For those of you in your last year(s) of college and are considering graduate school, I though I’d share some of my feelings about my experience in a masters program. College was a lot of fun: there was the occasional party, I met life long friends, and I learned some really interesting things, but it came no where near to the personal and academic rewards of graduate school. Basically, the same kinds of things happened, they were just more focused.
Graduate school in general—Grad school was excellent in the academic/educational arena. I didn’t have one survey course, I didn’t take a single multiple choice exam, and I never had to do worksheets. Sure, all of my assignments were 3 – 20 pages of work (in an MFA, where the work is creative and requires crazy amounts of revision, we didn’t write long essays very often—I never did, really), I had to explain why I was doing very specific things in my work, and everything I did was based on the assumption that it would eventually be published, but hey, those are really small stresses when you’re doing something you love.
Grad school specificity— The really great thing about getting your masters is that basically every class you take and all the work you do is geared toward your focus, your genre, or your area of expertise. Not one of my classes was in a different college or with a professor I didn’t see on a regular basis in the halls, at readings, or at other university functions. I got to know my professors really well, and the better they got to know me the more they helped me figure out what the hell it was I wanted to study for my thesis.
Cool people—For me, college classes and life on campus was aa maze of hectic people noises where everybody was looking for those few people who were interested in similar things as them. Sometimes it was difficult not to get mixed up with people I ultimately had nothing in common with. Grad school is pretty much the opposite. I’m not saying that every person you meet will be your best friend. Actually, I pride myself on meeting an arch-nemesis during different times in my life: one in high school, one in college, and one in grad school. It is, however, easier to spot the people who view life in similar ways and who you can have a real connection with. You find that most people in your program are weirdos just like you, and a few of them are totally weird enough to make friends with.
Sense of accomplishment—Since finishing my program a few months ago I’ve felt really great about what I did. I worked super hard, I learned a lot, I grew as a person and as a writer, and I finished a big goal that I set out to do. College was pretty fantastic, too. I remember smiling all day when I graduated. But this time around, I feel like I stepped up my game enough to have proven to myself and the people in my life that I can do exceptional things (not to mention that I actually know something about poetry, that ever elusive and malleable thingness). It was worth it. The piece of paper that says so is one thing, but personally I know I made it through a lot of work.
Nothing can dampen an collegiate accomplishment, whether you’re graduating from your undergrad or grad degree program. For me, both enhanced the way I live my life and how I view the world. College was its thing, and graduate school was its also. At this point, I’m just looking forward to the next step and whatever weirdos and work await me.
(If you’re thinking about applying and you haven’t been looking into schools and their programs, start doing it now! You will have a lot of putting together of application materials, believe me. Start asking professors for letters of recommendation, start drafting your letter(s) of intent, and get to it. Deadlines are usually in December or January, but don’t wait until the last minute or the stress will be difficult to handle.)