Back To (No) School

Oh, friends.  I know it’s been awhile since I posted.  As always, life happens and I find myself procrastinating on posting for days upon days until suddenly weeks past and I just pretend that no time has passed at all when actually it’s been three months.  Thanks to everyone who was still reading, commenting, and emailing me (postcollegiateblog at gmail, if you’re interested) and I hope to be more committed to this blog as the summer melts into fall.

When you’re growing up, late August/early September is always the back of school time of year.  Being the kind of kid who hating playing outdoors and loved the feeling of freshly sharpened pencils in her hand, I loved the back to school rush.  Picking out new supplies, seeing old friends, and the feeling of temperatures dropping below 90 degrees was always a welcomed feeling for me.

After college, the back to school feeling became something different – it became the “going back to school” feeling.  Every fall since I graduated in 2007, friends have announced their intentions to attend medical school or law school or graduate school or air conditioning repair school.  Going back to school has become everyone’s fall back plan and as you probably know, earlier this year, it became mine.  This past spring, I applied to Expensive DC University’s Business School.  I submitted my application just days after being laid off, wished on a bottle of beer, and hoped for the best.

And I got in!  With a scholarship!  And there was much rejoicing.  Until I realized how much this little excursion back to school was going to cost me.  Even with the scholarship (and extra money cajoled out of the department, because I am supremely gifted at manipulating funds), I’d be looking at taking on a loan debt that just felt outrageous.  It would triple my current debt, limit my ability to make money with my new career (more to come on that!), and would drain my savings.  After a few days of reveling in my acceptance and cursing my ancestors for never leaving me a hefty inheritance to cover my educational needs, I had to say no.

That was six weeks ago.  It hadn’t really started to bug me until now.  Scrolling through Facebook, I see the announcements of various acquaintances getting excited about going back to school and their various graduate school acceptances, and I feel a sickening sense of envy.  I could be stocking up on school supplies, scoping out hot professors online and preparing “I’m so tired of studying” tweets but instead, I’m staring down a fall surprising similar to every other fall I’ve faced for the last five years.  I think the thing that’s really getting under my skin is that if this business school acceptance had come to me when I was 22 or 23, I would have said yes in a heartbeat – financial responsibility and loan burden be damned.

I’m proud that I’m being more financially responsible but it worries me that I’m losing that aspect of my personality where I was willing to take big risks.  I’m not as naive as I used to be and I worry that perhaps with the little wisdom I’ve attained in my post-college years, I’ve lost my sense of risk and adventure.  Maybe I should have jumped into this opportunity and worried about the money later.  Or maybe I made the right choice in keeping my nose to the grindstone to work as much as possible and pay down my current school debt.

Or maybe I’m just obsessing because I feel rudderless during a time of year when someone else used to hand me a schedule for the next eight months and tell me exactly what to expect.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Readers, as always, I open this post with an apology for my lack of posting.  February has come and is practically gone so quickly (Happy Leap Day!), I can hardly believe my last post was Valentine’s Day.  That said, I had a very disheartening realization yesterday.

My study habits are exactly the same as they were in college.

I know, this is exactly not exactly the most horrible thing that one can realize about themselves, but it’s definitely thrown me into a bit of an existential tailspin.  Here I am, thinking that I have “matured” and “grown” and “learned stuff” but apparently, I am just an older, slightly rounder version of my college self but with a retirement fund this time.

As you may have surmised lately, I’ve been softening my stance on graduate school and am applying for the MBA program here (thanks, employee tuition benefits!)  After an encouraging meeting with graduate admissions, I gathered together my application materials and felt exceptionally confident that they would be duly impressed with my academic performance, diverse resume, glowing references, and sparkling personality.  The only missing piece is an improved GRE score.

Technically, I could just submit my GRE score from the first time I took it.  At the time, it was a perfunctory task – take the GRE, apply to a few graduate schools, put off my admission to work, never think about the GRE again.  My scores weren’t horrible (especially considering my complete lack of preparation) but they’re certainly not great now.  Plus, the new GRE is preferred by the admission department, so I figured a little bit of effort wouldn’t kill me.

Naturally, I assumed that I would order a couple practice books off the Internet (sidenote:  if you want to feel guilty about ordering inexpensive study aides off the Internet, read this Mother Jones article), block off some serious study time, and use social activities as an incentive.  Sadly, my “serious study routine” has devolved into something closer to this:

  • Spend morning debating whether to haul practice books to work with me.  Decide that I much prefer showing off how quickly I can finish the crossword (in pen!) to my anonymous Metro seatmate and that said book would never fit in my cute work purse anyways.  Toss on bed and forget.
  • Consider visiting the library (job perk – favorite library branch only two blocks away) during lunch and getting in some practice questions but decide that strolling through campus and mentally rating the hotness of different graduate students based on building is a better use of my time
  • Late in the afternoon, I will access the online component to my study book and stare at a quadratic equation question for approximately seventeen minutes before I decide to troll Tumblr for gifs from Happy Endings and Cougar Town
  • On the commute home, I will berate myself for neglecting my future and SWEAR UPON PENALTY OF DEATH that I will buckle down after dinner.
  • Drink bottle of wine with dinner.  Leave study book unopened.
  • Repeat cycle daily.  Occasionally replace bottle of wine with two bottles of wine.

Not only am I frustrated with myself over my lack of commitment to studying, but I’m terrified to realize that this is the exact same pattern I found myself in during college.  In college, I would “study” by dragging a book with me to my favorite divey college bar, order a pitcher, and then proceed to do just about anything except look at that book (examples:  play darts, cajole the bartender for jukebox money, play the jukebox, convince other patrons to play the jukebox, cajole the bartender for naked photo hunt money, play naked photo hunt, convince other patrons…you get the idea).  If nothing else, I wish I had developed new and exciting ways to procrastinate something educational!

The one difference seems to be that back then, I knew that I could always pull off the grade I needed or that eventually, even the bartender would force me to focus on the task at hand.  Now, I’m realizing that perhaps my ability to learn (or, technically, re-learn) certain skills like algebra and geometry may have plateaued and I’m going to have to either embrace my math-related mediocrity or really buckle down in the next four weeks in order to earn that proverbial A.  I also know that no one can make me focus but me.

So, readers, tonight when I get home from work, I am swearing that I will buckle down and spend some time factoring and unfactoring some equations.  You’ll hold me to that, right?

Profile in Post-Collegiate Courage: Tawnya Ravy

Calling courageous post-collegiates! Our interview series is back with a vengeance as a semi-regular blog feature!  Want to nominate a courageous post-collegiate to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom].

I strive to offer different perspectives on this blog, especially considering that this blog is borne out of the realization that I have no idea what I’m doing with my life and where I’m headed.  This week, I wanted to introduce you to my college classmate (and – full disclosure – current roommate/slumlord – just kidding!) Tawnya Ravy.  What makes Tawnya’s perspective so different from mine as she has used the post-collegiate years to work her way through a master’s degree and into a doctorate program at the George Washington University, all while turning around to teach students not much younger than we are!  She was kind enough to share a little advice on taking the higher education post-college path.

Tawnya, from undergraduate leader to doctoral candidate and teacher in just a few years

Hello, roomie!  For those readers who do not share a domicile with you, would you mind sharing a little about yourself.

I am originally from California, but I have now lived on the East Coast almost as long as I lived on the West Coast. I just turned 26 years old and now live in Fairfax, VA.  As you know, I attend Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia and then straight into the graduate program at GWU.   I originally wanted to pursue law but majored in English and never looked back.  

You had a pretty impressive resume coming out of college, especially with being Student Body President.  What was your initial plan when we graduated?
Luckily, my plans were pretty much set on the last day of college because I was accepted into the GWU English Graduate Program. My plan was to pursue a PhD. in literature.  I had ambitions to finish my PhD early as well as harbored dreams of traveling and teaching abroad.    I thought that graduate school would give me the flexibility and credentials to do so but have learned that finding the time was more difficult than I imagined because it eats your life!
I know a lot of our fellow classmates, as well as students across the country, who choose to wait a few years for graduate school.  What made you decide to go right away?  Do you have any regrets?
The fall before I graduated college, I was planning on attending law school. Half-way through an application process, I realized that I did not have enough passion for law to make it worthwhile. Luckily, I was already majoring in English because someone told me that it was the best preparation for the amount of reading/writing required in law school. I discussed my options with a trusted professor who suggested I begin applying to graduate schools right away. My first choice was GWU, and I heard from them fairly quickly in the application process. So far, I do not have any regrets about beginning graduate school right away, especially because I thrive in academia and was able to utilize my undergraduate experience right away, building off those four years’ of momentum.
Since I witness your day-to-day life up close, I am always impressed by the balance you strike between school (graduate classes, dissertation research) and work, which for you is teaching 2-3 classes a semester.  How do you maintain that balance and choose what opportunities to pursue?
I am flattered that you think I have struck a balance. It is much better now than it was when I first started. I was working over 40 hours a week in an unpleasant working environment while maintaining a full course load in my first year of graduate school. I realized quickly that this could not continue if I wanted to succeed in my program, so I moved back with my parents for a little while.  Now that I have an M.A. I am able to teach and continue my studies, but the fact remains that my teaching load often trumps my graduate work – something that will only get tougher down the road.
Having so much on your plate, what things have you wanted to pursue but haven’t been able to yet?
I have been fairly blessed in that I have been able to do most of what I set out to do. I am sure I had some wonderful, crazy ambitions in college to take a month’s road trip around Europe, but I have ultimately been satisfied with a week’s trip here and there. The one thing, right now, that I would love to do is teach college abroad for a year or two. I loved living abroad in college, and I want that experience again before I settle down in my adult life. The trick will be timing – when exactly to do this in the never-ending process of obtaining a PhD.
It could seem that things have gone smoothly for you – straight from college to a graduate program with teaching opportunities on the side.  But there are challenges on every post-collegiate path – can you share some of yours

Tawnya, with fellow graduate school scholars, enjoying the District's signature cherry blossom season


I would say that graduate school itself has been a great challenge, as it is for most people, but especially because I have been completely unfunded from day one. The biggest challenge for me has been achieving that desire to support myself while going to graduate school full time. Now it has evolved into balancing the desire to teach a full load and to make progress on my graduate work. At the moment, this is further complicated by the fact that I am receiving little support or guidance from my advisers. I am proud of what I have accomplished so far, but as I enter the dissertation-writing stage of my program, I am more than a little anxious about the challenges to come.
Something tells me that you are more than up to the challenge!  Obviously strong planning and hard work have contributed to your success but do you have any examples of random happenstance that have helped bring you here?
When I began the graduate program, I was fairly confident in my ability to do scholarly work, but, as an unfunded student, there was no opportunity to try my hand at teaching. One day I received a fairly random email about an interview process for new M.A. holders – a teaching opportunity. I arrived to meet my future boss with no idea what I would do in the classroom. The fact that, despite my obvious inexperience and lack of preparation, he still gave me a job is a miracle. It was this opportunity that convinced me that I have chosen the right profession. After teaching for two semesters, I had an “aha” moment when I realized that I would love nothing better than teaching at the college level.

Last week, when I interviewed Sara, she shared a couple books that inspired her own writing.  As the resident literary expert and book buff, is there a book that you think encapsulates the post-collegiate experience?

This is going to sound weird, but I often think of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim when I think of my own post-collegiate life. Officially trained for one career, Kim ends up in an entirely different role which, although exciting and rewarding, threatens to compromise his true nature and his path to a higher calling. I realize that there are many books about newly graduated people facing a new, “real” world, but Kim is the novel which, for me, speaks to the fundamental compromises we all make upon entering adulthood.

Tawnya and I, in an obligatory roommate photo at a recent luau-themed soiree

My gratitude for Tawnya for taking time out of her ridiculously busy schedule to share all this with the blog (I guess I owe her a dinner now…)  Interested in more graduate student advice?  Feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section and I’ll be sure that Tawnya answers them!

In Today’s Obvious and Soul-Crushing News

Anyone who has graduated from college in the last five years will be not-shocked-at-all to learn that the bachelor’s degree that you worked so hard for (assuming you define work by drinking a lot and studying a little) and racked up thousands of dollars in debt for is not special at all.  That’s right – you are just one of millions upon millions of young 20-somethings with a bachelor’s degree and it will do next to nothing in helping you find a job.

“But wait!” – you cry – “I made a smart decision after finishing my bachelor’s in Televisionary Studies at Elite Liberal Arts College and obtained a Masters in Sitcomery/Tumblr Marketing.”  Oh, poor little graduate school-attending fool – that degree is also worthless as well.  According to the New York Times (harbinger of bad news for postcollegiates), the job market is now flooded with young people desperately grasping master’s in their hands.  To put it into numbers, 2 in every 25 people over the age of 25 have a master’s – the same proportion of people who had bachelor’s degrees in the 1960s.  Again, not surprising if you’ve been to a happy hour any time in the last five or six years but depressing numbers all the same.

So, to recap the things you already knew:

1.   A bachelor’s degree is meaningless but you still need to drop some serious dough to get one.
2.  You probably won’t get a job with that bachelor’s, so you need to either marry rich (fingers crossed!), live at home forever, or get a master’s degree.
3.  Even your master’s degree is pretty meaningless but you still need to drop some serious dough to get one.
4.  We all sit and weep awhile.
The full article is worth a full read, especially if you want little nuggets like the fact that even MBAs are too broad to help you land a job now or the prediction that in 20 years, janitors will need PhDs.  Or, you know, you can just go cry in a corner for a bit.

Friday Frivolity

By this time next week, I’ll be recuperating from a huge Thanksgiving meal and enjoying a much-deserved break from work.  Yes, having worked five days straight means I need a break!  It’s hard transitioning from couch-living blogger to worker bee!

Since I’m so worn out from actual “working” and “productivity” in addition to getting acclimated to the big city, I’m going to take it easy for this post and simply point you to a blog that I enjoy.

100 Reasons NOT To Go To Graduate School

My thoughts on graduate school have been discussed before but I enjoy this blog’s tongue-in-cheek look at all the reasons why a sane person would never, ever get involved with such a crazy endeavor.  Although one graduate student I know read the blog and commented that those were some of the reasons they chose graduate school, so there’s that.

My favorite reason?  You have to deal with the condescending question of “you’re still in school?  at your age?”  That has to be almost as bad as “so, what do you do?

Current graduate students, what do you think of this list?  Hilarious or depressing?  What would you add?

Learning Curves on the Career Path

Great article from the NY Times on the importance of continuing education in staying relevant in today’s job market.  While my resistance to graduate school is well-documented, I do believe that there’s a strong case for continually learning new technologies, new field techniques, and educating yourself.  I am a champion of life-long learning and I appreciate the way the article looks at both traditional and non-traditional post-graduate education.

Nice effort from Steven Greenhouse but most enjoyed the comments section.  Speaking of comments, leave your thoughts here!