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That unwelcome guest known as Reality

So, grad school was going to be one thing when I would be able to start this fall, as a funded student, with roughly half of the coursework done. I could finish a Masters in 2-3 semesters, do so without having taken on a ginormous amount of debt, and be set up to move on to a PhD program, theoretically being able to have that done before age 40, depending on how long it took to complete my dissertation. Obviously, this scenario has not panned out, and from what I was told after the fact, was nowhere near ever being the realistic possibility which it was presented as by those giving me counsel (who, in theory, should have known what they were talking about, which is why I trusted them in the first place).

The possibilities which have been presented to me as my best bets from here are St. Vlad’s, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary. What it boils down to is, as one person put it, “You’re going to have to go someplace where they aren’t freaked out by a music degree,” said degree evidently being seen as maybe slightly better than a G. E. D. in terms of preparation for a humanities graduate program. And, as reported here before, I’ve spent some time at St. Vlad’s and had some really encouraging conversations with their faculty.

However, the fact is that the options open to me from here are essentially “pay-to-play” venues. To use St. Vladimir’s as an example, tuition there is $10,000/year, and then housing for a married student is going to be in the ballpark of another $10,000. The maximum award St. Vlad’s gives out in-house (at least according to their materials) is a 50% tuition waiver, which still leaves one on the hook for $15,000 per year just to be there, to say nothing of books or other living expenses. Yes, I could go as a sponsored seminarian and bring that number down significantly, but the honest truth is that I cannot honestly acknowledge any particular call to the priesthood at this point, and would be going that route just to get somebody to pay for my education. Nope, no can do.

Another fun fact is that right now I’ve got somewhere around 30 graduate credits. By the end of this next year I’ll have close to 40. Guess how many of them will be transferable, wherever I go? Basically zero. I will have to start from scratch, which at St. Vlad’s at least will mean three years. Getting back to the financial aspect, that means potentially coming out of there with around $60,000 – 90,000 of additional debt — just for the Masters degree. Considering there’s a $120,000 cap on federal student loans for graduate students, that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the PhD. At all. Plus there’s the matter of the $38,000 I already have from my undergraduate days, plus the loans Megan has taken out as a graduate student.

The final nail in the coffin is that, while Megan in theory will be ABD after this coming year, we’re looking at the strong possibility of spending perhaps as much as two years in Germany for research purposes after she reaches ABD status. After that, there’s the likelihood that she would need to come back to Bloomington for another year to be able to spend some quality time with her advisor. This means even being able to start a program someplace is as much as four years off, meaning I’d finish a Masters at 38, perhaps. Depending on how long it takes to finish the dissertation, that would mean having the PhD done roughly in my mid-40s sometime. Maybe I’d be up for tenure by 50. That doesn’t exactly spell a long, fruitful working life as an academic.

I think the inescapable conclusion is that my only options from here for graduate school, given the way things have worked out (or not worked out, rather), are those which are going to be the most expensive in every way. This is simply not reasonable, rational, realistic, or responsible given my present circumstances, particularly not with the possibility of children in the near future being in the mix. Rather, the limitations which I have encountered, and which do not seem to be able to be overcome, make me wonder if it wouldn’t be more responsible for me to start saving now for the education of our children, even before they are conceived. I find myself in largely the same place where I was when I had to acknowledge that singing wasn’t going to work out — the options I’m left with would be far more feasible for a younger man with no attachments. The idea of being a scholar of Late Antique Christianity and liturgy was a nice fantasy and seemed to make sense given other factors, but I think the hard truth is that at some point, you’re either well set up to play the game or you’re not. The conclusions I reached in 2005 about what my strengths and interests actually were came about five to ten years too late to be able to go this route with any particular success — the irony being that I would have never come to those conclusions had I not gone after singing as long as I did. It just wasn’t meant to be, and I am at a point in life where I have to be honest, perhaps brutally so, with myself about what I can and cannot do from here. Batman may have no limits, but I sure do, and I can’t afford to not know them. Perhaps I could have been an academic, and a good one, but the tough reality with which I am faced is that it doesn’t seem possible to get there from here.

So, having established what I can’t do, what can I do? I have a degree which nobody really cares I have, including the institution which granted it, basically qualifying me to push papers, giving me a pretty low earning capacity in general. I have a background that demonstrates within five seconds that, depending on how you spin it, either I’ve failed pretty spectacularly at virtually everything I’ve tried to do, or I’ve had pretty spectacularly bad luck. I have obscure interests which don’t exactly set the world on fire. In many respects it seems like the best bet from here is to do what I have to until Megan’s PhD is done, she is gainfully employed, and we have kids, at which point I try to be the best stay-at-home homeschooling dad I can possibly be.

It’s hard to say; I guess we watch this space for details.

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4 Responses to “That unwelcome guest known as Reality”


  1. 1 Esteban Vázquez 2 August 2008 at 12:34 am

    Do not be discouraged, my friend. There are always options.

    If you care for a bit more of worthless advice, here it is: do not go to Princeton Seminary, if only because it would grieve me. (I’ve had a campaign against it for many years.) Beyond that, there is really nothing for you there: the only “first theological degree” they offer is the 3-year MDiv, which you in any case don’t want. (Incidentally, MDivs are against my professed religion.) Yale seems like a much more viable option for you; I imagine that they would be willing to accept at least some of your graduate work in religion towards your degree there. They also have a two-year, 48-credit MAR with minimal area requirements and a great deal of room to accommodate your transfer courses.

    Also, there are a couple of options of research-programs from British and South African universities that can be pursued at a distance–for example, the Master of Theology in Orthodox Theology from the University of Wales at Lampeter (which would require two weeks per year or residence, but this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem if you’re already in Europe). And British PhD programs can certainly be researched and written at a distance: I have two British acquaintances who married German women and live in Germany, while researching and writing their dissertations at two different British universities.

    All the best!

  2. 2 Richard Barrett 2 August 2008 at 10:24 am

    Thank you for those links. And no doubt there are options — of course there are. It is just a question of what can be done within the constraints of time, money, and geography. At this point, that is not an uncomplicated question. Yale presents the same problems as St. Vlad’s — for somebody like me, it’s a pay-to-play option (or a “deficiency” option if we want to be really blunt about it), and it would be 2-4 years before I’d be able to even think about starting.

    It is possible that a couple of years down the line, things will seem to be different — but I think I would be poorly served to be holding my breath for that, truth be told.

  3. 3 Richard Barrett 21 March 2012 at 11:18 am

    It’s actually quite amazing to read this, in light of the fact that I finished my Masters at 34, completed PhD coursework at 35, and may well have the PhD in hand by 38. Sometimes you just never know what’s going to happen next. Glory to God.


  1. 1 Counting hatched chickens, nos. 1-3 « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 24 March 2009 at 4:33 pm

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