Navigating the Nerve Center While Earning Your Communication Masters Degree


Kevin Clapp, Student & Alumni

It is a beautiful spring morning. The sky is a lovely shade of blue, the temperature is perfection - not too hot, though the sun's rays provide a welcome warmth that is countered by an occasional cool breeze blowing through the trees.

The year is 1997, and I should be on my way to class. What class? Does it really matter? Not really ... Instead, I'm lying on a couch on the first floor of the house I'm renting with five other undergrads on Ackerman Avenue in Syracuse, NY. What's on TV? Maybe Montel, Maury, Sally Jessy... Honestly, I can't remember. But I'm toast, out of gas, too bored with classrooms and lecture halls. I'm also arrogant. Most of my friends have graduated and I'm ready to be out in the world with them. So, instead of making my way to a lecture on the Syracuse University campus I'm dabbling in performance art, my depiction of student as slug winning raves in my mind...

When I first gave serious thought to returning to school to pursue my graduate degree in communications, several questions jumped to mind: Is this the right time? Can I juggle academics with chaotic work and home lives? Will I be able to devote the time necessary to succeed? Can I afford it? Will I see it through?

Each of these questions sufficiently tied my stomach in knots, but it was the last - Will I see it through? - that may have been worst of all. I remembered my final semester at Syracuse, the grind that academics had become, and legitimately wondered whether history would repeat itself. Would an initial flurry of inspiration gradually ebb until I once again searched for the couch? Would I exchange trashy talk shows for binge watching "Breaking Bad" or "Lost"?

Of course, a tremendous amount of personal growth can take place in 20 years, and what I've found is that worries about my younger self have no place in my 2016 pursuit of higher education. One class rolls into the next and the diverse subject matter keeps me stimulated, even when the prospect of writing another discussion post seems insurmountable.

Are you hesitant about returning to school? Do you wonder whether you'll be able to keep up? That you're smart enough to compete? Do you secretly wonder if discussion forums will expose you as an intellectual lightweight?

Are you nervous? You should be. (And let's not confuse nerves with a lack of confidence. You can be 100 percent sure you'll crush every last assignment and still feel a familiar discomfort bubble up from your insides every once in a while.)

It doesn't matter if you just received your undergraduate diploma or are dipping your toes back into the academic waters after more than two decades away. Making a commitment to higher education is no joke, and butterflies are to be expected.

I believe nerves signal our investment in a subject. Embrace them. Use them to your advantage.  Maybe that means re-reading that Week Two paper one more time. Maybe it means ensuring that you are satisfying yourself in your approach to discussion forums and not just "checking the box" with a rushed submission.

I still get nervous as each new class gets underway, mostly about how a new professor will approach the material and what their grading preferences are. It's uncomfortable, but I choose to use it as fuel for my approach to the ensuing eight weeks. Besides, it beats the alternative: spread out like a lump on the couch, wasting away the hours. I've been there, done that and have no interest in going back.

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Kevin Clapp is a student in Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.