Friday, February 27, 2009

Money for Nuthin, Pedagogy for Free

The grad school process has inched its way to the front of my mind again. A trip to Chicago to look at art, talks with friends who live in the city, and my desire to unload my car and give up driving are all factors pushing me toward city life. That is, if I can get into a school in that city.

I am applying to the three big private universities - Northwestern, Loyola, Depaul. Northwestern is incredibly competitive but it would be worth a move downtown, Loyola is not at the top of my list but it's in a nice neighborhood, and Depaul does not have an English PhD. It's one of my "safe" MA application choices in case I don't get accepted to any PhD programs.

The possibly slim prospects of getting into a Chicago school are not weighing so heavily on my mind as my vision of city life, or of a two-hour commute. If I don't go to school in this city, I don't want to go to school in any big city.

But what of my disdain for suburban life? I was hoping grad school could take me to a better place; into the thick of something. So the rest of my choices (and some of my top picks) for grad school therefore lie in smaller cities. Places with public transpo, groovy and affordable flats, local flair, and some kind of outdoor culture.

Following is a list of my choices with some explanation of why I want to go to these schools and places. I'm listing this here for feedback, and because I have not made myself a complete list since the considerations have become serious.

Univeristy of Tennessee Knoxville, MA program
Place: It doesn't drop below 40 degrees, it's a small city about the size I'm used to, there is a huge biking culture incl. mountain biking out of town and bike lane systems in town, seems like people are down to earth
School: Faculty includes scholars of subjects that interest me, incl. a Virginia Woolf scholar. English grad programs encourage interdisciplinary study. They have PhD program that I could probably get into after completing the MA.

University of Arizona Tucson, MA program
Place: Tucson is my sometime home. Friends, family, the outdoors. Also, I know where to go for everything -- sandwiches, beer, a place to read. It would be nice not to have a new place to learn, since I've had so many already. And there is no such thing as winter there.
School: It's not the fanciest school on my list, but the abundance of funds for grad students who are willing to work is quite enticing. They allow first year grad students up to two positions, and those run the gamut from boring things like grading exams and helping freshman write papers, to exciting things like assisting in teaching creative writing courses, a Brit lit survey course, and even a "film as literature" course. Most schools assign the TAs to composition 101, which is boring for the TA and doesn't help the first year students get the best foundation. I could get a decent education and never have to worry about money.

I already know my way around those mountains.

University of Wisconsin Madison, PhD program
Place: Madison is cold, but I think I'm used to that now. The city is very liberal, even hippie-ish. Everyone rides a bike or a skateboard or something without an engine (unless it's a bus). There are plenty of nice places to live, health food stores, and book stores. It's close to Chicago so folks can visit us from there. And Wisconsin is always good for beer.
School: UW Madison is a top notch school for the English PhD. It is competetive but they also have more spaces than private schools and more money than some other state schools. The faculty seems to be very involved with the grad students (I mean that in the most proper way), and there are enough of them to form a strong English grad culture in town.

Madisonites know a thing or two about gatherings.

Villanova University, Villanova PA, MA program
Place: I honestly don't know what to expect from Villanova PA, I just know it's close to Maryland where my family is. It's outside of Philidelphia, but far enough that it's not city-like. I may have to keep the car there, but the campus and environment are beautiful.
School: Villanova is the only out-of-town school I'm considering that doesn't have a PhD in English. The MA program however, is not a terminal one, but a program that encourages students to move forward to a PhD if they desire, and helps them define their goals for further study in the two years of earning the MA. This might help me since my interests are all over the place. The only PhD offered at the school is in philosophy, and occasionally an English grad student will stay at Villanova for this program, resulting in a list of dissertations including "Philosopher X and Poetry," "Philosopher X and Aesthetics."

Who can resist the draw of the Gothic?

Cornell University Ithaca NY, MA to PhD bridge program
Place: Ithaca is pretty goddamn awesome. It does get cold in the winter, but it's a perfectly sized town of educated liberal folk and outdoor adventures. The houses are painfully cute.
School: Laugh at me if you want to, but I feel I can't short-sell myself by not including at least one Ivy League school. This one would be perfect for me -- they have a separate department for theory and criticism within the English department, the faculty hails from Yale, Oxford, etc, the MA and PhD are a combined program (I have no doubt about wanting to continue after the MA), they offer several choices for foreign languages and have summer workshops in them so you don't have to neglect your school-year studies, and they have an entirely separate school of theory that holds summer seminars that seem to turn into learning and idea festivals! Complete with vegetarian and family friendly BBQs! These are open to all grad students, so even if I can't make the big time, I will definitely spend a summer or two in Ithaca over the next few years. Oh, I forgot to mention that Cornell has boatloads of money. My stipend and one TA or research job per semester (plus summer grants for languages) would seem like I was "rollin' in it" after all these years of toiling.

One of Cornell's several amazing libraries.

Applications are not due until November or December of this year. The GREs are in October. I will spend my summer reading novels and exploring poetry to prepare, and drafting letters of intent in which I will pretend I know exactly what I want to study.

3/18/09 UPDATE: I'm adding University of Colorado at Boulder to the top three! What a town. And a great school. Like Madison, it's a good program with decent money for a state school and more openings than a private school. Very cool faculty include Jeffrey Deshell (philosophy and lit, aesthetics, 20th C American lit), Karen Jacobs (modern/postmodernism, experimental novel, visual culture) and more professors who like all the same things I do! I'd HAVE to get a TA job going in to be able to afford to live in Boulder, so money is a factor. But if I can get a job, this takes the #3 slot on my list, behind dream school Cornell and hometowny University of Arizona.

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