I have wanted to go back to school for a long time. It started even before having my first baby and moving states. But one thing led to another and the time never seemed to be right. In the Spring of 2020—when school went online for my kids, then 9 and 12, because of the global COVID-19 pandemic—life stopped in so many ways.
I tend to be more of a hands-off parent, and instead I found myself over organizing and overthinking. I was at a point where I was feeling like my kids were beginning to exercise their independence. So, by the end of summer 2020, I decided to apply to grad school.
I knew that I wanted to learn formally about global policy. Running World Moms Network for over a decade increased my knowledge and enthusiasm for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and I wanted to learn more to help the planet move forward and make lives easier and more fulfilling for people, especially women and girls.
I live in New Jersey, so I was looking at schools only in that corner of the U.S. to accommodate my family life. In nearby New York City, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) was the dream. The school was created by the same founders as the United Nations, originally as a school for diplomats. It is also ranked as the number one school in the country for international affairs. I wasn’t planning to start school until September 2021, or maybe even Janury 2021, the earliest. However, before I knew it, I was in conversations with SIPA’s admission’s department, and they asked, “Why don’t you apply now?”
NOW??? How could I apply now? I hadn’t written a resume in over a decade. I also would have to write the essays and find 3 people to recommend me. And then there was even a video interview part of the admissions process to prepare for! The admissions counselor had just invited me to a challenge, that I didn’t even know what the result would be. After all of this, would they even admit me?
Why did I think I’d need 6 months or a year to prepare my application? (You don’t.)
So, I put the pedal to the metal. I found three people to ask recommendations from. Now I had transcripts to get from Villanova University. It’s been a long time since I graduated! It’s all online now – it was so easy to do. Next, I had to work on the essays.
My kids and husband understood that I was now on a mission, one that seemed to excite them, too, and they left me to it. Iced tea and snacks were quietly delivered to me by kids as I hashed out my application in front of my computer.
Before I knew it, my application was in. Then I waited. Then, I found out that I was accepted! I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it work at first – the money, the commute to New York City, getting coverage for the kids when we needed it, etc. But I made a plan. My first year, beginning with the Fall 2020 semester, wound up being virtual during a very still unknown part of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast forward to Fall 2021, and I was volunteering on a Zoom panel for new students, had already lobbied the EMPA administration about a possible new degree specialization, and was now starting my classes in person.
If I said it was all easy, I’d be lying! I’ve had to make other things in my life as easy as possible in order to survive – give up volunteer positions, order take out more often (the kids don’t mind), or make appointments closer to home to fit them in. My husband and kids had to pitch in more at home, too. It’s all still not enough, but this stage of my life will only last until graduation.
Now in my Spring 2022 semester, I have only 5 out of 15 classes left to take, and I am halfway through 2 of them. I am not entirely sure exactly what the future will hold yet after I graduate, but I have some ideas, and I am learning soooo much – economics, global trade and development, global energy policy, policing in the 21st century, strategy, management, statistics, social welfare policy, social justice movements, nonprofit finance, social enterprise, etc. I plan to be on the planet for a long time!!! At 45 I’m not done — I’m just getting started again. The skills and knowledge and connections that I am making at SIPA will, no doubt, help me work towards improving life on the planet for those who need it most for decades to come. So, right now was the right time!
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Jennifer Burden.
Do you have a back to school story to share? I’d love to hear it! Or is something holding you back from going back to school? What is it? Let’s talk in the comments!