This past weekend, I remembered how I concluded the search for graduate schools. Nothing could have prepared me for the mental evolution ever since I started applying. Initially, I only knew I wanted to do my GRE and GMAT and apply to graduate programs for a dual degree.
Without more than the knowledge that I needed to do extremely well in these standardized steps, I started with the low hanging fruit – studying for the tests, and after the results, discovering how I could get through just the exams. After studying and passing both sets of exams, I decided to prioritize taking the path to public health.
For those who have often had plans laid out before them, and never really had to make deliberate plans in one direction or another, you can imagine my trepidation in defining the early stages of my career through my training. It was with much thought, that I decided to pursue a Masters.If you haven’t often had to lay out complex plans, start now, because time was the friend that made me realize, it is my life, and right now, I have to.
Self reflection can systematically break you down. Couple some harsh introspection with a clash of busy and intimidating work conditions, and you can totally lose it. Thankfully, this process of turning yourself inside out and discovering what exactly it means to be a student writing about myself was productive. The breaking down of my long term and short term goals, coupled with my skills, and interests called on me to identify who I am, what others perceive of my strengths, and what I would like to do in future.
As I had become accustomed to throughout my school years, I motioned closer to my profs. I needed to know what was the best way to start presenting my academic papers to my prospective schools. I started with a professor who had shaped my latter undergraduate years, a scholar-mentor-friend figure who I respect. At first, when I emailed with a shortlist of what I thought I would present, he replied asking more questions. After his answering with a series of thought provoking questions, I felt the impetus to forge ahead quite strongly, and I really re-wrote my work.
Despite his busy schedule, he met me, listened to me wade through tentative descriptions of my work and described succinctly how to move your mind into the academic viewpoint. He gave me the teacher’s best gift to a student, the ability to translate their observations of your work and perspectives and create a powerful stamp of approval that propels the student to ardently pursue his or her own goals.
Whoever tells you applying to graduate school is easy is not applying while working full-time managing timely deadlines, and a full social calendar, family and friends. However, the ease I found with this great directional help from my professor allowed me to know what I was going to do to apply, and convinced me that this was indeed the educational opportunity that I sought.
When you are applying to graduate school, you quickly discover that everyone has an idea of where you ought to be. You have to have the deep-seated resonant voice of a strong willed child to distinguish the effusive-yet-empty praisers from those deeply invested in your success.
It helped to have some goals and a view of who I am and what I hope to achieve, to help me determine the direction the true voice was coming from. Overall, the responses were powerful. While many people who I trust and turn to seemed to think that I would make a particularly good grad student, some were not convinced. I know now there will always be dissenters, whose negativity must be tempered with good grace.
All my academic advisers had my back throughout this iterative process. There are many people who worked with me on this part, and I have to highlight one, in particular. He guided me and did so in a diligent, pragmatic and exemplary manner. He was unshakeable in his support, sure that I would get into both of his prestigious alma maters – his first academic loves – or really, any school I set my heart to attending.
I read letters from classmates and friends in the professional world who were undergoing similar trying processes. Many did not make it. Either they bombed the GREs, or messed up their apps, or couldn’t get good recommendations. Something was always up, it seemed. For others, it seemed as if their every word turned to another letter of acceptance accompanied by an offer of full funding. Such is life, I thought.
In the face of all of this, I started to hope. I planned my next vacation (far beyond the hand-in dates for the applications) and started what I thought would be just 4 applications. At one point after making these plans, I gave up by saying it out loud, to my family and dear ones. And immediately, I regretted giving up almost right away. I found, to my deep delight and relief, that I had many people around me who would not let me give up. You need these people. I am glad I have had the chance to thank them.
Next, I asked for writing help. Despite my experience as a blogger and many-time writer, I found that the statement that I had written was not yet up to par. I logged online one evening, and found a friend who I had not met for a long time, who was now making a name for herself increasing the writing potential for her community. She heard my predicament, and offered her advice at no fee (a boon to my pocket and to my project)
And my mind opened up. I challenged the notion of possibility. I chose to believe and reproduce things that I had done, creating connections that would show these schools that I was the student that they needed to admit and possibly fund. I looked at the pages and edited feeling the truth in the statement that I produced and shared with admissions officers.
That graduate school preparation process meant that I had to count my contributions as meaningful; my thoughts as valid; my work as intentional and my contacts and placements as invaluable. Graduate school seems to be one place that all my world will collide and change for the better in many ways. I cannot wait for this experience to continue unfolding.