Three Months In: Is it Worth It?
I began this blog as a series entitled, “A Master’s Journey into Real Estate” as a play on words. Education is like a journey towards learning/discovering something new and I’m actively pursuing a master’s degree. Hopefully by the time I earn that degree, as the name suggests I’ll feel as though I’ve mastered the material I’m now studying. Even if I don’t “master” it, I’m sure I’ll be much further along than when I began.
In today’s article, I reflect back and ask how much progress I’ve made and whether the degree and experiences I’ve had so far have been worth it. The short answer by the way is yes, it’s been worth it.
My Experience to Date
Recently I was asked how much time I spend in and out of class, and what the program is like. In college the standard expectation is that you spend one hour in class for every credit that you take. Similarly, you should expect to spend about three hours a week per credit working on course material outside of class. So, if you take 15 credits, which is what the typical undergraduate takes in a semester, you would be in class for 15 hours a week and spent another 45 hours studying. Breaking it down further, the typical undergraduate student would take five 3-credit courses with each course meeting either one day a week for about three hours or twice a week for about 90 minutes each day. Of course, these numbers are just estimates.
At the graduate level, you should be prepared to spend more time outside of class working not only on course material but also on side projects such as a thesis or dissertation. In some ways, graduate programs are harder and more intense. Yet in other ways, graduate programs can actually be easier. Professors tend to be more respectful of the fact that you have outside responsibilities and the workload may actually be less. Additionally, the material tends to be less theoretical and more directly applicable. I’ve found this last point to be true in both of my master’s degree programs.
In the case of my current degree pursuit, we start class at 4PM. Class generally runs about 3-4 hours an evening. Full-time students attend four days a week, while part-time students have classes twice a week. Every day that I’m not in class I’m reviewing material from a past class, working on an assignment, reading for the next class, or studying for an exam. When I’m not in class and there are no pending assignments or exams, I take the time to set up informational interviews, attend events, or even just watch webinars posted by other professionals in the industry. I could be sitting around doing nothing, but in life you get out what you put in. I’m paying for this degree and want to make the most of it. As a result, I’m motivated to put myself in positions where I can benefit and grow the most.
Because it’s a graduate program, my classmates are more advanced and motivated as well. I no longer stand out as the high achiever that I did as an undergrad. Everyone is a high achiever now. Similarly, just about everyone asks questions in class on a regular basis. If someone doesn’t ask questions though, you can be assured that it’s not because they’re bored and don’t want to be there like your high school classmates. Maybe they feel more knowledgeable about a particular topic or maybe they’re just a more socially reserved individual. Additionally, for those who actively participate or perform well, there’s respect and congratulations. We all genuinely want to see each other do well.
We also have an online group chat specifically for students. Here we ask each other questions and offer additional support. There’s a message nearly every day. Posts and questions are wide ranging. I’ve seen people ask when an assignment is due, set up group study sessions, invite others to professional networking events or social events, and even ask for personal help. It’s a good group of people that only enhances the overall experience.
When a big assignment is coming due or an exam is looming, it’s not uncommon for half the cohort (graduating class) to show up to the classroom early to discuss and review the material. We ask each other questions and try to help out one another as best we can.
Last week, I stopped in to see one of the professors during the day. It was early and I simply wanted to drop something off. I had an extra calculator and was hoping that my finance professor could give it to someone who could use it. We ended up talking for about twenty minutes. He asked how things were going and if I had any suggestions to improve the program. I made one small suggestion and it was implemented within a week.
Although nobody else realizes where the change came from, I think the class all appreciated it. I mention this not to brag about having power or influence, but respect. There’s mutual respect between faculty, staff, and students. I respect my professors, the career counselor, recruiter, scholarship point person, and administrative personnel. That respect is a two-way road and so when I was asked for my feedback, it was a sincere request, and was taken seriously. My suggestion was implemented not because I have powerful connections, but because I’m respected.
No Longer Intimidated
Over the summer, before the program began, I attended a series of online information and recruitment events. In one such event, they held a raffle which I won. My prize was a textbook that would be used in class. Being proactive, I decided to start reading the book before classes started.
It was a finance book and I honestly found it intimidating and difficult. I didn’t know what I needed to memorize, what was important, and what was contextual information. The more I read, the more overwhelmed I became. Not having a background in business beforehand I had convinced myself that everyone in my cohort would already thoroughly know the material I was now reading. I wondered how I would ever get through this one class, let alone the entire program. I started thinking about what it would look like to have to repeat a course and graduate late. I wondered if I had taken on more than I could handle and if perhaps the program wasn’t right for me. But I didn’t quit…
As classes began and the weeks began to pass, I learned that the textbook was nothing to fear. Our instructor has a way of explaining the material more simplistically than the book and he takes as much time for questions as we need. I’ve never heard him once say, “no more questions, we need to move on”.
The other key is that we’re encouraged to not only learn the specifics of what to do, but to ask ourselves why. For example, instead of just memorizing how to calculate a particular fee charged by a lender or a legal procedure, we discuss the purpose behind it. For me at least, this makes the content more applicable, more logical, and easier to understand. It also makes it easier to remember.
Let me provide a more concrete example. There’s a financial ratio called Debt Service Coverage Ratio that divides net operating income by annual debt service. That’s a bunch of fancy language to memorize. But what it comes down to is asking if the income you generate is able to cover the payments of a loan. So, the coverage ratio asks if what you have coming in can cover what you have going out. To me, that’s a lot easier to understand than memorizing the formula and abbreviation of DSCR = NOI / ADS.
With our first set of midterms behind us, I’m no longer worried about failing. I know that the rest of the road will still be challenging, but I also know that it’ll be manageable. As long as I continue to respect the process, take it seriously, and put in the time to study regularly, I can do this.
I Didn’t get the Job
In an earlier post I mentioned that I decided to start looking for an internship. As part of the interview process for one particular position, I was given an Excel spreadsheet to review. Half of the calculations were already completed, and the other half were missing. My job was to fill in the missing pieces. Because it was an assessment of my current skills, I was instructed not to ask for help or use the internet.
I was able to complete about 80% of the assignment, and I explained that while I was willing to learn how to do the rest that those remaining components were beyond my current abilities. I then met again with the interviewer who went over the assignment with me. Unfortunately, they were looking to hire somebody with more experience; someone who could start right away without needing as much training as I would presumably require.
To be honest though, I wasn’t upset. I was actually proud of myself. Instead of focusing on the 20% of the document that I couldn’t complete, I couldn’t help but be pleased with the 80% that I did complete. I had never done an assignment quite like this before and I knew that had I tried that assignment just a few short months ago, I likely wouldn’t have been able to complete more than 5-10% of it. This was real world evidence that I’ve been learning something.
Working on that assignment for the internship that I didn’t get helped me to realize how far I’ve come since beginning the program. So, the question about whether or not this has been a worthwhile experience for me thus far is an easy one. When I compare where I am today to where I was over the summer, the growth is clear and the progress is evident. Then I remind myself that there are still months to go.