As you may know from my previous posts, I am a dual degree student. I study music and creative writing, and I love what I do. In a lot of ways, I feel fortunate to experience my education and, to some extent, the world, as both writer and musician. But when it came to preparing for graduate school, I had to make some difficult choices. Academically speaking, it is not really possible to be a graduate student in multiple degree programs. Or at least, I’ve never seen such a thing outside of the MD-PHD track, which is not my field!
A few months ago, I decided to apply to MFA programs in creative writing, and I have felt wholly at peace with this decision. I was recently accepted to study fiction and will be choosing my next steps soon. There were a lot of factors that went into my decision process, and I don’t have time to get into all that here, but I will say that if you’re questioning what to study next, or even if you should continue school, here’s what helped me. Btw, know that it’s completely ok to question what you want, because most people happily established in their fields question themselves everyday. Questioning makes us better and can reaffirm our choices.
Ask yourself what you really want. What makes you feel most complete? What makes you feel challenged? What invigorates you so that you must get involved, seek answers, be immersed to the point of satisfaction (ie: I never want to stop doing this! Although sometimes breaks are good)? Remove all outside factors, be they financial, familial, geographical, social, or a fear of giving up something to get what you want. Now, put those factors back in. Do they outweigh your passion for your chosen field? If so, then maybe your desire to continue study is not as strong as all the voices that tell you that you should or shouldn’t continue.
Now, realize that not going to graduate school does NOT mean that you will cease to exist as a musician. Opportunities are not just for people with a degree. You may not even need the next degree to get where you would like to be. There are countless well-adjusted and solution-seeking professionals who never went to a day of class beyond their undergraduate education, and they’re making important strides in their work. I will not be attending graduate school as a flutist, but I still consider myself a flutist. I hope to be for life.
For those that answered, “yeah, I can see this. Studying further is what I really want, regardless of every other factor” then go for it. The next set of questions I had to ask myself was about mindset changes. Do I really need this degree? Why do I want this degree? My answer was that I was ready for more. I was ready for a deeply devoted cohort of writers committed to feedback, and I felt no doubts about my purpose in studying the craft. Graduate school is necessary for me, because I know I need to keep working on my craft before I am ready to put it out in the world, whether that be through teaching, editing, or writing itself. And a lot of people don’t understand what that means. I’ve been told so many times that a job hunt would grow me up really fast, and staying in school is not necessary beyond a certain point. I actually do understand how people might be viewing the situation when they say these things. And the job hunt perspective is 100% valid. But if you have in the back of your mind that a direct path to a job is not really compatible with the type of work you do, then know that graduate school is equally valid and in many cases more important. This is especially true of the arts and sciences.
If you’re on the grad school train with me, congratulations, and know you’re going to do great work. I’m not an expert, but I am getting the sense that there’s going to be a mindset change (regardless of field) from student as learner/observer, to student as questioner, researcher, developer, and teacher. That’s a big step, but there’s a whole new school and degree plan to figure out how to wrestle this down into meaningful work. If you’re deciding what to do, and you don’t know how music will fit into your next plan, know that you are able to be a musician if you want to be. Feel free to explore others of the world’s offerings, knowing that you don’t have to necessarily give up what you already have. And if you’re about as done with school as you can hope to get, and the academic setting is driving you crazy, know that you deserve and are entitled to a break. All paths are valid!
- Sarah Castle