Application Process: Step 1 – Why?

You’ve decided to seek out higher education, something beyond the undergraduate degree. Congratulations! But ask yourself why. Best to ask the question of yourself now, so you can have your answers rehearsed when other people start asking. Odds are, you will have to come up with some kind of “Statement of Purpose” (hereafter referred to as SoP) as part of your application process, and the “why” plays a pretty big role in the emotional content. It can be a hard thing to articulate with eloquence, and could require some soul-searching if you’ve not been planning on this degree since you were five.  Even if you have been, admissions folks will still ask, “why?”

Understand that any examples I give through this series of posts are based on my experiences, and to help with the examples, here’s a little about me: I graduated from high school in the first half of the 90’s, and was hell-bent on a computer science degree. Then I met Calculus. And Linear Algebra. While Theory and I were on pretty good speaking terms, and I would nod and chat with Coding and Debugging at a party, Calculus and Linear Algebra were the bouncers at the bar that only let in the hot girls on a Saturday night. But I also fell into this writing thing, after several years through middle and high school wondering “what if…?”, playing lots of games, reading lots of books, and tossing story ideas around with a friend of mine. Things clicked, and I graduated with a BA in English… (long before there was a catchy song about it!) as well as almost getting a commission into the USAF. (I was three months from my commission, and sidelined due to a brief medical issue – at the time it earned the tag “non-deployable,” which is the nice way of saying, “Thanks for playing.” But I completed all four years of the ROTC program, and some other training besides.)

Then I went to work. In retail doing clerical work. I also lucked into a part-time job teaching basic English/grammar a few nights a week at a local community college. Because, really, what else DO you do with a BA in English? A few months out, I was hating what I was doing at the office job, making not-much-more than minimum wage, and in a organization & position that was pretty much capped. So I went back to school, and earned a BA Hospitality Management. My main reason for the second BA? I didn’t feel I was ready for graduate school.

Skip ahead a few years, and through two management runs in different food service organizations, easily pulling 12-16 hour days (one year, I maybe had a total five days off). I was ready for a change, and kept thinking about writing, a luxury those long hours had not accommodated very well. I opted out of food service into another clerical position – this one with benefits – with the intention of tackling graduate school.

My “why?” To get back into writing, and thinking about writing, and to reconnect with that part of my brain that last acted on crafting stories almost ten years before.

Now, I tell you all of that to tell you this: your “why” will change, or it might not be what you first think. When I started my MA program in 2008, I thought it was to restart my writing – which at the time, it was. But through applying to MFA and PhD programs, where my first response to “why” was: “To teach” and the unofficially universal answer “Focused time to write,” I had to look further… what did I hope to gain? What could a degree program offer that I had to seek it out? For me, it became an issue of having a peer group. A community of (somewhat) like minded people, interested in creating something, and encouraging others to make their something even better. An idealist notion, sure, but that’s what I think is the core of “why” – what I hope to get out of a program. Yes, I would like to teach, something I learned from that community college gig, but it’s living inside a writing community (and, transversely, learning how to encourage and nurture others in that community) that is still the driving seed.

So, why go for the degree? What is it that makes your particular subject speak to you? Why are you passionate about it? What do you hope to get out of seeking higher education?

Take your time to think about it… it took me close to a month before I really understood my position. But knowing is the first step in making the SoP infinitely easier to write.


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