Grad School in the "Bachelor Degree" Generation

grad school dilemma

Times have changed so drastically. When we were young we were told go to college, get a degree, get a good job, save your 401K, retire, and finally live. That was the mold. But as time goes by millennial's are discovering that mold is changing. 

Perhaps you skip college and create a start up, or an app, or run your own business. Maybe you go to trade school. Some are even finding that school has become a safe haven - Why graduate with a bachelor's degree and start paying off those student loans when you can just continue on to get your Masters, or PHD? Even now, Master's degrees are becoming the new normal "higher education" requirement when it comes to job requirements. 

Which has us middle generation stuck in limbo - asking ourselves whether we should go back to grad school or follow a different path. 

In this post you'll hear two different sides: Joanna who is currently in Grad School & Jessica's who is not. 



I'm a couple months into grad school, and I love it. I have not doubt that this is where I'm supposed to be and that this is the next step for my life. This isn't the case for everybody, but let me tell you why it works for me. 

Since I was a kid, I've been a story-mongere. I'd beg my dad to tell stories long into the night, way past my bed time. I would write mini novels about my American Girl dolls. The amount of movies and books I've consumed of copious genres (black and whites, 80's flicks, Classical British Literature, poetry, comics and so) is substantial. I knew I wanted to always purse my passion for stories, so it made sense to be an English Major in my undergrad. While in college, I had photography on the side--just another avenue to tell stories. I never dreamed it would one day be a booming full time job, one that I got to be my own boss, none the less lead into Copper Creatives. But, oh am I glad it did. 

After I graduated, due to finances and educational burn-out (I finished my undergrad in three years...I know. Crazy),  I had to put my next step on hold. While I worked a full time job, I felt myself craving a creative outlet, so I picked up the camera and in a matter of two years became a full time small business owner of Joanna Sue Photography. While I love photography--shooting weddings, featuring local makers, etc.,-- I missed the rhetorical side of story telling. I knew that I couldn't shoot weddings forever (come off of a three-wedding-weekend, I know that physically I won't be able to handle it) so it was back to school I went, and this is why I did:

1. Grad school was the next step to achieving my ultimate goal to teach college level composition and literature courses. I ultimately would love to be a college professor making students fall in love with Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, and Great Expectations as much as I did. Books were so formative for me. They made me a better artist, business owner, and person overall, and heaven knows we could use a little bit of betterment in our lives.

2. Going back for my masters was accessible for three reasons: Financially, I was able to get a great scholarship by applying for a TAship. Proximity-wise, it was local (AKA NC State is only 15 minutes from my house). Time-wise, it was a commitment I could make without my small business suffering. My class load is manageable enough to where I can still have a lot of flexibility to meeting with clients, edit photos, and shoot on the weekends. 

3. I love the challenge, the opportunity to grow, and to learn. Truly, I'm that person. I have always loved school, so being back here feels right. Although my degree isn't in business or even photography, I am in no shortage of learning more about people and how to tell stories of this life we live. 




When I was in High School college was everything. It was my ultimate goal, the only plan for my future and when I got there my magical-manic-pixie-dream bubble completely burst. This wasn't some amazing place with intellectuals and activists and beatniks. Instead I was surrounded by the same people I had been my whole life. And that kind of sucked. So I did my best to get out of there, to escape as quickly as possible. I worked all the time to save as much as I could to pay off the student debt I was going to graduate with, and I only put effort into the classes I enjoyed. 

So here I was with two Bachelor Degrees and working 4 minimum wage jobs, pushing 80-90 hour work weeks with no "real job" on the horizon and honestly I just wanted the madness to stop. I wanted to feel something familiar, I wanted the comfort of academia (the one thing I always excelled at), and I wanted my student loan payments to stop. 

My husband was already in 80k of student debt and finishing up his second Master's degree (between the two of us our degrees could fill an entire gallery wall) so just quitting my job wasn't exactly an option. Also - like most kids in that (insert that middle ground term) I didn't try that hard in school. I believed that having a degree was all I needed to succeed. Grad school was never on my radar, so by the time I sat down to start applying I found myself with 2 dilemmas. 

1. My GPA sucked. Not only would I probably not get into grad school (which was already looking like a giant pain in the butt - between studying for the GRE, writing all the essays, trying to track down professor's for recommendations I hadn't seen in YEARS, and paying all the fees for transcripts etc.) but I barely had the requirements. My degree programs I was looking into had insane requirements such as being fluent in another language to scoring an almost perfect score on the GRE. At the time it just seemed like a pipe dream. 

2. Going to grad school for my subject of study (Creative Writing/Film) wasn't going to help me get a job. If anything it would just make me less employable. You see my entire life I've wanted to write a novel - and I've been working on quite a few since college - but I don't have the time or resources to really finish it. I thought here is a way I can get it done, have a support system, and gain some more time to figure out my life. 

So now that I had those two things weighing against me I had to pretty much accept grad school wasn't going to happen for me - and you know what maybe it shouldn't. But that didn't make the feeling go away. That I was missing out - that school would somehow make me a better person, writer, business owner. But it wasn't until I took a stroll through the hallway of my alma mater that I realized - I don't want this life. 

I don't want to sit in hallways for hours waiting for my next class to start, I don't want to be stressed out about deadlines and homework that truly doesn't matter. (I'm already inundated with deadlines now) and more importantly I don't want to give up my freedom (or my finances) 

It was so shocking and sudden, the bubble burst again (and luckily this time I wasn't already enrolled). What was I thinking? Yes I still have 4 jobs, yes I'm still not writing my novel, but you know what - I'm working my ass off to achieve my goals. I'm running a successful wedding photography business, I'm helping small entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams, and I'm building my own "normal." Business, education, careers it's all changing so why not change with it, and make sure you're doing what's right for you. Eventually (like most things I work hard for) the novel, the independence, and the financial freedom will come. 



While everyone is different and grad school is a big decision whether you're choosing to enroll or skip it all together, and we'd love to talk to you about it. 

If you need advice on applying, managing school & a small business, or whether you're looking for validation on skipping it all together and creating your own path - hit us up! 


Jessica Fowler