Some call it a "quarter-life crisis," but it's not uncommon for a recent graduate to change their mind about a career path.
"I wanted to be in television, and not just local news," said undergraduate alumna, and former communications major, Martina Conley, from Clarksville. "That was kind of a dream of mine, but I just had a change of heart."
Conley, who graduated in December 2009, said she realized the idea of sitting at a monitor editing film and chasing down contacts for a story no longer thrilled her; she realized she had to pursue something else, which in her case meant continuing education.
"I wanted to do something else, and the only way for me to do something else was to go back to school and get educated in a different field," Conley said, and she returned to UT Martin in August of 2010 to pursue her master's degree.
A Master's in Education with a major in counseling is Conley’s next degree, which she hopes will help her achieve her new goal of becoming a school counselor.
"I want to work with middle school/high school-aged students providing career counseling,” she said.
A new degree, a new career path and a new start; it may sound too good to be true, but it's a decision that opens new doors for some and reunites others with a long-lost notion - hope.
"People think I must have been an education major [as an undergraduate] since I'm going into school counseling, but I wasn't. You can get your master’s in anything. Typically you don't have to have had the background in that subject. You can get your master’s in something else. It can almost be a new beginning for you." Conley said. "Having two degrees in two different areas is going to help me because I don't have to just look in one area for jobs. If I want to go back and look at broadcasting or communications jobs, I can do that as well."
Still, doors are seldom easily opened. Conley says she didn't have any preconceived notions about graduate school except that it would be a challenge.
"Be prepared to do more work ... because you can't get below a C, and in my program you can't have more than two Cs," she said. "You definitely have to want to be there. You have to want to do it."
As for what other potential students should expect from graduate school, Conley noted that dedication to time management is a must. In her case this is underlined by the fact that most of her classes are online.
Online degrees are a popular option for those who need flexibility in their courses, but are a major time investment.
"Taking online classes is definitely a big adjustment because you really are responsible for your own education. I can't opt out of reading a chapter because that means in the future I may be incompetent in certain areas because I don't know the information," she said. "You can't slack off. You really have to, almost, self educate."
For full-time workers like Conley, this means nighttime is the reserved part of the day for "class," and leads to another graduate school expectation, a strained social life.
"Every day it's just doing the homework, reading the chapter ... and people I know with families, they have it even more difficult because they have families to take care of," she said, adding that the workload does vary depending on the class.
Group work is also often a staple of graduate programs, as Conley explained that online group discussions frequently precede the presentation of a group paper.
Despite the many trials that obstruct the road to a graduate degree, Conley is more than convinced the struggle is worth it.
"Everyone has a bachelor's nowadays, and I feel like the master's will set me apart in some ways, because I have that extra level of education," she said.