life one year at a time and let the rest come as it will.  I’ve learned that sometimes what I think I want can’t begin to measure up to the reality of what actually happens.

“Someday” will come.  Maybe it will be soon, or it may be several years down the road yet.  I don’t pretend to know what it will entail, despite our dreams and plans, but I believe that it will be good.

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13 thoughts on “On My Lack of an Advanced Degree

  1. At least you know what you want! In Oregon, you have to have a Masters just to get a teaching license, so if I had wanted to change my subject area, I would have had to get a second degree. Good luck with furthering your career!

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    • Thank you. I’ve lived in a few states that had similar rules after I left Wisconsin. However, even though a regular teaching certificate doesn’t require a master’s in Wisconsin, a school counseling license does require a master’s degree. So no matter what, I have to go to grad school someday. 🙂

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  2. I got my MA because I wanted to teach at the college/university level. My Master’s is in curriculum & development with an emphasis on teaching ESL. However, I didn’t know this at first, but in order to teach a completely different discipline like history or religion, I would just need to take 18 graduate hours in that field.

    It seems like you have all the pros and cons worked out about getting your Master’s or not. 16 years ago, I had no idea that I would want to teach college-level religion courses someday. Thank goodness they don’t make us take the full 36 credit hours all over again.

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    • Yeah, is nice to have a little professional experience under my belt before I take on the commitment of grad school, since it gives me a better sense of what I want to do. It is nice to know that if my plans change again, it wouldn’t be TOO much extra work to get another focus. 🙂

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  3. I am pursuing my bachelors degree in surgery and medicine before that I was a teacher in chemistry to standard XI and XII.. After i finish this and be a doctor i will as of now not interested to go for my masters degree.. maybe i will star to earn a living.. God Bless you on your dream 🙂

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  4. ” I’ve learned to plan my life one year at a time” – I love this. I definitely need to work on this one. I feel so much more secure when I plan, but that control is such an illusion! Better to just be at peace with where you are today, and trust God to lead to where HE wants you to go. The most peaceful times in my life were when I embraced that I was on a ‘need-to-know’ basis with God!

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    • I’ve learned it out of necessity! With all our moving and the upheaval of the last several years, I couldn’t even pretend to have control over what was going on. But that’s where God’s grace and faithfulness has been so amazing. There have been so many times that His control and provision were so clear. It makes living in trust now much easier. 🙂

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  5. Kate nailed it. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

    Christine, I am sure you have grappled with the question of whether your gifts and passion for students would be most effective in the role of a classroom teacher or a school counselor. What are your thoughts?

    As a teacher, you are on the front line, at the critical point of intercept in students’ lives who may never pass through the door of a counselor’s office. You’re doing real triage. You are touching more than you know. And their is an advantage to that daily touch vs the periodic scheduled “session.”

    An advanced degree in counseling certainly need not take you out of the English classroom, and the knowledge & skills you could gain in the process may become part of your toolkit. However, you already have all the essential skills of an effective counselor – common sense, shared experience, a compassionate heart, an appreciation for boundaries, the wisdom to shut up and listen for what’s not being said, a humble dependence on direction from above. No program can teach these things. Veteran professionals in the field frankly admit that an an unschooled layperson with these qualities make a far more effective counselor than one whose name comes with a comma and a string of letters.

    I understand that some doors for service may not open without an advanced degree, so for that it’s worth it. But don’t become disillusioned if the degree program doesn’t appear to be all that it’s cracked up to be. When my oldest brother was on his way to earning a PhD in his chosen field, I told him how amazed I was at all that he was learning. He laughed and said, “Graduate school just teaches you jargon.” A decade or so later, when it was my turn, I saw a lot of truth in that.

    In His time and in His way, God will show you the next step.

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    • I do know that part of the reason for the advanced degree is simply to open the career doors. I’m also interested in the “guidance counseling” side of things (college admissions, career choices, etc.), and I think grad school could teach me a thing or two in that area. That’s one of the main things I look for in the course guides of the master’s programs that I’ve researched. I see a lot private schools leaving the “good” kids up to their own devices in this area, because most of them are able to figure it out enough to apply for and eventually attend college. However, I think I could bring more guidance to those kids, give them tools to research career options, things like that. I have in mind the “Careers” class that Lutheran High offered, though I never took it. None of the schools I’ve been in have had a program like that, so I see a need that I could fill.

      I know teachers are the front line. I see the value of that, and I’ve always wanted to make sure I didn’t leave the classroom completely (which is another draw to the private schools). I do struggle with the fact that about half of my career has been subbing, though. I’ve only really had two years of that daily touch, as you put it – and one of those jobs was five years ago now. I would be the front line as a teacher, but right now I’m not, and that is hard sometimes. I see the potential to make a difference, but true opportunities for connections have been few and far between. Maybe I dream of pursuing grad school because its something I can DO, instead of sitting around waiting for the next job.

      I know I’m living in God’s plan, not mine. That has been EXTREMELY clear ever since Dan’s PhD plans got uprooted to Seattle four years ago. But I also need goals. I think I’ve proven that I can be flexible and change my ideas as God directs our path, but I need something to strive for to keep myself from stagnating (or going crazy) in my current position.

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