5 Questions You Must Ask Yourself Before Applying To Graduate School

Flickr / katrinalopez. (trying to make a comeback)
Flickr / katrinalopez. (trying to make a comeback)

In a typical late 20-something style, I am still searching for the meaning of my life. In desperation and confusion I applied to graduate school in hopes that student debt would repel me forward into the correct direction of my life.

I gathered letters of recommendation, various written works that I had stockpiled away on my old college laptop. I got all my previous college transcripts uploaded to their electronic application. Then came the GRE test. The Graduate Record Examination, it is similar to the SAT that high school students take to be given a fair aptitude number in the application process. Just as all high schools are different as are universities, so given a three digit number from the GRE test allows for graduate programs to better assess your intellect in the program.

I studied. Then studied some more. I do admit that sitting down and studying again was a challenge all in itself. Five years after college had given me the freedom to binge watch shows, enjoy happy hours and do whatever I desired after five o’clock.

My scores weren’t as strong as I had hoped, but with only mere weeks away from the application deadline, I had to apply regardless of the score.

I submitted the application a few days prior to the deadline and then it was up to me to wait. I waited for someone to tell me my future for the next two years.

Over the next six weeks that I waited for the decision from the graduate program to tell me my fate, I realized that was what I was hunting for all along. I didn’t have to make any decisions for those six weeks. It was up to the program to admit or deny me. I wasn’t in charge.

The more I sat and wondered, the more evident it became that applying to graduate school may have been my way of coping out of making any major decisions about my passion to write for a living.

Save yourself time and effort by asking yourself these five questions.

1. Does the degree provide you with the possibility of a significant pay increase?

Most graduate schools are not cheap and offer most classes during the day hours. This translates into less hours of daylight for your professional job that is actually paying you money to be in the office. While education is an investment, it should be researched and considered whether the degree will catapult your indispensability or make you just another Master’s degree recipient.

The long hours at school will not only take away time from the office, but also force your mind to be less focused at work as school deadlines creep up each quarter.

2. Who or what are you getting your degree for?

The obvious answer is for yourself and your own well-being. Is that the real honest answer? I thought I was applying to sharpen my creative craft and write in a more succinct and clear manner. As I hold the rejection letter in my clammy hands, what I was looking for might not have been what the degree offered. Validation. I was looking for someone to tell me I was good enough and to pat me on the back. I wanted recognition that I was doing something right and what I had to offer was something I was good at.

I’ve come to realize that if I keep searching for someone or something to give me the validation I am seeking, it can be taken away just as easily as it was given. I have to find the strength and validation in my own work to really develop my passion. So ask yourself, are you seeking validation or a pat on the back from scholarly strangers?

3. What do you expect to achieve once you graduate?

I imagined myself holding an acceptance letter instead of a rejection letter to truly see what this degree could offer me beyond a classroom setting. I imagined myself earning my Master’s degree, two years of hard work had passed and even more writing behind me I stare at my pseudo Master’s degree, framed above my desk. I am in the same place that I am currently, but have proven to myself that I can earn this piece of paper on the wall. I haven’t had a chance to write a novel. I have been melding my craft and am still looking for that one story idea that I love.

An MFA or graduate degree doesn’t guarantee anything in return. It allows for prestigious bragging rights, and hopefully classes would have brought my perspective into view me.

4. Could you do all of this without going into debt?

Since receiving my rejection letter, it has sparked my interest in finding a more roundabout way of honing my skills. I have joined a writing group and enrolled in a writing course to get in touch with what I want out of my writing career.

If you want something bad enough, it takes a lot more than a letter from a graduate program denying your admittance to get in the way of what you feel is your true calling. Although notoriety goes a long way in the publishing business, I need to find my validation first. I need to achieve some confidence as a writer. I can’t let one piece of paper dictate what my life will entail, because in the end the only thing that I have is my determination to pursue my passion. It is difficult to perfect a passion, but you have to make time and fall in love with it everyday. Some days it may take everything in you to wake up hours before work to perfect your dream, but if it were easy it wouldnโ€™t be worth anything.

5. Will you apply?

I admire people who constantly learn and grow. I am someone who loves to learn and is intrigued by others who do the same. I am not advocating against graduate school, but it must be a decision that is made solely for you. You will be the one up late at night finishing drafts, projects or presentations.

If you applied and didnโ€™t get in it isnโ€™t the end of your career, it is just the beginning. Use the rejection as a catapult into changing your attitude and making your own path without the need for a framed degree on a wall. The opportunity for a degree will always be there, but the inspiration to create something beautiful only lasts so long. TC mark

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