Life Before Graduate School

Life Before Graduate School

Recently graduated bachelor’s degree students gazing into the future

It’s easy to forget that there was a time before all this crazy-photography-study stuff.

One of the most interesting things I have learned from my cohort is how diverse we are. Sure, we all have things in common (spoiler: we like to take pictures,) but hearing about what people did before coming to Columbia College Chicago is really enlightening and even inspiring. I asked my colleagues to share what their lives were like before graduate school, and the answers were varied. Some were happy stories, others sad, and others kind of funny, and the best part is I get to share them with you, oh wonderful curious reader.

My life before graduate school was spent at Michigan State University, where I studied English and Fine Arts for five years. I jumped right into graduate school, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life (I want to teach photography at a college level), and I knew I needed a MFA to do it. So, here I am. My time leading up to applying was filled with applying to shows and getting my work in galleries and museums.

Chelsea Darter, first year MFA student from Iowa, had a different path to Columbia: “Before coming to Columbia I was living with family in Indianapolis working on my portfolio to apply to grad school. I got a photo internship at the Indianapolis Museum of Art where I mainly spent my time in their studio photographing collection work (that’s where I wanted to focus). Then for nine months I was a contracted product photographer for one of Amazon’s micro studios in Indy while also working weekends at a restaurant.”

Rebecca Memoli, third year MFA student originally from New Mexico but lived in NYC for a number of years, shared: “Before I came to Columbia I was collecting unemployment… But seriously, I was laid off right when I began applying for grad school which was sort of a blessing in disguise.”

FeiFan Zhang and Joe Jing are both students from China who came straight from undergrad. They are unique at Columbia College Chicago, as they are in the “3+2” program, where they spent three years in China working on their bachelors degree and then they spend two years here at Columbia College Chicago to obtain their master’s degree.

Kat Lui has an especially interesting and tenacious background: “Before coming to Columbia I received a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse as an Art Major and Photography Minor. During my time as an undergraduate student and after, I completed six years of working in the food service industry as a Hostess, Bartender, Cocktail Waitress, and Waitress.  I applied to graduate school two times, which was met with rejection. However, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago offered me into their 1 year Prior Degree Program which was designed to build up my portfolio for graduate school. My third attempt in applying to graduate school was met with success! I am now a Photography MFA student at Columbia College Chicago and a recipient of the Graduate Assistantship! Third time’s a charm!”

These are just a few more detailed examples of the kinds of people Columbia College Chicago attracts. We have some students who didn’t even study photography in undergrad, but studied things like neuroscience, environmental sciences, and business. One of my classmates worked on a pot farm in California for a time, and another worked for Apple. We have a student from Iran and another from England, and one of my classmates worked as a graphic designer for a time. That’s one of the great things about going to school here–we have so many different kinds of people, and they all bring their experiences and insight to the program.

So, if you’re worried about not fitting in your prospective program, find out about the people in it! You might be surprised to find out how diverse a program is beneath the surface.

And now I leave you with this apt meme:


Images courtesy of Google Image Search: Grad School