By Kristina Golden, ’19
Over the past few months, the Academic Success Center at Saint Joseph’s Hall has been swamped with anxiety-ridden seniors. Some have their eyes set on the job market, while others are frantically submitting last minute applications to graduate programs. During an interview with Christopher Surprenant, ’14, who is currently pursuing his MA in English at Northeastern University, I got some insider tips for when it’s time to apply to your dream school.
Were you an Albany local before attending The College of Saint Rose? What attracted you to our campus?
Surprenant: I’m from the Utica area, about 90 miles away from Albany. I wanted to be somewhere relatively close to home. I visited SUNY Oswego and LeMoyne, and finally Saint Rose with my mom in the fall. After we parked and left the car, we walked along Madison Avenue. I loved the idea of being able to get out of class and walk five minutes to grab some groceries or get a coffee at Tierra Coffee Roasters. I felt like I would have a little slice of home with me because the campus gave me a close-knit, connected vibe and that was really comforting.
Did you know as a high school senior that you wanted to become an English major? If not, what did you previously envision studying? What ultimately led you to pursue a degree in the humanities?
Surprenant: I was fairly certain that when I went to college I would major in English. I had always loved reading and writing, so the thought of being surrounded by others who did that for fun and not just for class was really appealing to me. I had excellent English teachers in high school that made the subject fun and made me think about the world around me in ways that I had never before considered.
I feel English majors get a lot of flack for our degree because of the stigma that it is unprofitable. Did you ever have friends or family in a STEM-oriented field question you about your future career possibilities as an English major?
Surprenant: I’ve never had anyone outright question my choice of major. I have always been very confident in my choice since the time I was a freshman. I respect the ways that STEM fields help their students to grow and develop. Humanities majors grow and develop in a different way. I hate seeing a divide between the two fields because they actually have a lot to learn from each other. Going into a field just for the money or the sake of a job doesn’t make much sense if someone isn’t particularly good at what they hope to do someday or they aren’t that invested in the subject.
Were there any classes at Saint Rose that you wish you could have taken, but you never got the chance?
Surprenant: I did want to take Dr. Sweeney’s 19th-century periodicals course, but it never fit into my schedule. I also wish that I had taken some more Communications courses like Comm Law or Film Production. That was definitely one of my favorite parts about academics at Saint Rose. There were so many courses to choose from and we had so many talented professors who cared about the success of their students.
How was your experience getting into Northeastern? Is there any advice you can give to students who are thinking of pursuing a graduate degree in English (or any field)?
Surprenant: I decided to take two years off between undergrad and grad school, and I think it was one of the best choices I made. I was able to work at a newspaper for two years and get some real experience, save money, and reflect and think about whether or not I should pursue another degree. The process of applying can get really overwhelming sometimes. I remember putting off the GRE and the [GRE English] subject test for as long as I could. The personal statement is what was most difficult for me. What helped me the most was reaching out to several former professors and asking them for feedback. While I do know people who wrote their personal statement in a week and successfully got into grad school, the majority of people I’ve spoken to about it spent many, many drafts perfecting it. While it takes time, a good personal statement feels like quite an accomplishment once it’s completed.
Stop what you’re doing right now and read ________________________.
Surprenant: Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart. If you love goofy British humor, Miranda Hart will have you rolling—and definitely watch her show, too!