College was too stressful and expensive for me. But I loved grad school because it was free and incredibly fulfilling.

College was too stressful and expensive for me. But I loved grad school because it was free and incredibly fulfilling.
The author, not pictured, enjoyed grad school more than undergrad.John Giustina/Getty Images
  • I never liked undergrad because I was constantly stressed about paying my tuition and student loans.
  • But grad school was different, and it was free.

Parties with the iconic red cups, big tailgates, and no cares in the world: this is how college is often depicted in movies. While my college experience included these moments, those aspects were only a small fraction of my college experience.

Despite loving school, I didn’t particularly enjoy my time in college. A large part of that was the financial implications. Since I had taken out student loans, I felt a lot of anxiety about the cost of college.

If I could do it again, I would have worried about money less and branched out more instead of rushing to get my degree. But my reality was that college meant a lot of work — inside and outside the classroom. I worked various jobs, including in fast food, to support myself. I spent a lot of solitary nights in the library studying. I was homesick, and I hated the bureaucracy around required classes.

Because of my less-than-stellar college experience, I wasn’t expecting much from graduate school, which I attended about five years after receiving my Bachelor’s degree. But I found that graduate school was incredibly fulfilling.

Graduate school let me narrow in on one specific passion

Graduate school had a specific focus, which allowed me to hone in on my interests. My focus was creative writing, specifically poetry.


I was able to do exactly what I wanted and concentrate on my craft. The classwork and homework felt purposeful. Each assignment was an exercise that would bring me closer to a thesis that I could be proud of and that could ultimately be transformed into a book for the next stage of my career.

My program was fully funded, so money wasn’t as much of a concern

My graduate program was small, and because of that, it offered full funding for students who were residents of the state, which I was. Lifting this financial burden allowed me to fully enjoy my time without worrying about the cost.

The program was also designed with professionals in mind, and the classes began in the evening. This allowed me to keep my full-time job and attend school at night. My graduate school program also allowed me to teach a college course to undergraduate students. This opportunity, which was paid, reaffirmed my desire to work as an educator in some capacity throughout my career.

While college had me burning the candle at both ends, graduate school allowed me to be more intentional with my time. Instead of working several minimum wage jobs at once, like I did in college, I had a much more regular schedule.

Though I was still busy, my schedule gave me a lot of time to socialize

Graduate school actually gave me more time with friends. Though the stereotype is that college is all about partying, it was only in graduate school that I really got to enjoy hanging out with friends since my life had more structure, and I carefully planned my free time.


My obligations were more predictable, allowing me to build a more robust social life.

Plus, since I had common ground with my cohort, we could do things inside and outside the classroom together, like go to poetry readings, which were part of our syllabus.

Ultimately, even though some things were unexpected, I wouldn’t change my experience

I graduated with my Master’s degree in 2020, so the pandemic impacted the last semester. While I couldn’t wait to finish college at the time, I was very sad that graduate school was over, and it was difficult to process the end, especially during that uncertain period.

The differences in my undergraduate and graduate experiences showed me how vastly dissimilar expectations and reality truly can be — and it reaffirmed why it’s important to keep an open mind.

Graduate school ended up being better than I could have imagined because of various unexpected pluses, and I’ll always think fondly of that period.