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The Truth About a Fifth Year

I remember somewhere around the middle of my junior year asking a senior if they were sad about graduating. It seemed to me that I had so little time left and I was just over halfway through undergrad at Notre Dame. They told that a senior before them had said, “You’ll be ready to graduate. As great as this place is, you’ll be ready for what comes next.” I filed it away in my mind and hoped that when it came time for me to graduate, I would feel the same.

Last year, as I was staring down the end of my time at Notre Dame (or so I thought), I was ready. I had spent a wonderful four years at Notre Dame and while I knew I would miss this place, I, too, was ready for what came next. The thing was, I had applied to Notre Dame for my Masters and part of me was hoping it wasn’t an option that would be sitting on the table and the other part of me was praying that it would be. In the case of the former, I felt restless, ready to see more of the world, wanting a new playground and new challenges and more growth. On the other hand, Notre Dame’s English Masters program was fully funded.

I got in and looking at all the options on the table, I knew that the next step for me was going to be two more years at Notre Dame getting my Masters. Approaching the end of the year left me in a weird limbo: I took advantage of every opportunity that came my way, but there wasn’t a sense of true finality for most things. I knew I would walk the halls of DeBart again, visit the Grotto to light candles, watch more football games from the student section, and even study with the same professors I had in Undergrad.

What I didn’t know was how different things would be.

My experience is not indicative of all grad programs at Notre Dame and I’m sure it’s quite different than super seniors, but if you’re considering staying for another year or two or three or more years, here’s some insight I know I would have appreciated.

Your Notre Dame graduate experience will be notably different than your undergraduate experience.

This is partially because your workload will shift. As much homework as you may have thought you had in Undergrad, it’s about to triple. You may wonder if that’s possible, but it is. It’s not always that bad, but you’re going to have a lot less free time.

Your friends made your Notre Dame experience.

Grad school is a great opportunity to meet new people, but they’re not going to be the same kind of people you went to undergrad with for four years. They work hard and they’re smart and driven, but their interests are different and they won’t be nearly as plugged into “The Notre Dame Experience” as you were in undergrad.

Football is still great, but planning for football weekends takes a lot more time and effort.

There are HUGE benefits to still being at Notre Dame, like guaranteed tickets to all the games for less than face value. You do still have to stand all game and only sit at halftime (it’s amazing how fast you’ll start to feel old), but all your friends will come in and want to stay with you! It is great when everyone is back in town, just like undergrad (Finni’s, the Backer, Vesuvio’s, Nick’s…need I say more) but your apartment may become a zoo because you have free floor and couch space. Be a good host, but know when to say no if you’re at capacity.

Your version of a good time is going to look a bit different.

I still love a good night at Finni’s or the Backer, but it’s more fun when my friends are in town. Suddenly, I’m way too old for Feve, but Brother’s is still a fun time on a Thursday or on Sunday. I love trivia at O’Rourke’s on Mondays (something that hasn’t changed since undergrad), but I can’t go out on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday anymore. It’s more of a pick one sort of scenario. It’s sad, but I can’t afford the time, and 3am nights ending at Five Guys are no longer my idea of a good time. Casual pints at the bar or with friends at people’s houses are great, but house parties (sadly) are mostly a thing of the past.

You have to make more of an effort to appreciate and enjoy the fact that you’re at Notre Dame.

Have you had those days when you forget to be grateful and aware that you’re at Notre Dame? We all have, I know I did in undergrad. But I find it a lot harder to lift my head out of the books and articles it is constantly buried in to appreciate my surroundings. I am so thankful to be at Notre Dame and to have had the opportunity to spend not four, but five and a half years here. But I constantly have to remind myself to look around, to wander campus leisurely, instead of rushing off to the next thing on my schedule. It’s harder to remember where you are, because some days “grad school” is more where I am than Notre Dame.

You will realize you are either very committed to more school or that you’re really ready to be out of school and start working.

The best part of more time in school is that it will either confirm your desire to continue studying or it will make you painfully aware that you really want to venture out into the work world. I have no regrets about going to grad school, because it really helped me crystalize where I want to go in the future and what career path I’d like to pursue. It has made me restless to get out of school (hence graduating a semester early next year), but I know what I want and how to get it.

Grad school is hard, I can’t and won’t sugar coat that. But if you choose this path, have faith in your ability not only to get everything done, but also to succeed. Take it as a time to figure out what you want to do next, but don’t let it set you back financially, romantically, or professionally. Learn what you can, but make sure you make an informed decision on grad school. It’s a lot of work just to buy yourself time; make sure it’s a step forward for you, not just a safe step. Best of luck!


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Maria Fahs

Notre Dame

Maria is finishing her Masters in English at Notre Dame. She has read many good books and several bad books, but she usually tries not to finish those. Her current favorites are: 1984, The Book Thief, The Tragedy Paper, Code Name Verity, Dr. Copernicus, I Am the Messenger, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and of course, Harry Potter. She is writing her second thesis on Harry Potter, exploring notions of authorship and reader agency in the digital age. She even managed to write her Capstone on British Children's Literature and designed her own Directed Readings Course on Notre Dame history during undergrad. Her favorite way to read is with a mug of tea and scented candles. When she doesn't have her nose stuck in a book, she can be found binging on the BBC (Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Merlin [RIP]). Her favorite color is purple, she studied abroad in London, and she enjoys being an amateur painter. She harbors a not-so-secret dream of one day writing a children's book, but until then, she is likely to be found reading them and writing letters whenever she gets a chance. She hopes to teach English or work in a university sharing her love of education.
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