Some thoughts on grad school (fifth time’s the charm?)

I’m thinking about grad school again (cue extensive groans). I know, I know. You’ll believe it when you see it. When pigs fly. When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, when the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves…*

I keep telling myself I’ll lose interest any day now because, honestly, that would be easier (and expected). But when I think about the reasons I lost interest in years past – fear, doubt, lack of motivation – I don’t feel hindered in the same way. Not that I don’t still have fear and doubt or am particularly motivated, but still, it seems different this time. I was doomed to fail every other time because, in hindsight, I was not emotionally ready or responsible enough to make such a big decision, and as such I didn’t spend enough time thinking about the things that really mattered, like funding, location, faculty, and what I would do when the program ended. Until now, the only thing I based my decision on when it came to choosing a program was how much praise I’d get when I told people I’d been accepted. Which is another way of saying that all I cared about were the schools’ rankings.

I’m older and (hopefully) wiser now, and choosing which schools to apply to – choosing to apply at all – is much more complicated. I’m already $80,000 in debt from my undergraduate education. This debt has impacted almost everything I’ve tried to do, get, or buy in my adult life. I wouldn’t trade the education I got through the Writer’s Institute at Susquehanna University for anything (except maybe a winning lottery ticket; I’m not an idiot). But I also won’t ever make the mistake of taking out a student loan, not even a small one, again. So with that in mind, some of the best MFA programs for creative nonfiction are already out of the question. To know that I will never study under Phillip Lopate or Jo Ann Beard – or even find out whether or not I could have – hurts. A lot. But I (literally) cannot afford another $80,000 mistake. And that’s why the fact that it is March 16 – well-past even the latest application deadlines for Fall 2016 admission – is a blessing, and an indicator that I might actually be serious this time. With nearly a year to think about it, I might actually have time to get a portfolio together AND ask for recommendation letters (tail firmly between my legs) AND do the important work I’ve never bothered to do before: make a sensible list of fully-funded schools located in cities I can afford. With stipends. And fellowships. And a publishing component. And faculty members who write books I actually want to read. And a website that proves the program thinks creative nonfiction is a real genre rather than something any fiction writer or poet can pull off without having to study it (I’m not bitter). 

And hey. It’s possible that a program like that doesn’t exist. In which case I won’t be going to grad school. 

More to come.

* Quote courtesy of George R.R. Martin, in case you thought I was actually trying to be poetic.

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