My path to IEDP was a bit unconventional. For one thing, my undergraduate degree was in classical music. For another, I received that degree twenty years ago. It was a winding road that brought me here, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
For the past fifteen years I’ve worked in standardized test prep, both as a teacher and teacher trainer. I worked with programs that provided test prep to economically disadvantaged students in NYC; I also worked internationally for my company’s offices in Taiwan and Thailand.
While my work did help students gain access to educational opportunities, I eventually realized I wanted a career that would affect change on a broader scale, ideally in an international context. More specifically, I wanted to focus my career on issues related to refugee and emergency education.
Time to make a change
I knew a graduate degree would be necessary for any career transition, but my plans were still amorphous, and I did not want to make a serious investment of time and money without having a clear goal in mind. In the summer of 2019, as I was finishing up a teaching contract in Thailand and preparing to return to the US, I reached a tipping point. I knew I had been putting off determining a path forward, in part, because I was afraid of making a significant change at this stage of life. But putting it off was not making me any younger – just the opposite, in fact. It was well past time to determine my next move.
Google is your friend
I knew I wanted to continue working in education, but not in the classroom. I also knew I wanted to work internationally. And I understood the huge role that policy plays in addressing the structural inequities in education. So, as others have done before me, I googled “international education policy” just to see if that could provide some inspiration. To my surprise, my search returned a myriad of programs both in the US and abroad. The options were overwhelming, but luckily Google sheets was there for me in my time of trial. I highly recommend spreadsheets to anyone researching grad school. It was a great way to keep track of important dates and requirements, but it also gave me a quick way to evaluate the relative strengths of the programs I was considering. I had a spreadsheet for every step of the process: initial research, application tracking, and deciding between programs once I had been accepted. These spreadsheets even had a life beyond my own application cycle, as I’ve shared them with friends who are now going through this process.
Imposter syndrome rears its ugly head
UPenn was the school I was most interested in, yet it was the last application I submitted. I thought there was no way I would be accepted into the program because I didn’t have any experience in development, and I didn’t think I had the qualifications for an Ivy League school. I applied anyway, challenging myself to move past my fears. Because it was the last application I submitted, it was also the last school from which I received an acceptance. While I did my due diligence and weighed my options (using my amazing spreadsheets), I think my decision was really made the moment I read my acceptance letter. IEDP simply had everything I was looking for in a program.
When I began the research process I knew that my dream program would provide practical skills, career development, an interdisciplinary curriculum, and an integrated internship component. IEDP provides all this, plus an intentional cohort model. I knew that approach would fit my learning style; I never could have predicted how crucial it would be in light of the pandemic. The way the faculty has fostered community building during this chaotic and stressful time has been truly remarkable and has provided an invaluable level of support.
I can’t deny that the prospect of returning to school in my forties was scary. Although we’re only half-way through the semester, I can honestly say that going back to school is the best decision I’ve ever made.
My advice to prospective applicants, especially those who may have been out of school for a long time: don’t impose limits on yourself. Be bold, embrace the uncertainty and challenges of the process, and don’t let fear of change hold you back. And of course, most importantly, use spreadsheets early and often!