For college women
When "Plan A" Doesn't Work Out: Graduate School Detour
By: by Kristen Szustakowski Creative Direction Assistant, Campus Calm®
When I began my senior year of college, I was armed with a gorgeous off-campus apartment, a boyfriend who made me feel like a queen, and a "flawless" plan for my future: I was going to graduate school. I did not know exactly where I wanted to go, or what kind of English program I wanted, but I knew I was going and as far as I was concerned, nothing was going to stop that.
I spent August and September searching colleges all over the country, categorizing them in detailed charts and rating them by preference, adjusting my numbers every hour it seemed. I spent October studying endlessly for my GREs, having memorized hundreds upon hundreds of new vocabulary words. I saved up for application fees during November while I crafted and then re-crafted letters of intent, and by December everything had been sealed and sent off, a whole month before any of the deadlines were up!
Then came the time to wait...and wait...until the final week of March when I found my mailbox stuffed with rejection letters and compromises. Example: "Though we are unable to accept you for this program, we believe you'll make a good fit in Fill-In-The-Blank if you re-apply next term."
As much as I tried to tell myself everything happens for a reason, I was having a serious problem accepting my circumstances. For one, I had believed myself to have been the perfect candidate. I had the grades, the recommendations, the real-life experience, the publications...what were they looking for that I didn't have? Secondly, I never gave it a moment's thought what I would do if I didn't go to graduate school. There was no plan B. My last few weeks of college classes were torture. Because I had given a presentation earlier in the semester about applying to graduate school, everyone was asking me what school I was going to and what advice I could give them for their futures. I couldn't even get what I wanted in my own future!
Though it took a few months to get over my feelings of bitterness and lack of confidence, I got through it, and am re-applying for graduate school.
Here are a few words of wisdom I kept in mind:
It's Just A Detour: When it occurred to me that I would not be going to graduate school in the Fall of 2009, the last thing I wanted to think about was applying again. For that reason, I interpreted those rejection letters as a Never instead of a Not-Yet. Think of them more as a detour. You can still get there; you just have to go a different way.
Get Answers: You probably will never know exactly why a school didn't admit you. Rejection letters often come with an email address to contact about questions regarding your application, but as a professor once told me, emails that come through there are often sent directly to a trash bin. You're better off going to your college's career center, where a trained career advisor might be able to point out weak areas on your application, as well as assist you in taking the next step in a different direction. Ask them what you can do with just your bachelor's degree, and if there are any internships that might be beneficial. I found it useful to touch base with the professors who had written me letters of recommendation. Chances are, they know you fairly well and can give you some advice. Usually they'll volunteer to write you another letter for if and when you choose to apply to graduate school again.
Real Life University: It's probably no surprise to anyone to learn that the real world is nothing like college. The look on my manager's face when I asked if we could dress up to work on Halloween is a prime example. Spending some time away from campus is an excellent reality check, and a full-time job can give you the opportunity to meet others unlike yourself. For example, you'll be spending good amounts of time with people much older than you, as well as people your own age who entered the work force or military right out of high school. Their experiences will be much different than yours, and though you might be the one with the college degree, you'll find they know all sorts of things you don't.
What Do You Miss?: Taking time away from college gives you the opportunity to reflect in a very powerful way. It helps to think about academics in a non-academic environment because that's when you discover what classes you really miss and why. Or maybe you'll realize you love not being in school and you don't want to go back after all! Thinking about what you miss about your college major can help you discover what to focus on in graduate school.
Review Your Mistakes: If you are like me, you never want to see the rejected pieces of your application again. But you'll find when you do glance it over, there are things you could improve on that are made to light now only because time has passed. When I looked over my letters of intent, I found myself to be all over the place in what I wanted to do with my master's degree. Taking time away from campus has made me realize what I want as a career, and though I haven't figured out exactly what part of English I want to focus on, I'm getting close. I know that when I apply again, the application is going to have the focus I lacked before.
Today I'm armed with a cute far-away-from-campus apartment, a full time job that pays the bills (and a little extra), a boyfriend who still makes me feel like a queen, and a work-in-progress plan for my future. Plan A may not have worked out, but Plan B is giving me all kinds of tools and experiences I didn't have before. When it comes time to give Plan A another whirl, you can bet I'm going after it like a beast.
Do you resonate with Maria & Kristen's stories? If so, you're the person Maria's speaking to in her book Campus Calm University, which Kristen contributed to. It's designed to empower you to give up the exhausting pursuit of perfection (whether it's grades or relationships), and instead embrace the real steps to success, health, happiness and leadership. Chapters teach you how to be a lifelong learner, infuse your career search with some PG passion, love yourself, embrace risk, focus inward and surround yourself with a network of positive people who can help you reach your goals. And much more too!