Decisions, Decisions – Grad. School Edition

This past Summer, I wrote several posts about looking into and applying for Grad School Programs. Well, here’s my follow up.

I applied to seven programs in all – having decided on applying to MFA Fiction programs with the hopes of continuing on for a PhD in American Literature later. Five out of the seven were out-of-state for me, which was a bit of a leap for me. I’ve always been pretty family oriented and staying relatively close to home had been in most of my college plans up until this point. I was accepted into four of the seven schools/programs I applied to – which has been an almost breath-taking experience for me. (I had barely expected to be accepted into one due to competition, let alone four – some of which were big name schools like Butler University.)

I came out of this experience with choices, so many choices. At first, I thought that choices would make this decision process much easier for me – but I quickly learned that if there’s anything more difficult than applying to Grad programs, it’s choosing one. My choice wound down to finances and the details of the program – what kind of work the professors and alumni put out, what kind of classes a student was expected to and allowed to take, etc. I ended up enrolling in the only in-state school that I was accepted to – which, still constitutes as a big change for me as it’s five hours away from home and located in a major city. I’m incredibly excited to begin this new experience and to get back into the swing of reading and writing on a normal basis once again.

I thought I might share some tips about what to look for should anyone else find themselves in this situation, so here’s what I’ve got:

  • Know the programs your applying to. Don’t stop looking at the websites once you’re done applying – in fact, delve into them more. It will help immensely in your decision process in the end.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions. E-mail, call, etc. If these programs are really interested in you – which if you’ve been accepted into a selective Grad. program they most likely are – they will be more than willing to talk you through this process. Ask to speak with more than just the Program Director – ask for other Professor’s e-mails – the more you can get to know these people before your decision the better.
  • Look into some of the Professor’s work – chances are, if you like what they’re putting out in the world, you’ll like what they have to offer you as a teacher.
  • On that note, if it’s possible, look into some of the work by alumni as well. Take a look at what the program itself has produced.
  • Talk to some of the students currently in the program. They have the student life info that the Professors may not be able or willing to answer.
  • Take a look at the area surrounding the school – could you live there? Can you afford it? On-campus or Off-campus? This is another great reason to talk to the students – they do live there and will be more than willing to give you a few tips on the good neighborhoods or living conditions.
  • Look into financial aid opportunities as soon as possible. What kind of scholarships, fellowships, and Graduate Asssistantships are available? Have you been offered any right off the bat? What else can you do to fund your schooling? What else can the school and program do for you? (Talk to the Professors and Students about this one – different perspectives are helpful here.) You may have to crunch some numbers before you make your decision – looking into this early will make this easier.
  • Ask what the classes are like. What time of day do they take place? How often? What is it like to attend one as a student? What’s the work load like?
  • Don’t be afraid to ask when the programs need your decision by. On the same note, don’t be afraid to tell them that you’re looking into other programs as well. This will show your interest and you may find that they’re more inclined to help you get what you need to enroll in their program.
  • Once you’ve made a decision, be honest with other programs about the reasons for your choice. You don’t have to go into details – for example, when I made my final decision I simply stated that it wound down to whether or not I could afford it. They’ll understand, they’ve been here too.

Overall, it’s going to wind down to your personal interests. How far away from home are you willing to go? Which program do you like better? What’s your best bet financially? Don’t let anyone tell you where to go – ask for opinions, but know that this is your education and your future. It’s your choice – you’re the one that has to be happy with it.

I hope this helps anyone that finds themselves in a similar position in the future! Best of luck to you in your future endeavors!

“Things I Want to Ask Your Boyfriend”

1. Are her lips like the hot chocolate your mother made
During the winter months when you were seven?
Or have you not tasted her well enough to find the fine granules of cocoa that lightly come with each kiss?

2. Do you know her favorite songs?
Not when she is happy, but when she is sad.
What music reaches inside her ribcage and softly consoles her heart?

3. When she is sad, are you on the phone or are you at her door?
Words do not wipe away tears, fingers do.

4. Do you know all the things that keep her up at night?
Do you know why she has gone three days without sleep?
Do you know of the insurmountable waves of sadness that wash over her like a tsunami?

5. Do you know the things to say that will calm her heartbeat? The places to touch? The places to love?

6. Every time you see her do you kiss her like it’s the last time, but love her like it’s the first?

7. Do you love her?

8. Do you love her?

—   Nishat Ahmed, “Things I Want To Ask Your Boyfriend”