Ten years after having earned a bachelor's degree, I decided to go back to school for my master's. I had some reasons for earning a higher degree, but what I got out of the program turned out to be a bit different from what I'd expected.
Yes, I did learn more about my chosen field of study, but I also walked away with three very valuable realizations.
What Grad School Was Good For:
1) I learned how much I didn't know. When I started grad school, I went in with quite a bit of foundational knowledge (or so I thought). Grad school opened my eyes to the wealth of everything that I didn't know. It felt a little scary.
2) I narrowed what I wanted to learn. With the realization that there was so much to learn, I struggled with feeling overwhelmed. Every reading and research choice that I made would mean excluding other options. There was no way I was going to be able to learn ALL THE THINGS! Eventually I found myself naturally gravitating toward a few select topics, allowing my understanding in those areas to deepen. My interest and research in these specific areas continues with no end date in sight.
3) I realized that I could write -- really write. During my time in grad school, more than a few professors commented that they'd actually enjoyed grading my papers -- that they'd learned new things. They made specific comments not just about the information included, but also about style, tone, and expression. These men and women probably have no idea how much their comments meant to me, but I owe them a debt of gratitude.
Although the path wasn't always smooth, the struggles added value as well: I learned to stand by my comma choices and defend my original ideas with firmness and grace. Both of these experiences continue to stand me in good stead as I learn to navigate the publishing world.
As grateful as I am for the subject matter gleaned during my time in grad school, I'm just as thankful for the life lessons that the experience provided.