I Feel Like I’m Abandoning My Entire Life Plan By Not Going To Grad School

Grad School

It was the night before the application deadline. My cursor blinked beside the final period of my personal statement and I hit save for the 50th time that day. Before me were all the reasons why I wanted to go to graduate school for creative writing, all wrapped up in perfect paragraphs tied with strings I hoped were eloquent and inspired. I read the 1,000 word document again and again, realizing with each and every sentence that this essay wasn’t written for the admission counselors or the alumni–it was written for me.

I always imagined myself going to graduate school. I pictured an old East Coast college prestigious and pretentious, then dreamed up late nights in the library drowning in seas of coffee and books. I could see my oversized glasses and my undersized social life. I welcomed the idea a two-year reprise from reality, replacing an office cubicle with a wood chair beside a round table. The idea of joining academia was always a romantic one shrouded in mystery and wonder. From the time I first discovered I wanted to be a writer, I had planned on going to graduate school.

But here I was, recommendation letters sent, financial aid packages requested, portfolio attached with hands shaking, unable or unwilling to hit submit. Had this not been what I had always wanted? Wasn’t this the next step in the six-year plan I had devised my freshman year of high school?

All of a sudden the reality hit that, should I get into any of the schools I was applying to, I would have no choice but to go (one does not turn down an opportunity to study at Brown or Columbia). In hitting submit I was potentially signing away the next two years of my life. I would be forced to give up the career I was building slowly but surely in fashion journalism and retreat behind the high bookcases of academia with the possibility of never returning.

Though real life turned out to be anything but easy, it did find me writing in New York City. Sure, I wasn’t writing short stories or laying down the foundations for a novel, but I was starting to really enjoy nonfiction writing. While writing fiction is kinda like drinking cough syrup–painful all the way down but worth it when it’s soothing your soul throat–writing non-fiction turned out to be more like eating a cupcake: short and sweet with the potential of a temporary sugar high. The more I wrote personal essays and quippy fashion articles, the more I craved them and the easier it became to picture myself not in oversized optical glasses but in oversized Chanel sunnies standing outside a tent at New York Fashion Week.

Suddenly there was this option of a career that I had never even fathomed before.

You can reach this post's author, Tara Dalbow, on twitter.
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    • Lindsey Conklin

      I can totally relate to this. I’ve applied, for options, but don’t know what I’ll ultimately choose.

    • CMJ

      My brother was always going to go to med school – took the MCATs, applied, did the interviews, got in….and then, he just decided he wanted to do his band full time. He realized he could never be happy being a doctor. He did what felt right to him and it worked out. It hasn’t always been easy (and my parents were upset for about a year) but he’s happy.

      When he’s home from tour he tutors kids in chemistry and maybe he’ll go back to school but right now, he’s doing what he loves and what feels right to him. I think that’s the most important thing in all of this – don’t do something because you think should, do it because you want to.

    • http://carrie-murphy.com/ Carrie Murphy

      Good luck to you on your path, Tara! I got my MFA and am now freelancing and I find that freelance work gives me the time and freedom I need for me to pursue my own creative work. There’s endless debates about creative writing grad school, but I found it an invaluable experience that give me three years to read, write and learn in a community of like-minded people. It was amazing. But everyone is different and it sounds like you made the best decision for you! As you say, school will always be there later.

    • Emma Katherine

      I actually did go to Grad School. I thought it was really my only option, post Undergrad, and it was really the only thing I considered for the last couple of years at University. I did one year of a MA. I finished all of my courses, and then when it came time to start on my thesis, I lost all inspiration and realized I didnt want to be in grad School. I wasted 2 years, and have so many student loans from this, so kudos to you for figuring it out ahead of time!

    • becksss

      I wanted to enjoy this but I couldn’t get past all the grammar and punctuation errors! :(

    • Eileen

      Definitely career. Graduate school – unless you want to be an accountant or something – is ridiculously expensive and probably isn’t going to get you much farther professionally (let’s not talk about the academic job market). Plus if you still want to go a few years from now there are employers that will pay some or all of your costs, if your increased education will benefit the company.