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Miller Times: Grad school dropout, no regrets

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?

Luckily, I can’t come up with a legitimate answer.

This post was written by Andrew Miller and originally published on the Miller Times. Follow Andrew on Twitter:@the_millertimes.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Kate Mohler on 05/14/2011 - 02:58 pm.

    Hey Andrew–I certainly feel your pain and angst. I have an MFA from Arizona State and it worked out great for me (teaching now full-time at a community college). But I had my concerns about employment for sure. Good luck and keep writing.

  2. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 05/15/2011 - 08:12 am.

    Andrew, you never know where life will take you. Decades ago I graduated MSU with an MA in Geography. Although I never actually worked in that field, I have never regretted my choice of studies. Many of the skills one learns in college do translate to the non-academic world in surprising ways. Now that I am only a few years from retirement, I know that most of what I now do at work was learned on the job – but that my MSU college experience built the foundation. Times will change and so will what we call “work”. Take comfort in your decision and know that you can do anything you want as long as you believe in yourself.

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