Friday, January 07, 2005

Advice To the Young

Most likely, if you're a liberal arts major, you'll make the commitment to attend graduate school somewhere around May of your senior year, and the decision-making process will cause the following reaction: "I... have no job. Or health insurance. Or life. And I'm out of Wheatables. Is it too late to change my major?"

"It is? Crap. Well, there has to be a graduate school around here somewhere." Yes. More enlightenment! More knowledge! More massive, interest-bearing debt! And then new, pesky questions will crop up, in no particular order:

1) In which subject should I obtain my Master's degree?

Your choice of Master's program should be contingent upon the realworld relevance of your undergraduate degree. Higher education is the only place in the solar system where Classical Greek History majors are taken seriously as human beings, so you should hang around it as long as you possibly can, preferably until the point where the only job you're qualified for is to teach younger, equally unhirable versions of yourself. Look, you're already living in a box. You might as well go the whole nine and decorate it with a Ph.D. It can serve as insulation, if nothing else.

The more useless your major was, the more you should strive to subcategorize yourself into academic oblivion. If you're a Hideous Midwestern Lawn Decoration Studies major, go right ahead and get your Masters in Large Inflatable Snowman Performance.

For instance, I earned my B.A. in English and political science. Just what am I going to do with that? Advise the Bush campaign on the nation's vital Early Pre-Raphaelite Poetry issues? No, I piled on an MFA in creative nonfiction writing. There are only something like seven universities in the entire country that even offer such a program. My uselessness grew on a semesterly level. And it's all fun and games until nobody hires you.

On the other hand, if you had the foresight to major in something useful, such as business administration, you probably already have a job and health insurance and a steady supply of Swiss Miss pudding and therefore have no need for graduate school.

2) Are you or are you not one of the most talented, attractive people, ever?

I am.

3) Is it true that I have to take a battery of standardized tests to apply to graduate school?

You need to take the GRE, which is just like the SAT and ACT, only far more evil and way less fair. You have to take it on a computer, which — this is the utter truth — tracks your responses, and if you're getting a lot of answers right, it makes the test HARDER. You're not allowed to use a calculator, and in no way are you tested on anything you actually may have learned in college. For instance, there are no questions asking you to calculate the proper font and margin corrections necessary to magically transform a two-page paper into a seven-page one.

4) Should I attend law school?

Yeah, I don't do lawyer jokes.

5) Why didn't I get into my first-choice graduate school?

My guess would be because you suck.

6) But you didn't get into YOUR first-choice school.

This was a rare instance in which the institution, not the applicant, sucked.

7) Will applying to graduate school cost anything?

My precious, precious child. Have you forgotten so much in four soggy years? Do you not recall application fees? And standardized testing fees? And, "mailing you a postcard with your name misspelled to tell you not to let the doorknob of the admissions office hit you on your way out" fees?

All told, your bill for applying to grad schools should read like this:

GRE, TOFEL, LSAT: application, test prep books and classes, long distance phone calls, postage and "postcard ... doorknob ..." fees: $700

Cost of undergraduate degree: $100,000

Cost of requesting an official transcript for your application: $2.00 per measly piece of paper. (Thaaaaat's right. Never mind the original hundred-thousand dollar investment. You have to compensate the registrar's office for performing the laborious task of shoving the grades YOU earned into an envelope. Forget computer programming. Major in registraring. That's where the money is.)

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Hi MB! I've been reading your blog for awhile now and this post hit me. I majored in History in college with double minors in Classics and Religion. I'm heading off to grad shcool in the fall to major in medieval Church History. Yes, just sign me up for the unemployment office right now... Your writing is wonderful and I love reading it. A lot of the things you talk about remind me a lot of things I do (getting lost in one's own apartment, etc). Keep up the good work!

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