When I made the decision to go to grad school, I remember thinking to myself that I was going to have a lot more free time. Being in the workforce for three years prior to enrolling, I was ready to start ticking off all of the items on my to-do list that were long overdue. I wanted to restart my lost hobbies and just dedicate more time to myself. And of course, I remember thinking how the full-time graduate student lifestyle was going to be “a piece of cake.”

Well, let’s just say I was totally wrong!

Being a full-time student is no easy task, especially when you’ve been away from the academic environment for a while. Adjusting back to the routine of note-taking, homework, and studying takes some time. Getting back into the swing of things is easy to say, but much harder to do! While work life has its own unique set of stressful situations and pressures that aren’t easy, I believe student life might be even harder at times.

Why is that?

In the work environment, everyone is driven by a specific and defined goal, set by your company or clients. Often you’re able to leave your work at the office so that when you come home you’re done for the day (or at least you try to be).

Being a student, you have homework every night when you get home. While there are team assignments, there are even more that you’re responsible for completing on your own. Additionally, weekends are not totally free anymore. You’re constantly meeting with your team, and team projects are both challenging and time-consuming. When you finish meeting with your team, then you need to get ready for the upcoming week. The old undergrad last-minute cram sessions don’t work here. You have to know how to apply what you learned. Thus, students have to keep up with the material of every class on a consistent basis.

Needless to say though, that spectacular feeling of accomplishment and growth makes up for all of the challenges of returning to being a student. There is no question that grad school has an immeasurable and lasting impact on the soul of a student. Not only are you learning a new set of hard skills that are needed in today’s technical and strategic business world, you’re also capturing a new persona, developing an enhanced leadership style, becoming a more balanced team member, and most of all, gaining a new openness to learning.

The MQM Program has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. My Dad always told me, there are two things nobody can take away from you—your integrity and your education. My Duke MQM degree is something I’ll hold close to my heart and mind forever.

Bella under a Duke balloon welcome sign, student life