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Photo by Chris Alburger

Course readings available at Harvard COOP. Photo by Chris Alburger

After being in school for 18 years, I happily spent the year after graduating from college babysitting and bartending. Only a few months in, though, I started itching for more school, and this past September I started at HDS. As the semester began, I attended my first classes in over a year. They were full of smart people with interesting things to say about religion, people who were all here for the same reason I was—because they think religion is fascinating, important, and relevant. After being one of two religious studies majors to graduate my senior year, this was a dream—except that after a year without classes, papers, reading, or finals, I forgot how to do school.

I came to HDS with grand plans of getting all my work done in the afternoons and evenings, and having nights and weekends to explore Boston and Cambridge, and I’m still hoping to get closer to that point sometime. But the hardest part of going back to school was remembering that school is hard, and grad school even more so. A friend told me the other day that the difference between grad school and college is that in grad school you spend all your time on schoolwork, whereas in college you split that same amount of time between school, extra curricular, and social activities. It hasn’t been that dire, but I’ve found that starting at HDS required a lot of adjusting, partly because I had been out of school for a year and partly because grad school is just different from undergrad.

The biggest difference that I’ve found is that there is much more reading at HDS than I had in college. Almost every week during the fall semester, I had a book a week for each of my four classes. Unlike in undergrad, I could no longer do my work a day or two before class; instead, even though each class only met once a week, I had to do work every day to stay on top of it. Luckily, though, I loved my classes and found the readings interesting.

Once I got used to carrying reading with me everywhere I went, my other big adjustment was a social life. In college, I spent a lot of time doing work, but also a lot of time with my friends. One of my favorite parts of my time off school was that I could come home from work and be done, which meant that I could visit people and go out to dinner whenever I wanted. I came to HDS and met a lot of fun, interesting people, and I had to figure out the best way to socialize while also not falling behind on my work. Enter the study party. My friends and I often get together with wine, tea, and/or snacks, and sit on the couch at someone’s house doing reading and writing papers, taking short study breaks to share interesting things we’ve read or to have mini dance parties when our brains are on overload. We also combine study breaks with important things like eating dinner, giving our brains a break while we try out delicious Cambridge restaurants, or de-stress by cooking together. The nice thing about being friends with other students is that everyone understands your life, and no one is offended by you reading and underlining while you hang out.

The beginning of my first semester was a difficult adjustment, but by winter break I felt like I had figured out how to balance life, school, and work. If you’re worried about going back to school after some time off, know that a lot of HDS students are in that same boat. It will be an adjustment, make no mistake, but it’s one a lot of us are making, and it’s something you can do. Come in knowing that things will be different and difficult, and you will already be halfway towards figuring it all out. If the going gets tough, or you can’t figure out how to balance things, there are resources for you—Deans, Denominational Counselors, classmates who genuinely care and want to help, Student Mental Health Services, and massages through the Wellness Center. They are here to be made use of, and they all go a long way to making the adjustment easier.