Goodbye, Grad School Dreams
Alexi Strong Gonzalez
Never for a second have I regretted getting my college degree. Not once.
My journalism curriculum at the University of Florida consistently ranks as one of the best in the country, and they put me through my paces. I learned more about grammar and sentence structure than I ever even knew existed. I learned fact-finding strategies, First Amendment laws and how to communicate like a professional. And, thanks to my professors and the resources I accessed through that program, I’ve been earning a living doing just that ever since I graduated.
On top of that, my undergraduate years were some of my happiest. I met my husband in our freshman dorm, joined a sorority where I met some of my closest friends, watched the Gators win the National Championship and drank pitchers of beer that only cost a quarter. I’ll never regret a moment of it.
What about grad school, you ask? Girl, bye.
I loved college so much that I took a victory lap and picked up a second minor in the fall of what should have been my senior year, ensuring I’d stick around for a fifth year. By the time my “super-senior” year came to a close, I was more than ready to graduate and get out of there. I’d been in school long enough. It was time to move on, and I was ready to be an adult. I guess that feeling never really left me.
Working as a reporter in my first job, I never thought about getting my master’s degree. I was fresh out of undergrad and freshly addicted to my 40-hour-a-week paycheck, and between late-night city council meetings, weekend community events and print deadlines, there was no time. It wasn’t until I got a job in communications at a university that the thought of furthering my own education popped back into my head.
As a full-time employee, I was able to take a certain number of course hours for free—enough that I could have finished my master’s degree in any graduate field the university offered in about six semesters. It would make me more eligible for promotions there, and I got a little self-conscious about being one of the few in my peer group who only had her bachelor’s degree.
I talked to my boss at the time and a few other folks in more senior roles, and their responses further solidified the decision I made years earlier–I didn’t want or need my master’s degree.
I asked my boss: “I noticed they’re going to offer a master’s in communication starting next fall. Should I apply?”
“Yes. Do it,” she quickly replied.
“Is it a good program? Do you think I’ll learn a lot?”
“No. It’s crap. But you’ll get your master’s, and then you can say you have it.”
Um … what?
No, the program wasn’t any good. No, it wouldn’t teach me any more than I’d learn simply by showing up to work every day and collaborating with the talented people in my department. No, it wouldn’t help me advance in the organization any faster (in fact, I’d already received a promotion a few weeks earlier).
Still, I needed to get it just so I could say I had it? That didn’t make sense to me.
Most of my college friends went on to grad school. Many of my colleagues at the university had gotten their master’s before going to work there. Lots of members of my family have advanced degrees. They’ll tell me things in casual conversation that I find fascinating, and they say, “Oh, I learned that in grad school!”
I noticed a difference in the way people talk about their grad school experience if they enrolled immediately after completing their bachelor’s versus going back to school after a few years. Most of the people who fell into the latter category seemed to sing the same song: “I got it because I felt like I had to after I’d been working a few years. I’m glad I have the piece of paper, but I don’t feel like I use it.”
I loved learning. I took extra courses and electives throughout my education just because the topics interested me. I would never knock someone who wants to learn more, and I’m not saying I’m someone who doesn’t. But I work in corporate communications and marketing. The best way to get better at writing and editing and photography and design consulting and, in general, being creative for a living—is to do it!
Between being a mom and wife, fulfilling my work obligations and keeping everything else in order, I still want to find time to enjoy my life. Earning a degree I may or may not use isn’t how I want to spend the little bits of free time I have.
I’ll never lose my passion to want to learn, and maybe some day in the far, distant future I’ll enroll in some graduate courses for something that interests me, like art history or political science.
And if I do, it will be because I wanted to do it, not because I felt like I should, just so that I could say I did.
Alexi is a journalism grad from the University of Florida who recently traded years in non-profit communications for a corporate marketing management gig she totally loves. She and her husband are raising the world’s most adorable baby boy while updating their beach house and catching movies when they can leave the kid at Grandma’s. You’ll find her bike-riding and watching football games at kid-friendly breweries on weekends. For alarmingly liberal political opinions and TMI motherhood musings, follow her on Twitter at @alexigonzo.