Monday, August 6, 2012

Is Grad School Worth It? Part 2

I attended Goddard College from January 2007 until I left with degree in January 2009. Two years. Now, after months of thinking about it, I realize that graduate school went on longer, much longer than my tenure at Goddard College.

The end of graduate school just happened. It happened in recent days. I mark the true end to grad school this month, August 2012 because I paid off my grad school student loan. Wow, impressive, is the response I usually get when I tell people that I paid off my $30,000 student loan in three years. But, and I can tell you, it really isn't all that impressive. I took out the minimum loan amount for the first three semesters, I paid the last semester with cash. And of the 38 months I spent paying down the loan, I was in deferment for six, I paid the minimum payment for just over a year. When I got serious about the loan, it was June 2011 and I owed $26,500. In short, I paid off the entire thing in 14 months. Sadly, I did not pay off the loan with the money I earned as a writer or as a teacher, the two job opportunities available for those who hold the MFA in writing. I paid this loan off by working as a waiter, limiting my expenses and living well under my means which is somewhere below the poverty line. Why? Because this is what a student should do, and up until this loan was paid in full, I considered myself a student.

So, the ever broadening view of my grad school timeline:
January 2007 began the Goddard College program
January 2009 completed the program
August 2012 finished paying on my student loan.

Now, if I pinpoint the completion here in August of 2012, three years, eight months after graduation, when was my start date? Well, it may have started in January 2007 when I rolled onto campus. The start date could be October 2006 when I got accepted. Perhaps June 2006 when I applied? Or how about April 2006 when I first held the application? Or to the last extreme, perhaps I started grad school in October 2005 when, as I stated in my first graduate school entry, Juliana told me I should go.

So, the process of graduate school? From October 2005 when it was first suggested to me until August 2012 when I paid the student loan. That's six years and ten months. That's the whole time line. I believe I am a very different person, and indeed, a very different writer than I was seven years ago. It has been a process of growth, discovery and professionalism. And in that time, I have written a great deal of work. But of that seven years, I've done most of my work post graduation—in short, if you want to know what I've done click the NOVELS page. And that what I've done since 2009.

Ultimately speaking, yes, graduate school is worth it. It's worth the expense, even if you pay it off living like a pauper and waiting tables. My advice to anyone looking at the prospect of graduate school and the MFA in writing specifically: limit your expenses, borrow the smallest amount needed and have clear goals of what you want to accomplish. The limit on expenses and the smallest loans needed will sure limit financial stress on the other side of graduation when the job market, job opportunities and daily burdens are unknown. This should be basic personal financial management, but I think it too often gets overlooked. And as far as clear goals of what you want to accomplish? I just wanted to kick my writing up to the next step, I wanted to write more, work more, be more.

I have not been disappointed.

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