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.
Having been so set on graduate school for so long, I had completely disregarded any other potential options for my post-graduate self. I started to feel that abandoning the foundation I had started to build here would be carless and irresponsible. I was starting to create a “real life,” one that consisted of a lot of ramen and time spent at an underpaying job but was my life all the same and had potential for dreams to be achieved in it… I mean, a byline in Vogue wouldn’t be the worst compensation prize for not starting my dissertation at 23.
Suddenly there were options and subsequently, decisions to make. The second tab open on my computer was the website of a fashion, art and culture magazine that I had recently submitted work to. I felt as if my entire future was resting on the click of a mouse. A career or graduate school?
It wasn’t until maybe the sixth read-through of my personal statement that I realized I wasn’t convinced despite the long list of reasons I had fashioned. And if my own essay couldn’t convince me that I was ready for graduate school and the amount of commitment required to succeed there then nothing would. For once in my life I was going to have to break from the plan, stray from the path and take a risk.
I saved the application one last time before closing the tab confident that though I wasn’t ready now, eventually I would be. I am sure that the time will come that I will have one too many cupcakes thus causing some sort of build up in my throat that will lead to a coughing fit that will eventually require the administration of cough medicine and this time I won’t have a choice because my soul throat will need it. But until then here’s to new plans and new passions and embracing change because we’re young and impulsive and resilient. Graduate school will always be there, but this freedom and this new found courage may not.