Friday, August 16, 2013

Grad School, Here I Come

So I start classes in just over a week. I'm attending Cal State Northridge, which is about 10 minutes away, and I'm taking prerequisite classes to qualify for grad school there.

Back in May, I decided that I wanted to get a graduate degree. This was the culmination of a long process, and in fact over the summer I drafted and re-drafted a lengthy post explaining this decision and what it's about for me and all the things I considered. The more I edited the post, the more I hated it, so I decided to chuck it and just explain in two sentences, as above. I didn't study English much at all at the college level, aside from Shakespeare, and it's grounding that I'd like to have (and which I increasingly think I need) while moving forward as a writer. Since I don't have an English BA, I have to take enough high-level English classes to equate an English major before I can apply for the MA program.

I don't know if I'm going to continue on this path, whether I'll take a semester or two of these prereqs and change my mind, ending with life-choice-egg on my face the way I have numerous times before; whether I'm going to sign up for a program at UCLA instead (more on that shortly); whether I'll spend the next four years slogging through and wind up choking on the failure of my thesis, the way I did in undergrad. But I'm starting, anyway, on August 26, and we'll just have to see what happens.

Cal State Northridge is very near me, with no traffic to speak of. UCLA is half an hour away as the crow flies, but that distance is hard ground in terms of freeway traffic. There's a big program there called UCLA Extension, which I think resembles a community college. UCLA Extension has a writers' program, which is pretty detailed and sort of self-contained. You can get a certificate there, which looks to me like it's a mini-graduate degree, but Extension is open enrollment, so I assume it's only somewhat like the real thing.

The people who teach in this program are people I recognize: the editors of litmags to which I've submitted, the authors of short stories (or books) that I've enjoyed. (Francesca Lia Block, a sort-of hero of mine, teaches a course on YA fiction.) Because of my student status at Cal State Northridge, there's no way I'm getting into any of the writing classes there, so I went on and signed up for a basic-level fiction workshop at UCLA Extension instead. Its instructor is Jim Gavin, who was a Stegner fellow and whose story in Zoetrope was one of those rare litmag stories I enjoyed enormously, enough to look him up. I'm pretty excited about this class.

Sidebar: Oddly, UCLA doesn't have a master's program for writers unless they are screenwriters. Neither does USC, although the latter does have a Ph.D.

After this semester's over, I hope to have an idea of where to go next. Northridge promises training in literature that I don't have, that I think I can use, while UCLA promises prime networking and actual writing training from working writers rather than professors. I don't know what to expect from the quality of each. I don't know which one I need more. But I'm really looking forward to finding out.

There's a whole lot more to this decision: the years of talking myself out of a graduate degree, why an MFA isn't right for me, the school research I did, what various famous writers have said when weighing in on the necessity of an MFA and why I think they're jerks. That was all in the post I decided not to put up. If that stuff interests you, let me know, and I'll do it as a supplement.


Maleesha said...

I am always tossing around MFA in my head. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. The best I can surmise from what is out there is:


Catherine said...

YAY, YOU! As far as "life-choice-egg on [your] face" - I think that as long as you are learning, expanding, etc, it's all worthwhile. Both of these trajectories (CSUN and UCLA Extension) sound good. You'll keep figuring it out. xox

Katharine Coldiron said...

@Maleesha, I think YMMV is pretty much the whole truth.

@Catherine, thanks. I know no education is ever wasted, and I'm trying to keep that truth in mind, repeating it louder than the risk.