At this time a year ago, I thought I had it all figured out. I was gonna apply to grad school, get in, graduate, work with Orientation during the Summer and then start my program in the Fall. I thought it was going to be a breeze. Little did I know what I was really undertaking: a journey that was emotional, stressful, amazing, and beautiful.
The #SAgradhunt process is all of those things and it is by no means an easy one. I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t know it at the time but I definitely do now. I went into the process over-confident and then was smacked in the face with reality. Fall semester was all about creating the perfect application package. I wanted to have the perfect personal statement, the perfect letters of recommendation, and the perfect answers on the application. In striving for perfection, I lost something that would be crucial to my success: myself.
I was looking for aspects of programs because other people thought I would want them. I was considering programs because people I looked up to graduated from them. I wasn’t doing things because I wanted to do them. After the applications were turned in, I was interviewed at 2 of the 5 programs I applied for. 1 of the programs I was rejected from had been my top choice program since late July. I pretty much tailored everything to that program. However, I still had 2 opportunities so I really couldn’t complain. When I attended the interview day at UT, I was sold. I love my school and I definitely had reason to continue with program. Only a few days later, I attended CSP Days at WIU. I was in love. Everything felt like it fell into place. In student affairs, people say that it is all about fit. Well WIU fit really well with me. I was pretty much fan-girling the entire time I was there. I was certain that if I received an offer, I would accept it.
As Spring Break occurred and I started to see friends and future colleagues accept offers, my stress level skyrocketed. I was terrified that I wouldn’t get one. Of everyone I knew, I would be the one because of my luck. In the end, I was accepted to UT but not WIU. This put me in a predicament: 1) I could accept my offer to UT, be a part of a program, but have my heart not 100% in it or 2) I could decline the offer, take a year and reapply for more programs. I chose the latter option. I’m a feeler and whatever I do has to feel right. While it killed me to make that decision at the time, I’ve come to realize that it was probably the best thing to happen to me. I was burning out. I wasn’t getting enough sleep and I was drained to the max. I didn’t want to go into grad school burned out.
Flash forward to August 2014: I’m now living in Virginia having a completely new experience being out of undergrad. I’m researching grad programs and going in with new eyes. I know what I want from programs now. I’m still discovering who I am but I have a better grasp on it. The passion I had for this field has only grown since my time of undergrad ended and I’m still excited by all things student affairs.
Going into the process is scary but I have some tips for you all:
Believe in Yourself
You are going into this process because you love working with students. That passion is what is going to make you an amazing professional. Trust your instincts and know that you are going to be fine.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
I found myself doing this a lot last year. I was hard on myself because those around me were having success while I wasn’t. I know people who had 8 interview offers while I only had 2. It only ate away at me. Learn from my mistake. Everyone’s journey is different. Your journey is unique just like you are. Follow it because you never know where it may lead you.
A Rejection Is A Blessing In Disguise
Everyone has their top choice programs and assistantships. We all hate to think about what would happen if we didn’t get those choices. The truth is you keep on pushing. A rejection allows for other opportunities to knock on your door. It allows for new experiences. Basically a rejection is a way to say that there is something better out there for you.
This process is strenuous, stressful, and emotional. We often speak about self-care with our students, but forget about for ourselves. This process is one where you will need self-care and support from others. Support in both the good and the bad times. Find those people you can lean on whether they are mentors, family, friends, or even future colleagues. We are a Student Affairs family. It’s a small field. Don’t be afraid to lean on others going through the process as well.
Get to know others who are going through the process as well. We have the Future Student Affairs Grads facebook group for that reason. That is a place for us to meet future cohort mates and colleagues. We can ask questions and get insight from those currently in programs and people who have been through this process before. Last year, I participated in so many google hangouts lasting until the wee hours of the morning with others I’ll be happy to call colleagues. Student Affairs is an amazing field made up of some pretty awesome people. Don’t be afraid to talk to them.
While going through the search, don’t be afraid to apply to all over the country (if possible). There are a ton of opportunities out there. Take a risk and move away from home. I know it can be scary, moving to a place where you wouldn’t know anyone, but it’s also exciting. And you’ll have your cohort mates who, in many cases, will be going through the same transition.
Lastly, Trust the Process
Applying to grad school is a process. You have to get letters of recommendation, take the GRE, write essays, revise your resume, and then turn in the application. THEN you have to wait, find out if you got interviews offers, travel, interview, and then wait again to see if you got accepted to a program. It’s a process, but it all works out in the end. Even if you go through the process and then decide not to start a program, it will be ok. The world hasn’t ended. Your life isn’t over. You’ll be ok and your journey will still be amazing. You’ll be awesome. If you have a passion for student affairs, then your journey will take you exactly where you need to go.