This post is a continuation of Wednesday’s post about What I Learned While Interviewing for Graduate School. You can find part 1 here.
Rutgers was probably the most unique visit of the four, most pointedly because I had reached my limit. Rutgers happened two weeks after USF, and I thought that was enough time for me to recoup at home. It decidedly was not.
I was so proud of how I had taken care of myself at the previous interviews, too. At both of those schools, I had opted out of optional social events that I had worried would overwhelm me. In the end, that didn’t matter so much standing on Rutgers campus with a wet backpack (my water bottle had leaked everywhere), crying on the phone to my mom that I wanted to go home.
Just as I had with every other bought of homesickness I had ever felt, I sucked it up and stayed. I could be proud of my renewed sense of resilience, if nothing else.
My interviews at Rutgers were middle-of-the-road. What I didn’t learn through interviewing, I learned through the people I met. I had not connected nearly as much with my fellow interviewees at any other school than I had at Rutgers. And being a 24-year old going through a depressive episode, this was significant. At every other school, I had connected more naturally with the current students than those who would probably in class with me.
At Rutgers, I learned that I was still able to connect with my peers. Amidst a depressive episode where I felt old and boring, I was still able to make friends, and if I could make friends, then I could survive graduate school.
It was also at Rutgers where I received my call from Akyanna at USF offering me my top position and a spot in their program. To this day, I still have her message saved to my phone. Not only did this prove to me that at least one school had faith in me, but it allowed me to approach the rest of my interviews feeling slightly more relaxed. I already had a position at a school that I liked! Even if I received no other offers, I could still go and study in Florida. For someone used to the Mid-Atlantic climate, it could definitely be worse.
University of South Carolina
The University of South Carolina undoubtedly must be the most important school because that is where I decided not to attend graduate school.
At first glance, South Carolina was a lot like Florida: more laid-back, more experience-focused than course-focused, and very welcoming. My host Alex and I hit it off almost instantly. We mostly just hung out and ate with some other students the night that I arrived and the morning before our first information session. After I told her that I might get homesick, she checked on me regularly, which I found touching.
During the information session, we heard all about the curriculum and I had my usual doubts. I didn’t particularly want to take graduate-level courses, but it was something that I needed to do. So I grinned through it. It wasn’t until the president of the program got up to speak that I started feeling differently than I ever had about graduate school. He got up on the podium and talked about dedication. He spoke about the late nights that Student Affairs professionals are putting in day in and day out. He said that if we wanted to go into this field we needed enough enthusiasm and determination to make it through those late nights. Did I really want to do that?
One of the reasons that I wanted to be a Student Affairs professional was to help students lead healthier lifestyles. I wanted to encourage them to get enough sleep, to take time to eat, to relax. I wanted to combat all of the stress that lives on college campuses. And the main reason that I wanted to do that was because I wanted to lead a balanced life myself. Would I be able to do that as a Student Affairs professional? Now that I thought about it, a lot of Student Affairs professionals at my undergraduate institution had worked late frequently…
I bit back my doubts. I had had doubts before, right? And I always talked myself out of them. Once the president of the program was done speaking, all of the prospective students were hanging out talking. As I was talking to my potential future peers, something dawned on me: these people were way more excited about this field and everything surrounding it than I was. They were always talking about which classes excited them, and even worse, conventions that they just couldn’t wait to attend. And it just hit me that I couldn’t relate to them at all. There was no part of me that was excited about things like conventions and summer programs. I just wanted to get through a program so that I could help students.
This wasn’t right for me. If this is how Student Affairs professionals were supposed to feel, then I couldn’t be one. All of my previous doubts about whether or not I would enjoy Student Affairs as a professional came rushing back. Those doubts were there for a reason! I realized that I had had my blinders on. I was blindly moving forward with this plan without really considering if I would enjoy it.
I texted the one person who had seen me through this entire process. The level-headed person who had always talked me down from my doubts: Josh. I texted him to let him know my decision and all of the reasons behind it. He reminded me of all of the reasons that I had considered going to graduate school, and I responded to each one, recognizing both the pros and the cons. Eventually, he said the sentence that I think made me realize that I was making the right decision:
“You seem really at peace with this decision.”
And he was right. I was. I hadn’t felt anywhere near this much peace throughout the entire graduate school process. I was stressed, and not just about the course load. I had been ignoring all of the signs that this path wasn’t right for me. Not only was I glad to feel relief at this revelation, but I also had never felt so at peace without a plan. A lack of plan usually had me freaking out and googling possible careers/graduate majors, but I was happy. I was relieved to know that I had made a huge life decision and that I was finally listening to the signs.
I told my host Alex that once we got back to her apartment, I would want to talk to her. She asked me at dinner if I wanted to talk to several current students at once, but since I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to talk about my future without getting emotional, I told her that I thought it would be smarter to wait.
When we got back, I told her all about my doubts. Alex assured me that I could go into Student Affairs if I wanted to. USF had offered me a position in their program, after all. They saw that I could do it, and she said that she did too. She followed that by saying that I was the only one who could make the decision for myself. Although I hadn’t gotten all of my thoughts and feelings out, I got in the shower so that I could get to bed. I had interviews early the next morning, and even if I wasn’t going to go to USC, I still needed to go to my interviews.
When I got out of the shower, Alex handed me a poetry book with post-its sticking out. She told me that she had marked some poems that might help to bring me peace as I make my decision. It was the perfect thing for her to offer me after such an emotional day.
I laid on my blow-up mattress in her living room, read the poems she marked for me, and cried to my partner and my mom over the phone. Even though I was happy with my decision, it was still difficult to have my plan upended. Both of them told me to wait until I had a full-night’s sleep to make my decision, and while I agreed to do that, the decision had really already been made.
Regardless of my decision, I’m glad that I attended interviews at these graduate schools. I met some wonderful people, got some insight into a field that I have interest in, and, most importantly, learned a lot about myself in the process.
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/