2016, Archives, March 2016, The MFA Years

Other options in that pesky numbers game

Image: Numbers by Marc Kjerland

It’s the time of year when most MA/MFA applicants are hearing back from programs. This is the time for decisions, for comparisons, and for running the numbers. For many of us, the numbers play quite a large role in deciding where we will be spending the next two or three years. Most programs ask you to teach in order to offer you funding. Other schools ask you to fulfill some other position and still others offer nothing at all, and ask that you pay hourly course fees. This is where the numbers game comes into play.

My MA program at the University of Missouri is a funded program. From first year English graduate students the department asks for ten hours per week to be spent tutoring undergraduate students in the school’s Writing Center. We either meet with students in person, or we respond to online submissions. We read through essays and we give feedback, we ask the students what they would like to work on with us and for an hour we talk this through with them. Sometimes, they do not understand the assignment and come with nothing written. Other times, they ask us to act a sounding board while they talk their ideas through. Sometimes still, students come in with beautifully written narratives or literary analyses and we say, yes, yes, this is breathtaking, this is great, but of course we will help you with MLA format *huge smile.*

For this, our course fees are covered though we are required to pay general semester fees of a few hundred dollars (I think this is standard, but be sure to check with your program). These cover your health service fees and your gym fees, maybe even printing costs.

In addition to the course fee waiver, we receive a very small stipend to cover our living expenses.

In the second year of our program we will be asked to teach two sections of Comp. Also pretty standard.

I picked this program in part because I liked that I would not be thrown into teaching sans experience (and I have grown to love my job in the Writing Center and I am constantly blown away by the fact that students use the resource so much) and because they did offer a small stipend. However, being a student with a car payment and various other lingering bills from my pre-grad school days, I needed to find some other form of income.

I decided to search for another assistantship that would supply me with a small supplement to my stipend. I wanted another job on campus (after I cleared it with my program) for a few different reasons, but mainly, I wanted to avoid the schedule of the hospitality industry to cut down on hassle and commute. So, I looked online over the summer before I moved to Missouri and found a few positions that sounded promising. I applied and forwarded resumes and was offered a position as a content writer for the International Center here at Mizzou.

If, like me, you need to work to supplement your small graduate student stipend, I highly encourage working on campus. Depending on your assignment, you may learn more about the structure of your university and the people whose names you hear often. You will learn, very quickly, about the different buildings on campus outside of the English department. You will work with people other than just your professors or students, which will be invaluable insight, trust me. You will have that many more connections to and perspectives through which to view your school.

My workload then, consists of 20-25 hours of work per week. I won’t lie, it’s very hard to juggle both schedules, reading for class and writing for workshop, but after having had both on and off-campus jobs in college and in graduate school, I really prefer working on campus as much as I can. I really can’t say how much my time in the International Center has affected my experience at Mizzou in such a positive way. I know now what some of the biggest stressors are for international students on campus and I take this into mind when I’m tutoring (and I will have it in my head when I’m teaching). I write very different content on a daily basis, and it is a job I can list on a resume; whereas a hospitality job could have given me much more money, I’m not sure it would be something I’d like to list on a CV later (though it does give you GREAT story/essay ideas).

I’m not knocking one over the other, but different options do exist. Many departments on campus don’t have a fresh pool of graduate students each year to assign work to (think the library, rec. center, study abroad office) but that do have work that needs being done. Look to those other interests you have and start with those departments. Many times, it will inform, and improve, your writing and that’s never a bad thing.

This may be a way to make your dream program a feasible option if the funding package you received isn’t going to cover all of the bills you’re responsible for. I totally understand that, and my experience with an extra writing job on campus has been nothing but a really great one. I encourage that everyone look into it, especially when you’re playing that pesky numbers game.



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