This is a bit of an unconventional post for me here on this blog, but I wanted to address the terror that I feel nearly every minute of my life right now.  I am wounded and winded every time I think about this:

I am a college educated, graduate school bound person, who after I come out of this expensive nearly two decade long education, will have a mountain of loans that I will do anything and struggle to pay off, but will likely be unemployed, stricken with debt, and without a home or permanent residence.

I could go and say, “Worst off, I majored in art, and am going to an expensive private art school for graduate studies.  I’m never going to make a living.”  While that in itself is also true, I know I’m not alone, and it really doesn’t matter what my degree is in.  We’re all screwed.

I have friends who studied hard sciences, math, and engineering and they’re “gainlessly” unemployed.  I’ve been waitressing, etc. for several years, and I don’t mind doing that for many more, but that is starting to not cut the mustard, so to speak.  In fact, I could work 80 hour weeks for the next 20 years, very possibly never finding a job in what I studied in, and still not be paid off in student loans.

I know this sounds pessimistic, but I’m just being realistic.  I am part of the generation that is plagued with unemployment, but my parents are the ones who are part of the generation of never ending domestic care for their children.  I’ve racked my brains with months of near sleepless nights, stress mongering, and tearing down personal relationships with my anguish for my own personal ticket out of this mess, but I’ve come up with nothing that will gain positive results.

I’ve dichotomized my two options:

Option 1- Go to grad school.  In this option, I travel 1400 miles away from everyone I know, gain a ton of exposure to new people, places, experiences, art practices, etc and work hard for two months of this summer, before coming back to Missouri to finish out the non-residency part of my low-residency MFA program.  From there, I’ll still continue to work hard, but will basically be freaking out about how I will afford to pay back my $30000 a year tuition.  As an artist, I may gain exposure from being in New England, but as a professional, this degree may not serve me well at all.  I might not get any type of job.

Option 2- Don’t go to grad school.  If I don’t go to grad school, I’ll just be working off the debt that I’ve accrued from undergrad.  I can continue making art, without a professional degree, possibly living with less stress in the long run.  I could apply to a local school in the future, if I want to get an MFA later.  While paying for loans right now is daunting (without a job), I know I could find one.  It’s just a matter of time.  It probably won’t be in my area of interest, and it more than likely will be just an hourly wage job for a while, but I could at least get by.  But I would be missing out on a wonderful opportunity to go to a great school with new exciting experiences.

So basically, I’m at a standstill in what I can do.  I have until the 12th to decide my POA that will affect me for the rest of my life.  If anyone reads this before the 12th, please give me some words of advice.



Joyce Wong


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5 responses to “Terror

  1. Madi

    I wish I knew more about the art field and how necessary a post-bachelor’s is to getting a job in it. Personally, I think you’ll be able to get what you want out of either option; neither one is too bad a deal. If you do the first and go to grad school, you’ll end up with a nice-lookin’ degree and meet lots of different (hopefully cool) people. 🙂

    I don’t think you should see option 2 as a copout in any way, though. You make a good point about getting an MFA somewhere else/cheaper later. You can make out of grad school anything you want to. Sure, going to a fancy one with a heavy bill is going to give you some nice experiences, but realistically you already have the talents/drive necessary to make money at making art: your Etsy etc is proof of that. If you think the appeal of MECA might be the prospect of going to a new place, you could achieve that without having to foot a fat grad school bill. 🙂

    I’d advise you to try not to freak about it too much. Yeah, whether or not to go to grad school’s an important decision, but it can always wait. (I personally don’t plan to go for a while now that I’ve tasted freedom!)

  2. Joyce,

    You know that I support having new experiences and taking advantage of exciting opportunities. But if there is one thing that I have learned recently, it is that it is difficult to maximize a good opportunity if you are weighed down by anxiety.
    Consider your current stress level, and whether you can see yourself thriving under that level 3 weeks, 6 months, or 1 year from now. I don’t want to dissuade you from grad school if that’s where you feel you need to be, but you have to take care of yourself.
    Interesting opportunities can be found both in and outside of the grad school experience. So if you feel like you’d be cheating yourself out of an experience, you might be exchanging that experience for greater or longer lasting piece of mind.
    You are resourceful and extremely creative. I know you will find ways to stay productive and stimulated wherever you happen to be.

  3. and by “piece”, I meant “peace” lol…
    love you!

  4. Anna

    Hey Joyce,

    I think we are in a very similar boat here. We both worked hard in undergrad (in both school and part-time jobs) while contemplating the same future plans. It is incredibly scary, but I honestly feel that the art community exists for a reason and that it can provide niches for us in the future (in academia, the commercial world, entrepreneurial possibilities, etc…). We might not be able to live off of creating art alone, but artists have always managed one way or another.

    In terms of financial concerns surrounding graduate programs, 30 grand a year does sound incredibly steep. Please don’t take any of this to be condescending at all. You are so talented and one of the most motivated people I know, and I can truly empathize with your situation.

    I’m not sure how many schools you applied to, were accepted to, or visited or anything, but I guess the best question to ask yourself is if the rewards of going through this program is worth the debt. Also ask yourself if there is a more affordable option that would give you equal (or maybe even more) satisfaction, and then maybe ask yourself if “settling” for something less flashy will provide you with a quality education and more financial stability in the future. All of those are viable and respectable options, but some have less terrifying results. Will you risk the quality of your education and life experience because of financial distress by going through an expensive program? Or will you have an amazing experience and handle the debt later in life knowing that you did the best you could for yourself?

    I visited three programs, and most of them were comprised of non-traditional students. First you need to realize how huge of an accomplishment it is that you were accepted into a graduate program since they are all so competitive. Second, just know that it’s okay not to go straight to graduate school. Especially if finances will distract you from your experience. If these concerns are giving you so much stress, it might be better to take a year off to work and pay off some of your Truman debt. Maybe then you could apply to other programs, possibly some that are more affordable with less scary student loan prospects? Or maybe your program allows you to hold off admittance for a year or even a semester (some of the programs I got accepted to gave you the option, actually).

    Just know that you are not alone and that a lot of us have faith in you and know that whatever you choose should be about what is most fulfilling for you (whether it is an extraordinary education or financial soundness later on in life).

  5. Bonnie Frisch

    Hi Joyce,

    I’m so glad you wrote about this. I think a lot of people are in the same boat right now. It is so hard to find the best option when you’re weighing future opportunities against future debt . First of all, congratulations on getting into grad school! That is a tough thing to do and a major accomplishment.

    I decided not to apply to grad school right after Truman. I regret this decision sometimes; I feel like I’m missing out on something or at least wasting my time. But I wasn’t ready for such a big challenge and I was way to burnt out on school to consider signing up for more. I’m glad I didn’t go right away. I’ve found that there is so much to learn out of school, and other artists are easier to find than you would think.

    For the past year I’ve been working for an artist that owns her own company creating hand-painted wallpapers. She’s been very successful, and I think a lot of that comes from putting herself out there and creating a high-quality product (which I think you already know how to do well). On the other hand, a lot of the important contacts she’s made that helped her start her business came from graduate school. And it is hard to get into gallery shows and get your name out there without a Masters.

    So I guess I don’t really have an answer for you. Lol. Really, I think that either choice is a good one. If you go to grad school you’ll have more opportunity to make money and pay off your debt. If you don’t, that doesn’t mean you’ll never go to school or miss out on experiences, you’ll just have different ones. Maybe you could find a school that will give you a fellowship, so you wouldn’t have to pay such a high tuition. Whatever you decide, you are so talented and dedicated that you can make any choice work!

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