“I was financially stable before I got my master’s degree. Don’t get me wrong, there was some debt from my SUNY undergrad experience, about $40K, but I could have gotten a job with my two bachelor’s degrees and started paying it off. So, what happened? I got into an Ivy League graduate school program. Words cannot express how excited I was. All I could think was, ‘This is my moment to SHINE! I’ll go to this school, I’ll meet people, I’ll make ‘contacts,’ and I’ll have my pick of PhD programs when I get out.’
Besides getting my master’s in an obscure field, going to that school left me $130K in the hole. I was rejected from my PhD programs and found myself with no place to go but home, where I still am two years later. It turns out that going home was the smartest decision I was forced into making. So, was it the school, or was it me? It was me, and I don’t want it to be you! Here are all the mistakes I made when I got a degree I had no business getting:
I was overly proud. There is a difference between knowing your worth, and being arrogant. It’s not bad, when presented with an opportunity to say, “Why the fuck not me?” We all need a confidence boost for ourselves every now and again. It’s harmful when it impairs your judgment and keeps you from reminding yourself of important points. For me, the important points were that I didn’t actually need this, I couldn’t emotionally or financially afford this, and I wouldn’t have said yes if this offer came from a state school.
I just let things happen. Once I got to that school, I gave my power away by just letting things happen. My hubris turned to insecure gratitude on the first day of classes. I didn’t make meaningful connections because I took on more work than was required of me and neglected to pursue all of the opportunities that were right for me. I didn’t even make the most of my extremely expensive experience, and that is sad.
I got in with the wrong crowd. You may laugh, but that is very much a thing, even in grad school. They weren’t ‘the mean kids,’ but they were the wrong crowd for me. I was in a completely different emotional and financial place than they all were, and I was too blinded by my insecurity to see it until it was too late. Not only did this affect me emotionally, but it had a negative impact on my academic performance. Why be your responsible self when you can go to the bar right after class and spend money you don’t have with people you don’t even like?
I learned that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. I entered grad school with a successful track record. I got two undergrad degrees in two very different fields (one of my programs had a 145 credit requirement), and I graduated summa cum laude. In graduate school, I became an average student in a group of above average peers who had every advantage. They were richer, so they arguably didn’t “need” this program and certainly did not go into debt because of it, and they were smart, too.
I didn’t know myself. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of self-realizations that comes with world travel or ayahuasca retreats. I’m talking about being able to sit yourself down and have an honest conversation, whether it’s a conversation that happens in your head or out loud. I didn’t stop and reflect on what I really wanted, and figure out what the best way to achieve those goals was.
Going home to loans, no PhD program, without a job was challenging. Anyone who says you can do a behavioral and financial 180 overnight is l-y-i-n-g. Changing bad behavior and negative attitudes is very much a process. However, it is true that my life is quantitatively and qualitatively much better since coming home after grad school. I have about three-to-four freelance gigs (from tutoring to administrative work to marketing) going at any given moment. Sure, I work my ass off, but guess what all of the hustle amounts to? I pay all of my bills, I am building a solid emergency fund (five months of expenses and counting), and I am even making payments on my monster student loans.
My life now would have been considered a ‘step down’ by the old me, but pre-grad school Ana didn’t have excellent credit. Adult Ana does. I’ve also learned to check my ego at the door, for my sake. While I was in grad school focusing on proving to everyone that I ‘belonged,’ I was blocking myself from necessary self-reflection and learning. This is a major attitude shift that has helped me say no to opportunities that are not right for me and say yes to opportunities that add value to my career while helping me pay the bills. I take care of myself now, financially and emotionally. And that is so important.”
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