Last week I paid $140 to miss an afternoon of classes and take a standardized test on which I’m certain I could have scored better without three and a half years of higher education muddling my memory of high school geometry.

This weekend I paid $50 to have a university in my home state tell me that the fact that I’ve possessed a Georgia driver’s license, driven a car registered in Georgia, paid Georgia income taxes, voted in Georgia elections and — oh yeah — lived in Georgia for more than 17 years isn’t “adequate” proof that I’m a Georgia resident.

Why? I am trying to avoid the recession — I mean, apply to graduate school.

To be honest, this isn’t how I pictured the fall semester of my senior year. For one thing, having fulfilled my LSA quantitative reasoning requirement, I was fairly confident my weakness in mathematics would never be relevant again. Last winter I started planning for graduation, deciding that I would follow the advice of seasoned journalists and jump right into the job market, then either save up enough money for graduate study or see if my employer liked me enough to foot the bill. I spent the summer cultivating connections, bulking up my résumé and clipping ads for entry-level positions.

Then the economy tanked. I listened in silent terror as my roommate, who is graduating in a few weeks with only a vague notion of where she’ll go next, related stories about job interviews that ended with sighs of “we like you … but we can’t hire you right now.” And like many of my classmates, I looked at my still unemployed friends who graduated last year and decided that graduate school seemed like the perfect place to wait out the storm.

It’s not an uncommon plan. A recent study conducted by Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions showed that there has been a nearly 45-percent increase in interest in business, law and graduate programs in just the past few months. As the director of graduate programs noted, the level of interest in such programs is often dependent on the economy — specifically, the worse the market is, the more likely college students are to pursue post-graduate degrees.

It’s sound logic, really: If you can’t find a job, you might as well devote your energy to becoming more employable. My father figured that out in the 1970s, and it’s still a good option today.

Unfortunately, as the “how to get into your dream graduate school” books have informed me, we economic refugees are late — about six months late, in fact. So armed with little more than a list of graduate programs out of U.S. News and World Report, I’ve tried to condense several months of painstaking research into the past several weeks. And now, with less than one week until the application deadline for my first choice school, I have seven partially finished applications, three recommenders in various states of confusion, two undergraduate classes in which I’m falling behind, a head cold and the growing conviction that I’m being punished for graduating this year.

There are so many details that make this process more difficult than it needs to be. For instance, finding references who fit each school’s specific criteria can be nearly impossible, even for students who go to office hours and have friendly bosses. The GRE is basically the SAT four-plus years later with more esoteric vocabulary words and, bizarrely, inadequate preparation tools for Mac users. (Don’t worry, “I’m a PC” people — the free tutorial software works on your computers.) And unless you’re a dirt-poor undergraduate at the school to which you’re applying for graduate study, forget about application fee waivers. By the end of this process, I’ll be down almost $600 — and at least I don’t have to worry about flying myself across the country for interviews.

But hassle aside, I can’t deny that college graduates gain something from this process: a mature, distinct sense of self. When I applied to college four years ago, all I had was a vague notion of what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it. I may have filled out most of the paperwork and written the cliché essay about challenges, but I had my parents, teachers and one very helpful guidance counselor telling me where to sign.

And while I’ve developed that plan for my life over the past few years here at the University, nothing has shaped the image of what comes next more than choosing the program that will help me distinguish myself as a journalist, as a student and as a person.

I just hope that that plan is willing to forgive my tardiness.

Emmarie Huetteman is an associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at huetteme@umich.edu.

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