Did I Waste My Time in Grad School If I End Up in Another Profession?

Many a  professor laments the directionless meandering of the modern graduate student. In bygone days, men and women would go to graduate school because they were certain of their desire for a profession, be it archeology, English, or physics . But nowadays more students seem to be using grad school education in a different field than the one for which they trained. So if you’re considering further studies it’s worth thinking about how you will react if you end up in a different profession.

An Unexpected Change in Direction

I began seminary (grad school for pastors) twice. I went for one year in 2007-2008 and then I went back to my first profession in public education. After three years, I started seminary again and finished four years later with a Master in Divinity degree. Starting both times involved an exhausting and prolonged process of figuring out what I thought I was best suited to do and what kind of theological training would be most helpful. I thought I knew my calling. I wanted to be a full-time pastor. I wanted to preach and teach the Bible. I wanted to serve in the local church and shepherd people with biblical truth. It turns out after five years of seminary and three years of a church internship, I may not, in fact, be called to be a pastor.

Toward the end of my seminary experience I realized that being a full-time pastor wasn’t the way in which I could best serve the church. Along the way in my theological education I realized that I have some entrepreneurial skills that lend themselves to breaking new ground in innovative works. Churches (unless they are relatively new) tend to be conservative by nature. They want to preserve truth, members, and tradition. These are not bad tendencies, but I found I could be more helpful in pioneering works.

In addition, I noticed that throughout seminary I had several opportunities to preach from a pulpit, but I had many, many more opportunities to teach in a variety of settings. So I had to look at the doors God was opening and decide where he was leading. Ultimately, I decided to enter into more schooling. I’ll be starting a PhD program soon so I can continue getting equipped to become a professor one day. Since I started school thinking I would be a pastor, but I exited thinking of another vocation, did I waste my time in graduate school? Of course not.

Your Plans, God’s Plans

God has a plan to which we aren’t always privy. We may think God is leading us one way and it turns out he’s moving us in a different direction. It’s the same with grad school. I stress that you should have a conviction toward your particular field. Graduate school is not the kind of commitment you want to make if  think you’d be just as content doing something else. Advanced education is costly in terms of time, money, and effort. So it’s not something to enter into on a whim. But it’s not a failure or a bad investment if, during grad school, you realize you can serve in a different way.

That’s good advice for the rest of life, too. We can start new jobs or internships, enter into new relationships, and begin new projects assuming we have a clear idea of what we want to do. Then it becomes apparent that we have to pivot. If that’s the case, I’d say your endeavor was still fruitful. No one can possibly predict how a new experience will change them, but it’s the doing that counts.

The courage to follow your conviction, enter into the unknown, and see what happens may lead you to gorgeous and unexpected destinations. Do your best to discern your unique ability to serve God and others. Then commit to a course of action. Trust God to use your decisions to accomplish His will and what’s best for you. Even if you end up somewhere unpredictable, the journey will have been worth it.

4 thoughts on “Did I Waste My Time in Grad School If I End Up in Another Profession?

  1. It is good to focus attention on the issue of the goal of preparation, and the sooner, the better. I was in the seventh year of my 3-year MDiv program when the school gave some standardized tests related to ministry. Unfortunately, the tests suggested that my personality was not suitable for being a pastor. This knowledge was devastating in its timing in my life, because I had been a stated supply pastor for three years, and the church had doubled in size, and I appeared to be well on my way to becoming a pastor. The details of the tests’ results indicated that my personality was one that was prone to split churches, and sure enough, that is what happened! There would now be two congregations, divided families, and much bitterness. Although my MDiv was completed, neither of the congregations felt that calling me as their full-time pastor was a good idea. If those tests had been given in my first year, perhaps I would have been prepared for a change in direction by the time I graduated. Perhaps I would have already changed my focus towards higher education as you have. But I fell from grace, descended to the bottom of the valley, and devastated my family because of my short-sightedness and failure to grasp God’s vision for using my gifts. I pray that many others will be able to read your story and learn from it.

  2. This is excellent. Very encouraging. I am in a similar place. I, too, have an MDiv. I thought I would be a pastor, however its now a year since I have graduated, and God has not opened that door. Recently, I have had a strong desire to continue my education dealing with the intersection of Theology and Science. Not sure what this will look like though… Thanks for the post.

  3. Thank You for posting this. I have recently graduated from Seminary, although the degree was not a MDiv it was just MAR, but my situation is that I have worked in the secular world for my entire career. I have been doing volunteering work at my church for several years but there has not been any doors opening for me. I have attempted to get into various pastoral positions, but none of which has worked out. It has become extremely frustrating.

    I am starting to consider is it possible that I simply went into seminary to justify or solidify my relationship with Christ? Pursuing Grad school did cause additional debt, and not working within the field has given me the feeling. I do not want to be that person with a graduate degree and not doing anything with it.

    I have considered further education, but it is very difficult with 2 children and a wife who feels that it may not be in the best interest due to financial impacts it will cause.

    When I converted my life to Christ in 2010, it was as if my eyes were opened but yet life became more difficult but in a good way.

  4. Bill White II, there are some other details in my story that may be encouraging to you. I was a first generation college student and really had no idea why I was there. I chose Chemistry as my major because I had done well in two years of Chemistry in high school, and had been selected by our teacher to be lab assistant in my senior year. Also, my best friend chose Chemistry. I had no idea what I was preparing for, or even that I was preparing for something!

    I had burnout by my junior year (sophomore slump) and ended up changing my major to Geology. Since I had no idea what to do with a Geology degree, I decided to go to graduate school, supported by a teaching assistantship in the Geology department.

    At the end of my senior year, I took a course in computer programming in FORTRAN, not because I was interested, but because a friend wanted me to help him in the class.

    As I twiddled away the next ten years in graduate school (never finishing the thesis), I found many jobs searching me out because of my programming knowledge. Literally! I never had to go through a traditional job search. God always provided.

    Now, I am old, and have learned that I should have pursued a goal. I should have discovered my gift(s) and searched out God’s purpose, and set a goal based upon my gift(s) and what I enjoyed doing. Then, I should have found out what skills were needed to be excellent in that purpose. Then I should have made a plan and taken steps to deliberately acquire those skills and be becoming the person God was gifting and calling me to be.

    God always supplied a means of getting what our family needed. I failed him many times, but he never failed me! Maybe you will be the proactive one and follow my good advice, or maybe you will, instead, follow my example of just backing into whatever comes along, but the point to remember is found in Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding; in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. KJ21

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