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As I sit here feeling completely overwhelmed while trying to figure out how to make ends meet, I find myself wondering, what is the deal with society’s glorification of the struggling graduate student?
We’re like the ‘starving artists’ of the higher education community. It has become so excruciatingly common for people attempting to better themselves to suffer extreme financial devastation while attending graduate school in the USA that we, as a society, view it as a rite of passage. I’m not just talking about the insane amount of student loans—which I’ll probably never get paid off in my lifetime.
The Struggle Is Real
As a Master’s student, I’ve faced near eviction a couple of times. More days than I care to admit, I’ve skipped meals because I had pretty much nothing but ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese in my cabinets. One can only eat so much ramen before starvation begins to look like the more appealing alternative. I’ve gone without transportation, missing school-related events, because I can’t afford to get my car fixed, and I’ve even had to skip out on celebrating my kid’s birthdays and holidays.
I now take anti-depressants.
And people wonder why I have such a morbid sense of humor.
Why Grad Students Are Poor
This is where most people say something along the lines of, “Well, why don’t you get a job? You can work and go to school at the same time.” A job, right, like the unpaid internship I’m already working as a degree requirement. “Okay, so, get a paid internship,” you might say. To which, I and pretty much every graduate student with an internship requirement laugh, because if we don’t laugh, we’ll cry. Paid internships are extremely hard to find, simply don’t exist in all fields, and when you do find them, there are only a few positions and a mountain of applicants.
Sure, there are some people who somehow—I’m convinced through the use of the dark arts—manage to go to school full-time, work full-time, juggle a household, and still organize totally envy-worthy holiday shindigs for their nearest and dearest. However, obviously, they are a rare breed. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have an Internet full of memes about how poor graduate students are.
Is There a Fix?
I wish I had a solution in mind, a way to end poverty among grad students, but I don’t.
Maybe we need schools to lower tuition costs. Perhaps we should incentivize companies willing to offer paid internships—because, let’s face it, we can’t simply ditch internship requirements altogether. I mean, I’m working on my Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and I seriously doubt anyone would think it was a good idea to give me a license to practice treating mental health issues with no field experience under my belt, no matter how respected of a university I attend or how awesome I think my professors are. And yeah, they’re pretty awesome.
What I do know is that grad student poverty is a real problem, and not one many, if any, graduate students would find worthy of glory. So, why do we do it? What does it get us in the end? Well, I’ll be graduating this December with well over 100K in student loan debt so that I can get a job in my chosen field and—with a little luck—have enough left over after student loan payments to not ever have to eat ramen again. Ever. Maybe I’ll get my PhD in the dark arts.
So, go hug a grad student, and excuse me while I work on figuring out how to conjure money out of thin air to fix my cruddy car—for the fourth time this year—so I can make it to my unpaid internship next week.