I’m heading into my third week at USC, and as the youngest in the program, I’m just now shaking off my quixotic vision of my future as a writer. Grad school is going to be tough. Picture this: working a full-time job. Then add coursework. Tutoring as well. Oh, also, you’d like to dedicate hours a day to your writing. (If you didn’t catch the parallel: that’s my life.)
Who knows how I’ll juggle it. But I will. And I *hopefully* won’t forget that these three years are nothing short of a privilege.
Columbia, as a city, has yet to capture my heart. It’s hot. Oh, it’s hot. And because Columbia is the state capital, it’s had years and years to expand and seep into the area surrounding the city. Concrete sprawls everywhere, holding the vicious heat in like an oven. The streets are disjointed and sporadic; I’ve lost my confidence in my own navigation abilities. And parking at USC is terrible. Ask anyone. Faculty, in particular, love to tell you how terrible parking is.
Minor complaints aside, I’m eager for these next three years. I chose the University of South Carolina because, when I visited back during my months of decision-making, I was struck by the sense of community within the writer cohort. It wasn’t an illusion.
We’ve set out to be writers–the most difficult, taxing, perhaps ludicrous, maybe worthy thing that we could purpose to do. Without a community who has committed to the same level of insanity, I venture that we’d be lost. I’m already infatuated with the Carolina creative writers and the family that they form. They’re a fascinating, inspiring, talented group. And I’ve somehow fooled them into pulling me into their circle.
At USC, not only are English grad students on the same academic team–faculty, too, are dedicated to our professionalization and general growth. “We’re not in the undergraduate business of making it difficult for you to get a degree,” one prof said. “We think of you as future academic peers, and we’re going to work alongside you to help you achieve that.”
USC is among the top 25 Creative Writing programs, but, to be sure, it isn’t Iowa or Michener. That said, I’d personally award bonus ranking points to the program because it is, in the true sense of the word, collegial. A harmonious, united, reciprocal collective. That’s a quality difficult for Poets and Writers to rank, but one that should be at the forefront of MFA program criterion.
This writing business–it isn’t done alone. I’m not the first to say so, and I won’t be the last.
Deciding where to study for an MFA is an overwhelming and complex decision. Somehow, I landed here, where I should be. My advice to those still in the process: find a student, or two, or four, within the programs to which you’re applying. Ask them about the environment in workshop. Ask them whether they get drinks with their cohort after class. Ask them if the program feels like home.