Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Portrait: Boston, Massachusetts

I am that girl everyone loves to hate: the 23-year old graduate student from a well-off middle class family whose parents “help her out” financially. This means they are paying this year’s tuition, cell phone bill, car insurance, a flight home (the cheapest available) at the holidays, and rent (please don’t hunt me down and kill me). Transportation, groceries, books, etc. are up to me. I’ve worked every summer since I was 13 and babysat from age 11. I saved up my money and it allowed me spending money up through my junior year of college (and by spending money I mean money for going out, clothing, transportation, etc) without ever allowing debt to accrue. My freshman year of college I worked all day (45 min. commute) and went to community college in the evenings. I transferred to a 4 year program the following year and graduated within four years. The next year, last year, I worked, over the course of one year, 3 part time jobs and two full time jobs. I also spent two of those months unemployed despite applying to approximately 30 jobs.

My sister graduated from high school last month. Since then she has moved to South America to go to college. My parents couldn’t argue: the university there charges only minimal fees so even with her renting & furnishing an apartment close to the university and international airfare of $2,000 once a year for the next five years, they will pay, give or take, $40,000. That’s the cost of one year at a decent private college or of two years at our state colleges. I certainly can’t complain. Because I’m still listed as a dependent and because my dad earns too much for me to get decent financial aid, paying for graduate school looked daunting. With my sister’s college fund (started by grandfather before he died 15 years ago) sitting virtually unused, my parents offered to pay for my first year of graduate school. I do not know how I got this lucky.

Barring any disasters, major or minor, I will graduate with my Masters and Teaching Certification in May 2010 – despite the school telling me that would involve a virtually impossibly heavy courseload with no time for anything fun or to work. I currently take double a normal student’s courseload, work part-time, and am on an athletic team. It is a wonderful situation, albeit stressful in the way that a graduate student’s life is from time-to-time. I love grad school. But this is only temporary. In just over a year, I’ll have a Masters, teaching certification, and minimal teaching experience. Teachers with Masters earn more than teachers bachelors. Who in their right mind would hire me? A year ago, when I applied to graduate school for a Masters in Education, there was a teaching shortage. Today there’s a teaching job shortage. I’ve considered dropping out and just getting emergency certification, switching to Educational Psychology, staying on for a PhD just in the hopes of emerging to a better market, and becoming a hermit in a shack on the beach. The thing is, the state of MA requires a Masters within a few years of starting teaching. My degree is almost half completed and I would have to start over if I quit now and returned later on at a different university. My hope used to be that a school would be willing to hire me because they wouldn’t ever have to partially pay for me to obtain a Masters. I still have that hope but its pretty dim.

Like everyone else, I’ll ride it out. I figure that I can always fall back on nannying or teach English abroad. Neither is particularly appealing but compared the grave situations so many people find themselves in right now, I am overwhelmed by gratefulness – and guilt. Because yes, I’ll buy the cheapest bottle of grocery store wine, but I’m still able to buy wine when others are going to sleep hungry.

Boston, Massachusetts