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Was a Grad, Dropped Out, Now I Need Your Advice!


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Hi everyone,

So about two weeks ago I dropped out of my Master of Social Work program. It wasn't that I didn't like it, but I just realized that I want to give my true passion - for creative writing - more of a chance.

I am hoping to apply to MFA Programs next fall, which means I will have at least 2 years off. Currently I am just searching for a job or internship in the area I live in.

But I really want to do something special and meaningful with my time off next year, and i was wondering if any of you have suggestions for meaningful gap year experiences.

I am looking for something that pertains to creative writing/literature or personal growth. I'd also like it to be all or mostly funded. I'm pretty open to suggestions...I have a wide variety of interests (i.e spirituality (I am Jewish but also into eastern philosophy), art history, nature/the environment, German, history, etc. etc.!)

Things I'm not really into: AmeriCorps (unless there is a program you know of that really applies to my interest in writing) and Fulbright (well I think the deadline passed.)

Thanks so much for any and all advice/suggestions.

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Can you work at a university/college writing center, or as a writing teacher? There are a lot of college prep programs for low-income/disadvantaged youth that hire writing curriculum coordinators (part-time or full-time) to improve the students' writing and allow them to write personal statements for college. Or you could work with a test prep center and teach courses for a usually higher-income group of students.

What about Teach for America? I don't think you get to choose the subject, but you may be able to integrate writing into any subject you teach (and you may have some say. Teaching literature to children may be rewarding).

There are also other programs through which you can teach English abroad besides Fulbright. CIEE runs such programs, and there's the JET programme in Japan and the EPIK program in Korea.

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First off: NO. NO Teach for America. Absolutely not that. Not only because it's a two-year commitment (starting a year from now), but also because it's not something to go into unless you want to be involved in urban education for the long haul. Being passionate about one's subject and having a deep concern for the well-being of our nation's young people is simply not enough to be successful. (Yes, I know they market it to pre med/pre law people, but it's not that simple.) Moving on...

I second the suggestions about tutoring and/or teaching ESL. Getting out of the country -- and even just working with people from other cultures -- is rewarding in its own right, but also gives lots to think and write about. Italy hires people to teach ESL camps during the summer through an organization called the ACLE. That was a neet experience, though I don't know that it would have been financially practical if I hadn't already been in Europe at the time.

Ad agencies might have internships that would put you in contact with industrial writers and other creative types, as well as give actual writing experience. I bet lots of non profits would love to have someone write copy for them, but I doubt that would be paid.

Or, of course, you could just win the lotto. That makes everything better, right?

As a side not, have you heard of Write or Die? It's a website where set a goal and then have to keep writing until your goal gets met, and if you stop too long it starts making really annoying noices. Great motivator for just getting ideas down on "paper".

Good luck!

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OP didn't say that she only wanted one year off (she said she was taking at least 2 off) and I know plenty of people who do TFA and don't work in urban education for the long haul. Some people take the understanding of urban conditions they garner from doing TFA and put it to use in other sectors. I know it's not as simple as just being passionate, but I've had quite a few friends who successfully did TFA even though they had no intention of staying in teaching for a long time (and I would say if you WERE interested in teaching for a long time, TFA wouldn't be the way to go necessarily). I have a friend who did TFA for two years, ended up working for their corporate offices and is now at Yale Law.

And I'm not saying it just because I'm defensive about my answer - but moreso because I just want the info out there for others who may be reading the article. I admit that it may not be the best choice for someone just looking to fill two years, though, as it's intense.

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I think SeriousSillyPutty is implying that the OP should NOT look at Teach for America (TFA) as a short-term stint until she finds something else to do because you're dealing with underprivileged children who live in vulnerable conditions and deserve highly-committed teachers. These students need real mentors who have a strong desire to help them succeed in life; not someone who's in it to boost their resume and move on to more prestigious opportunities. That is a dangerous mentality, and is one major reason why I oppose TFA.

Edited by michigan girl
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@Juliet-

Sorry, I think I came off more hostile than I intended. Knee-jerk response to bad experience with TFA.

But you're right; I too have known people who have been successful in TFA and then moved on to other things; that's certainly how TFA markets itself, and I actually agree that two years in an under-served classroom does influence one's worldview (in a good way) regardless of the field pursued after. I aslo know people who ended up sticking with it, and are into their fifth or sixth year teaching at the same school.

To the extent that it exposes people such as myself, who grew up in a suburban bubble, to the real needs of our extended community, it's a good thing. To the extent it keeps kids from having a series of long-term subs, and often ends up "hooking" people into education who originally were interested in more prestigeous paths, these to are good things.

But, the fact of the matter is that (based on the data) first and second year teachers are not that good, even if, like the TFAers, they're really smart and work really hard. And even the people who are so successful in TFA that they end up working for the organization say that TFA is THE most stressful two years of your life. So there are reasons to do Teach For America, but people should risk neither their own mental health nor the education of 150+ children just for the chance at a personal growth or a steady paycheck.

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A much better option than TFA, especially since you live in Ann Arbor, is 826 Michigan (http://www.826michigan.org/). If you're not familiar with the 826 centers, they're creative-writing focused tutoring and mentoring programs throughout the country. They take interns, but also always need volunteers, which can be a flexible commitment in terms of the number of hours you can give a week. Beyond getting to work with kids on their writing, which is a lot of fun, the other volunteers are generally writers too, meaning you could have a built-in network of people to discuss your goals and aspirations for an MFA.

Good luck!

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  • 1 month later...

I'm considering doing the same exact thing. Anthro is not my passion, and I find myself thinking about the MFA I could be getting every day.

Anyway, I spent my gap year between ungrad and grad school teaching English abroad. Try daveseslcafe.com (or something like that). There are plenty of jobs out there that provide housing and don't require any teaching experience, plus the experiences you'll gain traveling will make excellent writing material!

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