Grad School as Dante’s 9 Circles of Hell

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Grad School as Dante’s 9 Circles of Hell

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

-From Dante’s Divine Comedy as translated by Reverend H.F. Cary 1814


Congratulations, by opening this article you have successfully made it through the proverbial gateway to Hell.   You surpassed all of the naysayers and skeptics, and gave into the temptation of curiosity to check out what crazy nonsense I write about next! If you’re still reading, it’s because you (or someone you know) are in grad school and can in someway relate to the idea that for 2+ years, depending on your concentration and program, you have willingly entered a type of hell.

Allow me to be the renowned Virgil to your Dante as I guide you through the 9 Circles of Hell (aka Grad School).

1. Limbo

Here is where you are fresh out of undergrad and beginning the graduate school process.  You aren’t 100% sure what you want to be when you grown up; but you also don’t want to be 45, single, and living in a broken down van by the river.

This circle is where you do the majority of your soul searching.  Perhaps you take a break after college and join the professional world.  Maybe you cash in all of those safety deposits Aunt Ruth sent you on you every birthday since you were born and travel.  Or maybe you take on the life of a hermit and try out human hibernation theory in your parent’s basement.

Whichever you choose, you eventually feel the need to scratch a itch.  Find passion in something.  Which means you’re ready for the next circle.

2. Lust

This is the circle where you have found your perfect fit.  You’ve decided what you want to do with that bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and enroll yourself into a graduate program.

Everything this program has to offer is intoxicating.  The professors use some hypnotic technique that draws you into the program more after each class.  You have made relationships with your peers and have begun forming inside jokes and go to group study spots.

This is the stage where everything you do feels good.  Like you are on a constant high… until you’re not.  You need something else to feed your fix.  Which you can only find when you enter the next circle.

3. Gluttony

Being that gluttony means overindulgence, let’s explore two different ways to this circle.  Either way you have noticed the classes and professors no longer have that magical hold on you.  The glow of a new grad student has long faded leaving you needing something – anything.  So you overexert yourself in more classes; or in activities.

With the class scenario this is where you decided to tough out the summer and take an extra mini-mester class.  At first you think it is smart planning; you can fast track your way through the program and graduate before the original date.  What you really learn is that you now have twice the work due in half the amount of time and surrounded by a majority of people you do not know and want to use you for your ideas… Enter circle 4.

OR you take the road of multitasking.  You’re not getting satisfaction from class even though you are interested in what you are studying.  So you decide to indulge in social interactions with your classmates.  You are the ultimate party planner.  The more friends the merrier, cause their happiness will feed your happiness… Until their need to feel happy begins to drain your need…. Enter circle 4.

4. Greed

Whichever road you took in the third circle, you’ve now entered Greed.  The level where you want everything to serve yourself in the best way possible.  You begin to look out for number one, because who else is going to do it for you?  Competition sets in – you’re looking for internship sites and refuse to allow anyone to have a better experience than you.  Someone asks to borrow your notes for the millionth time and take credit for the knock out grade they received on a project they would NOT have gotten without your help? —- rude!

Your blood is boiling at this point.  The stress and exhaustion is getting to you… So you move to circle 5.

5. Wrath

This is where you completely loose your shit!  I mean full emotional break down! You doubt everything anyone has every told you, blame your parents and professors for leading you astray.  You feel you are a failure and will never amount to anything in life.. And once you have finished your tantrum, you’re ready for circle 6.

6. Heresy

Here is where you are trying to find yourself.  You’ve had your cry, now it’s time to pull up those big kid pants and be an adult.  You start to experiment and decide social norms are for yuppies and dance to the beat of your own drum.  You tiptoe the line of professional ethics to see how far you can push your limits reassuring yourself that experimenting is a completely natural experience and the only way to ensure your authentic self…. and then reality hits and you move into circle 7.

7. Violence

Because no live cycle would be complete with only one emotional breakdown…. Here’s your opportunity to have a defcon  5 of outbursts! Here is where you are likely to consider a Brittany Spears circa 2007 meltdown.  You scream.  You cry.  Maybe you throw things as instructed by your certified CrossFit coach…. Either way, this could be a circle you tiptoe back and forth into until you feel ready for circle 8….

8. Fraud

Think of this level as the space you disbelieve everything.  Everyone around you is a liar.  Hair stylist? Liar.  Walmart Greeter? Liar.  This is the level where you doubt everything you have professionally grown to understand.  Those so called experts were clearly nut jobs with mommy-issues (yeah, I’m talking about you Freud!).  Grad school was developed purely to test a persons limits, and then break them. No, disseminate them!  You find yourself constantly asking “who told me adulting was FUN!?” — LIARS!!!!

So if after experiencing all the fun realities of adult life, and you manage to go backward into circle 7 for a quick trip and sprint through circle 8 with the hope of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel… you’re ready for circle 9.

9. Treachery

This is not necessarily a stage of pure negativity.  Though it can be a stage of intense loneliness.  It is in this circle that you have succumbed to educational isolation.  You stray from peers and family as you prepare for final exams and national certification boards.  You do this with a heavy heart because you know being around people will only lead you down the path of procrastination and fun.  And as you’ve learned… grad school is not fun! So you act as your own traitor – leaving your friends for your own selfish gains.  Like sleep.  Or to binge watch some pointless show.  Because at this point, you are exhausted.  Mentally.  Physically.  Emotionally.  DONE!


The good news? Grad school is NOT forever! It sucks, it’s hard as hell, and it takes a serious toll on your emotional and physical health; but it is only temporary.

Think of it this way, when you were in that lustful bliss of excitement at the beginning… You found your passion.  Your purpose in life.  Don’t let the hard times keep you from being you and achieving your goals.  NEVER abandon hope.


About the Author:

Hi, I'm Brooke. I'm addicted to Starbucks and my pomeranian Tinkerbell. If I could name one thing I would want my readers to take from my posts it would be that their reactions to my words are theirs alone. I cannot force you to feel what I feel when I write. So always take responsibility and find meaning in the world as it best applies to you.