JA: My graduate program was amazing because I was constantly challenged, whether that was academically, mentally, or emotionally. I think about 99% of grad school is keeping your shit together, and the other 1% is where the learning happens.
I took a lot of reading courses where we studied nonfiction pieces ranging from micro essay length (750 words) to typical essay length to entire book length works. Often, 250-400 page books would be assigned to read over the course of one week, in multiple classes. Get ready.
I also took a workshop course every semester where we reviewed and critiqued each other’s work. This is where the emotional challenge often occurred.
EB: How has your experience so far shaped your career goals?
JA: My program absolutely shaped my career goals. I had the opportunity to work for the literary journal affiliated with CSU, Colorado Review, where I gained the skills necessary to work in a career related to publishing. If I had not had this opportunity, I don’t know if I would have left this masters program with a tangible career goal (other than—of course—to continue writing my ass off).
EB: What is/was the most rewarding part and the most challenging?
JA: The most rewarding part was to have my thesis accepted by the graduate school because they rejected it three times due to “marginal errors.” I also found it rewarding to read my work aloud at several events. One of them was in a dimly lit bar.
The most challenging aspects were revising my thesis (a collection of essays) and keeping sane for the last two years while working, taking classes, and writing my thesis all at once. Picking yourself back up after breaking points is not always easy, but when you do move on after having significant moments of stress, you can pat yourself on the back.
EB: What’s been your focus and how has grad school changed you?
JA: My focus was to write in and learn about the genre, creative nonfiction—which was not always an easy exchange: “Do you like, write about facts… creatively?” Grad school has solidified my disinterest in a life of perpetual academia. I think I am finally done being a student.
EB: Any advice for students considering going on for more school?
JA: Understanding what you’re committing to is essential. But sometimes hearing that “grad school is really difficult” won’t fully sink in until you’re in it yourself—and that is totally okay. Know that the challenges you experience may not be the same challenges others have experienced, and making it all your own can be just as rewarding as earning the degree.
EB: What’s next for you?
JA: I am pursuing a career in publishing, hopefully in a literary journal venue. I will continue to submit essays to literary journals for publication, get rejected, get rejected some more, and then hopefully eventually get published. More than once, please.
EB: Thanks for talking with us.
JA: Thanks for that letter of recommendation for grad school, Ed!
Jayla Rae Ardelean holds an MA in creative nonfiction from Colorado State University. Her two dachshunds are the loves of her life, but literary geniuses are welcome.