I’m finally doing it! I’m finally taking a step forward towards grad school. Today I visited NC State. The university is over 125 years old; it began life as an agricultural college, but the sudden increase of students in the post-WWII G.I. Bill boom meant that they had to refocus. It’s a giant campus, big enough that you have to drive across. There’s even a railroad track running through it.
And don’t worry, there are tunnels underneath the railroad
(okay, WordPress, I told you to center that text, why aren’t you centering that text?)
I started out my visit by going to the, well, Visitor’s Center, where I encountered the dilemma that would hold me throughout the entire visit: I have no idea what I’m looking for. The friendly undergrad running the desk asked me what grad programs I was interested in, and I confessed that I had completely mixed up the three schools I was looking at, and had no idea what grad programs I was interested in. She asked me what I was interested in studying in general. I said “History and classics and libraries” so she put an X by the Humanities building, the History building, the student center, and the library. And the main parking lot.
After getting completely lost and then parking in permit-only parking, I headed for the student union, since it was closest. The Student Union is in the process of getting renovated, so I had to take the long way around, crossing the street twice just to get to the next building over. I earned a finger-wag from a passing bus drive. It was a weird moment of confusion, not only in where I was supposed to be going but also in the fact that people finger-wag?
The Student Union, Talley Hall, is gigantic, about three times the size of Mason’s Johnson Center. The food court puts the Johnson Center to shame as well; it’s an actual food court, with lots and lots and lots of seating. It was about 2:00, past a normal lunchtime, so most of the people there were snacking and studying, except for one dude who was trying to access one of the free X-Boxes that they have there for students to play on. Their convenience store was about twice the size of the Johnson Center convenience store. They had a pizza shop and a Jimmy John’s. And an ice cream store. I couldn’t resist.
Next I crossed under the railroad tracks and visited the academic side of campus, which is the more historic part of the campus and was absolutely beautiful.
Despite being a college campus, the whole place had a serene small-town feel. There was a mix of architectural styles from the various eras the campus had existed. I didn’t take a picture of it, but there was a building, the 1911 building, with a grand entrance of four pillars. I could hear birds chirping. A small group walked by in serious discussion. A young man skateboarded by. I watched him hop the curb and then, confidently, skate off towards his destination past the silo. He didn’t even look both ways. He didn’t need to.
I walked down the street and found a busy two-lane street, lined with Jimmy John’s, I ❤ New York Pizza, and a Chipotle, among others. I walked down this street to the Humanities building. They sent me towards the History building, because I had no idea what was really going on or where I was.
As I walked, I wondered if I really wanted a Masters in History. I concluded that I didn't, not really. The fun part of history is really just reading about it. I've never really been one for original research. What would I do with a Masters in history that I couldn't do with a Bachelors? No one really seemed to think a history degree is worth all that much. Come to think of it, why was I even studying Latin? What good would that do me?
I had absolutely no idea how to explain myself once I finally arrived at the third-floor office of the History wing. I stammered out that I was looking at grad schools (true) and I was interested in history (false?) and maybe there was someone I could talk to? They gave me the email address of someone I could talk to, then sent me further into the office to talk with Nerene, the woman in charge of Student Relations.
I said I was doing preliminary research into grad schools and she asked what I wanted to know. I had absolutely no idea what to say. Finally I came up with how long the program lasted, and the conversation continued from there. Honestly, most of my questions could have been answered by looking on the website. The program is 30 credits long. They get around 80 applications every year and they accept about 50 of them. She started talking about how many of the students become Teaching Assistants or work in the library, which sounded very appealing to me. She also said something about how they got students who "did 21 hours a semester in undergrad, and then they come here and do 9 and say that they work even harder here."
I confessed that I came from a school where full time students were 12-16 credit hours, and that I had preferred to do 12 credit hours a semester because I couldn't handle the standard 15. She nodded and said that it wasn't unusual for students to do part-time, but that part-time meant that I couldn't be a TA. From the many, many, many times she mentioned students as TAs, I got the sense that being a TA was standard. I asked how one becomes a TA.
They ask you to become one; they go in order of your GPA. But it didn’t matter if you only had, say, a 3.3; if the person who had a 3.5 turned down the offer, then they would consider you next.
I got very nervous because I had a 3.09 at George Mason and maybe wouldn’t be considered to be a TA at all.
Then she mentioned, for the third time, that “public history is different of course” and so I asked what public history is.
Well. Public History is history, of course, but with an emphasis on real-world work: archiving, working at a museum, working at a historical site. There were several classes in common, but they had their own classes too. This is when I got excited. This sounded like exactly the sort of program I wanted. Somewhat of a cross between library science and history.
Sensing my enthusiasm, she started talking about applications: deadlines, three letters of recommendations, they only asked for an unofficial transcript and that only when you had already been accepted…Oh, by the way, what other colleges was I looking at?
“My manager recommended North Carolina Central’s Masters in Library Science,” I said.
That was a very good program, and also, a lot of Masters students here went on to study Library Science at UNC. It was very normal. A lot of them did their final semester at NCSU and their first semester at UNC at the same time.
Then we talked about me for a little bit, and she recommended how to balance working at Starbucks with pursuing a Masters degree. Then I left.
I still feel out-of-sorts and unable to decide. On Monday I visit NCCU. I’m still not very good at asking questions about programs. But I have email addresses now, in case I have further questions. I just have no idea what I’m looking for.