Remember May and June of your senior year of high school? How everyone was abuzz with excitement over college plans or maybe gap years?
Seniors, perhaps you’ve noticed that your last year of college is different. Unlike your high school senior year, imagining a collegiate life filled with dusty works of Aristotle and frat parties, senior year of college seems to inspire anxiety instead of wistful dreaming. Lurking beneath the graduation application and senior capstones is the question: What’s next?
While college seemed like the logical next step for a large number of high school seniors, the same cannot necessarily be said about life after college. The world seems to open up to endless options, sometimes more daunting than exhilerating.
Graduate school may be attractive in that it allows one to delay entry into the workforce. Yet graduate school is a huge commitment in almost all regards and one that not everyone should make.
Associate Professor of English David McGlynn explained the sometimes false impressions that college students have about graduate school.
Said McGlynn, “The illusion that we try to dispel is [that if] you’ve enjoyed your time hanging out with your professors, and you’ve enjoyed your time reading books at Lawrence […] that, somehow, going to grad school is just going to be more of that. It’s a different kind of activity.”
In this instance, going to a liberal arts college can be both amazing and misleading. “One of the reasons you come to a school like Lawrence is that there’s a kind of romance to what we do here,” said McGlynn.
“You come to learn about English literature, creative writing, history, philosophy. We like those kind of traditional models of learning and there’s a beauty to it. It makes you think, wouldn’t it be great to do this kind of thing as a job? But a PhD in English is really a research degree, ‘the history and theory of literature.’”
Most graduate programs are two to seven years in length. Additionally, many programs are pricy and could take a financial toll on your life for years to come. By the time you ostensibly complete your degree, you could be nearing the end of your twenties, a time associated with exploration, travel and self-discovery.
Reflecting on his own decision to pursue a PhD in English directly after his undergraduate education, McGlynn said, “I could have afforded to be a bit wilder,” he continued, “I think a lot of students can afford to be a bit wilder.”
Even if you have a genuine love for your field and have the time and resources to devote to it, there are no guarantees that you will gain admittance into a graduate program. For example, the current acceptance rate for a spot in the Harvard Business School MBA program is 13% (courtesy of hbs.edu). That is to say, passion alone is not necessarily enough to be able to pursue a graduate degree.
Sarah Gross, Uihelin Fellow of Studio Art, who made it clear that “going to grad school in art is very different from pursuing a degree in a different field,” tried her hand at working in studios after completing her undergraduate in studio art.
In regards to working after college instead of pursuing graduate education, she explained, “I think that it’s a really good idea to see what it’s like to exist in and work in and make things in the art world outside of school because going to grad school in art is a big commitment and usually there’s a big financial impact that will affect you for years to come and you don’t want to take that on without being sure that you know what you’re walking into and that you want it.”
Admittedly, graduation is a scary time but there’s value in realizing how normal it is to worry. Seniors all over the country are scrambling to figure out the next step. Without concrete answers, sometimes it’s just best to hear that you’re not alone in your feelings.
Said Gross, “When I first graduated from college, I really didn’t know to do with my life at all. I was really scared and a little bit depressed because the world seemed so big. I was really freaked out about how many options there were and I saw so many of my friends from school who knew what they wanted to do or they had plans that involved traveling and exciting jobs and internships and passions. The only passion I really wanted to pursue was ceramics and not necessarily teaching but making, so that’s what I did. I found studios and worked.”
While senior year may feel more like a wander than a march forward, perhaps that’s what Lawrence is all about. Embracing uncertainty may not only alleviate the pain of feeling aimless but also lead you to think more openly about what the future it might hold. After all, our Lawrence degrees have prepared us for more than we can conceive now.