Monday, April 17, 2006

Undergraduate to Graduate School

Whitney in West Virginia writes...

I am a junior creative writing major at a very small private liberal arts college in the mountains of West Virginia. In any case, taking a cue from professors, fellow students, and my family, I have begun to look at MFA Programs. I have seen that you recommend “spending a year [or two] working or traveling” after undergrad before applying. Now, I don’t actually have any debt as of now because I have had a full ride here for undergrad, but I’m still not made of money…or opportunities for that matter. Frankly I don’t know what else to do, if I take this recommended break then I feel I will just end up living in a studio apartment and working at the GAP (as my sister did between her journalism degree and going to law school) and I just don’t want that. --My question is, should I really try and take a break or risk hurting my writing? --And if I should, what in the world should I do with myself (as backpacking through Europe or “finding myself” don’t seem to be feasible options as they do not pay the bills)?

I just think it's a bad idea, Whitney. I think students who go straight in get burned out.

Don't work at the GAP. Wait tables, or work a temp job. Work two jobs for ten months, then go traveling for two. It will be worth it.

Oh, to be twenty-one again! Sigh.

Taking a break from writing might hurt your writing. But taking a break from school won't. Be sure to join or start a writer's group, or sign up for a class in continuing education or a community college. Keep involved in writing, but give yourself a break from the rigors of academia. You'll be glad, once you get into an MFA down the line.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Going to grad school just because you don't know what else to do is a pretty bad idea, I think.

I took a year off myself. I travelled abroad but I was able to secure a work permit from an organization called BUNAC. Basically, for 400 bucks, they give you a work permit for the UK good for 6 months. I moved there, started working, made money in pounds, and travelled. When I returned, I had a small financial surfeit and a really good overall experience.

Anonymous said...

I teach English in Japan with the JET Programme, and I highly recommend it if you're at all interested in living abroad. I didn't know any Japanese coming here and that was fine. You make enough money to even save a decent chunk. Most of the time I already feel like I am on some sort of fellowship because I teach so little.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tom about the potential for burnout. Taking time off doesn't mean you have to travel or do something exotic. A taste of the working world might increase your appreciation for the academic world...or it might not. In any case, I think it is good to take the time to find out.

Jason MacLeod said...

I was accepted to Arizona right out of undergrad land. I was excited. Nervous. And ultimately realistic. There was no way in hell that I was ready to go to graduate school. So I moved to Iowa City for 3 years. I worked odds jobs at the university, graded papers of Japanese kids, went to readings at the Writer's Workshop, and even wormed my way into helping out at the Iowa Review. Ultimately, I decided I was ready to re-apply to programs and wound up were I am currently at the University of Montana (fun program btw, and Missoula is frickin beautiful). I don't know how things would have turned out for me in Tucson, but I do know things feel pretty good right now here in the Rockies.

Anonymous said...

Dude, don't just wait one year, or two, wait till you are like 24 or 25 before you go for an MFA. Travel. But don't be a tourist for too long. Find a job and roost in one place for at least a few months. Live in other states. Follow Bob Shacochis' advice to all writers, and Live overseas. And read, read, read, and experience life as much as you can. Don't waste your time sitting in workshops talking about things when you are too young and when you lack the range and depth of experience to call yourself a writer. Get an MFA when you are already a writer and are working on the final stages of polishing your writing and getting ready to start your career.

Sorry if I am being too harsh in my advice. It is only an opinion, but I strongly believe this. While there are exceptions to everything, in most cases, at the age of 21 or so, we all think we are adults, but in almost all cases we know next to nothing about life. There's nothing you can do to know more, you just have to live longer.

miriam said...

Apply to the JET Program, for a Fulbright Fellowship, go work in Antarctica (that'll drive you nuts) on McMurdo AFB, start working now & save up the money to camp/hitchhike/bus around Europe, go to Southeast Asia or Central America where you'll be comparatively wealthy, check The Back Door Guide to Short-Term Job Adventures: Internships, Summer Jobs, Seasonal Work, Volunteer Vacations, and Transitions Abroad out of the library, look on Dave's ESL Cafe for ESL jobs, search for "gap year placements" & get a short-term job teaching in, say, Borneo or Indonesia, which will be worth it in terms of personal development even if you have to pay a bit or absolutely hate it!), volunteer as an interpreter (tour guide) with the US Parks Service, or just move to an intriguing city in the US with a reasonable cost of living and apply for jobs at non-chain stores that are in line with your morals & idiology and really push yourself to explore & meet new people & have good experiences.

It's easy now to imagine these things as being terrifying, expensive, or otherwise impossible. That's not true--it's scary at first, but if you take everything one day at a time, within a month you'll realize the things that terrified you at first are absolutely no problem at all.

Keely said...

I'm going into my senior year as an English major and getting ready to do my own round of applications. I spent my junior year in school part time, hating my second major, and trying to figure out what on earth I wanted to do after graduation. I ended up dropping virtually all of my classes last year along with the second major and essentially taking a year off while still being enrolled in school. Put it this way: I didn't go to class once this semester and I'm pretty sure I failed the only class I had left on my schedule. Not exactly something to be proud of academically, but I finally started learning again. I realized that the only things that make me truly happy are reading and writing, and this is the best way I can think of to follow my passions. I'm excited about school for the first time in two years and I don't think there's any way I'm going to burn out early. Don't go to grad school because you don't have any other plan, especially for something like creative writing. Go because you can't imagine yourself being happy doing anything else. I recommend teaching English in another country or getting a job with Teach for America if foreign lands are too far out of your comfort zone (both of which were on my agenda until I realized it was ok not to get a "practical" degree). Write in your spare time and wait to begin your MFA until you're truly passionate about doing so. Good luck.