Why I Chose A Cubicle Over Grad School

Do all 20-somethings working in a cubicle dream and/or threaten to go back to school? Grad school is like this greener pasture of hope. Instead of working 9-6 day after day, we have the option of reliving our undergrad years, but perhaps with a tad more maturity. We can go from corporate slave to sophisticated student, if only we take the plunge. It’s our ticket to a fabulous new career, our ticket out of our dead end jobs that sounded better before we were hired.

Last fall, I applied to seven grad schools. I researched for months, made a color-coded spreadsheet, studied and took the dreaded GRE (akin to getting cavities filled without Novocaine), and eventually applied to the top MFA “Nonfiction Creative Writing” programs in reasonable locations (I ruled out Montana and any schools in “the Dirty South.”) My list consisted of three DC schools, two in NYC, UNC Wilmington, and University of Iowa (the best writing program overall). I didn’t know which one I liked the best or if I really liked any of them at all. I just wanted to do something worthwhile with my life. I spent an entire paycheck on writing classes to get my portfolio together, taking the test, printing, mailing, and, of course, application fees, because after all, someone at a desk needs to process the applications and schools need money to pay for advertising, the exact corporate field I was trying to leave.

Finally in May (a full five months after applying), I had rejections from both New York schools, American, and Iowa. I cried when Iowa rejected me, even though I would’ve cried even more if I had to wear a Hawkeyes sweatshirt as a Penn State alum. I was waitlisted at Wilmington and accepted at George Mason and Johns Hopkins in DC. I visited the campuses, didn’t love them, so I moved in with my boyfriend in Jersey City instead.

I realized the university system is also part of corporate America, and that I would be paying (with loans) for something I could do on my own with the proper network. I could take non-credit classes, join writing groups, attend panels and meet real authors every day in Manhattan. Grad school is necessary for some professions, a time to focus on your craft, and it’s right for a lot of people. For me at this point in my life, it made more sense to lead a double life as a writer and a media planner. I don’t resent my day job anymore, because it’s paying for my passion.

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7 Responses to Why I Chose A Cubicle Over Grad School

  1. Katrina says:

    Wow, ellyn! I didn’t realize you did go through with applying to grad schools afterall. I like the ultimate decision: I don’t resent my day job anymore, because it’s paying for my passion.

    I’ve applied to grad schools 3 separate times now:
    1. in 2007
    2. in 2008
    3. in 2009, enrolled, then dropped out

    I’m now actually seriously looking into full-time grad school…but it’s still up in the air.

    awesome blog!

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  3. Nicole Polizzi says:

    Ellyn that is so beautifully written…. I just decided last week I should go to grad school and am now applying although now I am so worried about getting in!

    • ellyn says:

      Thanks, but don’t worry Nica… I was applying to programs where they accept 12 people and it was the peak of the recession so everyone was unemployed and applying! You’ll be fine!!!

  4. Megan says:

    “Grad school is like this greener pasture of hope”

    As a twenty-something (we don’t need to discuss the actual numerical value of “something”) who has never seen the view from a cube, I couldn’t help but come close to hysterics when I read the part about the pasture of hope. I would have started the article about my work v. grad school perspective with “grad school is like a cow pasture…full of cow pies!”. I guess we always want what we don’t have! As I wrap up my last semester of class, I am stepping in fewer cow piles, and learning that they might just serve as natural fertilizer for that green grass (and God help me- a greener paycheck). I wonder if it’s the pasture we should be blaming or if it’s really something else about this phase of quasi-adulthood that leaves many of us feeling trapped, confused, disappointed with the harsh realities of the world, but equally full of hope and empowerment.
    On another note- when describing to my dad that many people go on to Post-Doc positions after grad school, he gave me the following advice.
    Gary: “I suggest that you seriously consider the post-doc program called WORK!”. He’s probably right…

    • ellyn says:

      Gary knows best…. you do kind of have the opposite vantage point of the cubers. 9-6 isn’t so bad, possibly better than the wacky college sleep schedule? But also if you have hobbies, you still don’t sleep, so I dunno. It’s all about balance I suppose. Definitely blame the pasture.

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