"I have no idea what I'm going to do after graduation. So I'm going to apply to grad school and see if I can get in for free. If I can't, I guess I'll get a job."
Yes, friends, this is the arrogant-slash-clueless thing I said to people during the fall of my senior year at SUNY Geneseo (click to read why I turned down full scholarships to go there). Was it a well-informed statement made after examining all my options? Nope. It was the statement of a 21-year-old who was very, very good at going to school and preferred to continue doing stuff she was good at rather than, you know, be an adult with responsibilities.
In short, it was a bit ridiculous.
However, I entered the grad school search with a passion. I made color-coded comparison charts and taped them to my cinderblock wall so I could see options at a glance. I studied for the GRE just as intensely as I studied for the SAT (Why, math? Why????), and I ended up doing well on the general test and my subject area test. I combed through all of my college papers to find a writing sample that would help me stand out from the pack. I ended up selecting a paper comparing religious imagery in Shelley's Frankenstein and Bronte's Jane Eyre. I once again examined my fairly ordinary life to find an extraordinary topic for my personal essay that could be utilized for all of the schools I applied to (read it here).
In short, though I didn't want to look for a job because it seemed exhausting, the grad school search was just as exhausting...but a little more familiar because I had already done it once.
I applied for two-year master's programs at four schools:
University of Delaware: accepted, but no scholarship
Emerson: accepted, but no scholarship
Drat. It seemed as though I really would have to get a job after all. Until...
Northeastern: full-tuition scholarship, plus $10,000 per year to teach both years
Boston College: full-tuition scholarship for two years in exchange for teaching for one year
See you later, resume! I get two more years of learning stuff!
Unlike my undergrad search, my college visits didn't begin until I was actually accepted. Since I would have to pay a lot of money to go to Delaware, a state I didn't particularly care to visit (see Wayne's World for reference), I ruled it out immediately. That left three Boston Schools. ROAD TRIP!!!
I visited Emerson and loved it immediately. The program, the location, the buildings, the creative spirit...but NOT the costs. I reluctantly ruled it out.
Northeastern, which was luring me with cash, felt big and gloomy and urban and a little gritty. Not exactly what I was used to in my small upstate New York town. It didn't feel comfortable. But THEY were going to pay ME to go there. How could I refuse?
Boston College was my last stop. It was far out from downtown Boston--or at least it felt that way by train--but it was gorgeous. The campus is more contained than the downtown schools, which made much more sense to me. The buildings were beautiful, the students seemed friendly, and I felt comfortable in the Jesuit atmosphere.
Just like the search for my undergrad school, the grad school search all boiled down to comfort.
Boston College was paying my way, which is nothing to sneeze at, but I was turning down $20k by not going to Northeastern. I knew, though, that comfort was worth that amount. And there are always ways to make the financial picture work for you. I ended up becoming an RA in the Mods at Boston College, which took care of my housing and my meals. Essentially, I did what I aimed to do--I went to grad school for free.
The grad school search is a giant undertaking that you may want to give up on before you even start--but DON'T! If you do your homework, research schools with funding, and put the time into your applications and tests, you just might find yourself getting a free education.
And believe me, it's worth it.
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