One thing was certain throughout my undergraduate tenure at Minnesota State University, Mankato: I would go to graduate school. Totally foregone conclusion, in fact. Get that English degree, then work toward a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.
But after that? After nearly a decade in the academic incubator, what would come of an English degree paired with an MFA? Would I juggle a handful of part-time teaching gigs while straining to publish my first book? Would I position my creative writing skills as not only transcendent, but necessary to an occupation only sort of related to my education? Would I get the itch to return to journalism?
I never faced these questions because I made the decision to drop out of graduate school barely into my second semester. I had dedicated myself to getting an MFA based on the prestige and, perhaps, my own insecurity. My whole life, I’ve wanted to be thought of as a great writer. For some reason, I thought an MFA would guarantee a level of respect. But a level of employment? Not as much.
I bring it up because my cohort graduated this weekend. I haven’t really kept in touch with any of my fellow classmates, but I wish them well and admire their dedication. They were truly about it. I was more of a tourist. I left after one year with a 3.91 grade-point average — the best grades of my life — but I constantly felt like the dumbest kid in the room. I knew it wasn’t for me.
The MFA program was free, so the experience was hardly costly. My tuition was paid for by a teaching assistantship, where I was entrusted with two sections of freshmen English. I loved the idea of being a college professor, from the seedy office clustered with book shelves, emptied coffee mugs and graded papers to the teaching itself, where I might make a difference and inspire and help students find themselves! But it wasn’t like that. It was nothing like that. And grading sucked.
I left the program confidently. I’ve never really been someone to quit. I quit football after eighth grade for fear high school football would be too violent and the practices would be too difficult. I came back my sophomore year and made the varsity team. (Which speaks less to my ability and more to our shitty varsity team.) I decided to quit saxophone in seventh grade and remember whimpering throughout the day, terrified to tell my parents and the band director.
I didn’t balk at leaving graduate school, though.
On Saturday, I caught myself thinking about school — something I’ve been doing a lot more of these days. I’m now far enough removed from college where I romanticize education and all the hard work that comes with it. Someday, I would like to take classes — for what, I don’t know. I’ve entertained going after an MBA, but I’m already receiving plenty of lessons through work. Every time I consider continuing my education, I come to this question: What can it offer that I don’t already have?