Grad School and the Grand Scheme of Life

By Zameena Mejia

“I’m so done with doing homework, going to classes and paying attention to professors. I’m ready to get out of here,” sighed a friend of mine over lunch at our dining hall a couple of weeks before graduation. For her and many of my friends, the close of our college era meant closing the books and proclaiming higher education “OVER.” As for me? I’m taking on grad school.

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In a Fortune commentary titled “College doesn’t prepare students for full-time jobs—internships do,” the author details a clear rush for students to get work experience ASAP. Aside from the two or three friends studying bio/med, education or law, I’m one of the few people who decided to go straight to graduate school after college. As a journalism, public relations and Spanish major, this might seem like I’m digging myself into a deeper hole, but I made several serious decisions to get to this final one.

Starting the family legacy

Being that me and my older sister were the first two women in my family to have attended and graduated college, I have always had a great respect for education. Half of my family moved over from the Dominican Republic in the early 1980s and the other half moved from Costa Rica in the early 1960s, so my family has done nothing but work tirelessly to help me get where I am today. After watching my older sister graduate from Harvard College and later get her Master’s degree at The New School, I knew I too wanted pursue the highest academic degree my field would allow. Admittedly, I initially felt familial pressure to look into grad schools but it was that little push that led me to look at my future a bit more seriously. I also wanted to take the right step toward eventually earning a bit more money in the long run. My range of interests led me to another question: what would I go to grad school for?

zamDream school vs. dream program

The worst stigma attached to grad school is the notion that it’s for people who “don’t want to grow up” and “aren’t ready for the real world” (I assume my audience is at least a little more open minded than that). At the beginning of senior year, I began looking into business, marketing, corporate communications, and public affairs programs rather blindly. A bit of advice I’ve heard over and over is when planning to go to grad school, make sure you’ll be doing something you’re truly interested in. Business would have probably made me unhappy since math isn’t my thing and the rest of the aforementioned subjects seemed like practical skills I’ve mostly picked up through internships. I went back to my gut feeling and applied to the only two schools I was initially really interested in: the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

For as long as I can remember, Columbia had always been my dream school. I used to fantasize of going there and walking out of its doors a big-time, big shot writer with an autobiography out by age 25. I am very proud to say that I was accepted into both Journalism Schools, but it’s lamentable to say Columbia no longer provides the dream I once wished upon. For a moment, I actually might have taken on over $50,000 in debt for its 10-month program but the return on investment did not hold up against the vast opportunities CUNY J-School’s 16-month program offered up. Students from both schools spoke to the pressure and difficulty of their respective programs (that’s just the nature of journalism itself) but CUNY J-School’s students spoke best to stories of collaboration, successful article/multimedia placements, professor enthusiasm, and career preparedness. Columbia still has a special place in my heart (possibly for my PhD?) and I greatly respect both institutions, but I know for a fact that I’ll manage to pay off my student loans with a job I score thanks to the skills I’ll gain at CUNY J-School.

Is grad school right for me?

It depends! At CUNY J-School’s accepted students day, I was one of the youngest ones there. People decide on grad school at varying points in their career—some had zero journalism experience, some had been reporting at stable jobs for years already, others had decided they were bored with their current careers. I personally figured “the sooner the better!” I have the brain fuel to stay up late, the energy to go to class, the capacity to learn quickly, and zero huge commitments to children/apartment/insurance/big bills/etc. This is my moment to keep learning while I can because I know it will certainly pay off.

*I recommend that anyone with doubts or questions check out this lovely Grad School subreddit. We’re a whole lot of people without a clue, you’re not alone.

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