It’s the end of February in my last semester of undergrad, and I’m feeling the range of emotions that you might expect. Excitement, anxiety, restlessness, fear, sadness…and that’s just from this week alone.
As the days dwindle down until commencement in May, the only question that anyone can think to ask any graduating college student is, “What are you doing after this?” Some are staying in their current programs an extra semester or two, some are propelling right into the workforce and others — like me — have just sent in their applications to master’s programs at other universities. No matter what your post-New Paltz plans are, once you spill them to someone, you are going to be met with a myriad of unwarranted opinions.
When I tell people that I plan on going to graduate school for journalism, I expect to get a couple of reactions at this point. The main one is what I call the “golden question” — “Why?” Usually followed up with zingers such as “It’s a waste of money,” “It’s better to start working right away” or — my favorite — “Just take a gap year,” the only thing that most people want to know is what compelled my apparently sick and twisted mind to pursue higher education.
First and foremost, I totally respect the decision to be done with school after undergrad. Getting your master’s degree is not necessary at all to have a successful career. It’s personally something that I want to do, but I understand that my path isn’t like everyone else’s. Going off of this, my path also doesn’t affect anyone else’s, so I don’t understand the immediate shootdown after I tell it to someone. I am serious about my career in journalism, and I feel like I have much more to learn. The SUNY New Paltz DMJ department laid an excellent foundation of journalistic basics for me, and being a member of this beautiful paper has allowed me to gain tons of hands-on experience, but by applying to specific arts writing programs, I aim to perfect my writing style for the arts & entertainment career I dream of.
Another reason for my master’s journey is location. I love this tiny town with all of my heart, and its rich music scene has allowed me to make some important connections, but there is so much more waiting for me in the New York City scene. All of the schools I’ve applied to are located in the five boroughs, and I plan to move back home to Staten Island — commuting to classes while attending whatever one I choose to save myself from inflated Manhattan rent. I have a lot of friends who are working in the NYC music scene, and I’m itching to come back home and start making connections while learning more in school. Perhaps my classes will lead me to make some cool projects regarding music and artists, and maybe even help with meeting more helpful people.
Even though I adore New Paltz and everything about it, I realize that I cannot stay forever. “If you love something, set it free,” reads that cheesy saying, and New Paltz must let me go before I overstay my welcome. I’ve seen people come here and never leave, and as much as I dream of being a 30-year-old townie sharing words of wisdom to collegiate-aged kids on the back patio of Snug’s — and that’s only half sarcastic — I have to move on before I am forever stuck. I just turned 21 in December, and there is still so much in this world I have to see. Going to grad school gives me a good reason to leave this cocoon and blossom forward. I know that at the end of the day, I’ll always have a home here, but I long to find myself in other parts of the world too.
Now, let’s talk money. I am aware that I am very lucky and privileged to have the opportunity and resources to even apply to graduate school in the first place. It is something that not everyone can experience, and because I have this ability, I want to take as much advantage of it as I possibly can. People have told me that it’s going to be a waste of money, but, at this point, what isn’t? We spend too much on drinks at the bar. We buy that shirt we don’t really need. Everything is so expensive and we live in a capitalistic hellhole. (Okay, I’m not this cynical in reality, but it’s kind of true!)
I was very hesitant about getting a job in journalism right after graduation because I knew that a saga of struggling to find freelance gigs, being overworked and underpaid and serious position-searching awaited me. In addition to that, it’s a competitive field and having more degrees looks really good on resumes. Do I agree that’s the way things should be when it comes to qualifications? No. Have I accepted that that’s going to be what I do anyway? Yes.
It may sound like getting my master’s is not something that I want to do, but something I feel forced by society to do, but I assure you that this negativity is only a small portion of what’s going into my decision. I genuinely love being a student and learning new things, and wish to be in that position for as long as I possibly can. I cannot wait to meet new professors and peers from a wider variety of concentrations and places, and to broaden my horizons even more. Naysayers have advised me to take a gap year, but I know once I take that break from the school system, I’m afraid that I’ll never find the motivation to return. I’m considerably young for my grade level, and will only be 23-24 by the time I finish. It excites me to know that I will still be in my early 20s with the world at my fingertips — having even more time to explore all I want to.
You might still be convinced that I’m wasting my time and money, but if that’s a deep rooted belief you have, I’m not gonna save you. Who knows; maybe you’re right and I’ll end up dropping out two months in. Hell, I might not even get in. I’m applying to grad school at a very transformative time in my life; the past three months have been some of the most challenging I’ve ever lived and I’ve been learning more about myself every day. Having to deal with these applications along with changes in my personal life — heartbreaks, drama, school stress and other typical 21-year-old situations — has been rough. But it signifies a new chapter in my life, one that I’m so excited to be taking.
So, the next time you prepare to bash someone going to grad school, I hope you think of this article and my story. People know deep down what is best for them, so you have to let them listen to themselves. I know that despite what happens, my belief in the universe looking out for me will guide me to whatever’s meant to be. Everyone has different goals and it’s truly a beautiful thing, and I am so psyched to be finally achieving mine.