Last week, I was admitted to a doctoral program at the University of Southern California. The program is all-online and focuses on Organizational Change and Leadership. If completed successfully, the doctoral degree that I will receive is a Doctor of Education, or an Ed.D. Though the program is 100% online, I will have to travel to Los Angeles for an immersion weekend once per year. The program is expected to last through 8 semesters with 3 semesters taking place per year.
Several years ago I wrote about how I was preparing to start a Post-Master’s Certificate program in Curriculum Studies. I remember writing that entry and at the time the only phrase I kept hearing go through my head was Chris Rock on the Howard Stern Show saying, “You’re going back to Shawshank!?” after Stern announced he was getting married again. I had that same thought going through my head when I started the Post-Master’s Certificate a few years ago and, in some respects, I have the same thought now as I prepare for this doctoral program.
There is a slight difference between now and then, though. When I started the Post-Master’s Certificate I had that, “Here we go again,” feeling because I was putting myself back in the classroom setting as a student. This time around I don’t have that feeling because I’m going back to the classroom setting as a student, rather I have that feeling because I’m going back to using student loans to finance my education. If you haven’t read my student loan story, then you can get a full rundown of my life with student loans by clicking here. If you scroll through those posts, you’ll find the one where I announce that I’ve fully repaid my student loans.
Though I need to take out student loans to finance my doctoral education, I am in a much different personal and financial place than I was when I finished my Master’s Degree in 2006. For example, after I graduated in 2006 I began working at a company in an entry level-type position making an entry level-type salary. Now, almost 10 years later, I still work at the same company and I’ve obviously progressed in my career. Granted, I don’t have the regular financial capacity to make $2,500 per month payments like I was making at the end of the aggressive, self-imposed repayment plan for my previous student loans. However, I do have the capacity to make payments on my new student loans while I’m still enrolled as a student.
And that’s probably the biggest difference between me being a student in 2015 versus me being a college student from 1999 to 2003 or a graduate student from 2004 to 2006. Today, I can afford to pay down my student loans during the actual semesters when I take them out in the first place. Will I be able to pay down the entirety of each loan during the semester when I’m taking the classes that the loan paid for? Probably not, but I’m in a much better position to try to do that now than I was 10+ years ago.
There are two other differences that I think are worth mentioning outside of the student loan issue. First, this is the first time that I’ll be taking fully online classes. In the past, I’ve successfully completed hybrid courses that are partially online and partially in the classroom. And for the last several years I’ve actually instructed many fully online classes. However, this will be the first time that I am a student in such a class. Second, this is the first time since I completed my Master’s Degree in 2006 where I’ll be taking more than one class per semester. After I graduated with the Master’s Degree, I completed two additional graduate programs by taking one class each semester (outside of textbooks, I didn’t pay to take these classes or to earn these degrees as I was provided with tuition remission at the local college where I work as an Adjunct Professor). The last time I was enrolled in more than one class as a student was during the spring semester of 2006.
All of these comments aside, I’m really looking forward to being engaged in the classroom as a student again. I’m particularly interested in engaging with my new classmates in an all-online setting. And, of course, I’m excited at the prospects of completing the doctoral program and finishing up a lifetime of classroom activity.
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