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A Study In Contrast: Undergrad vs. Graduate Decision Making

 

As I (and so many of my fellow UE bloggers) work my way through the graduate application process, I find myself being even more reflective than usual. I can't help but compare this (terrifying) experience to the experience I had almost four years ago, when trying to decide where I should go for my undergraduate degree.

Frankly, it wasn't a very difficult decision. I visited a lot of schools, many of them in my native state of Ohio, but there was never really much of a contest.

I remember my first visit to UE with almost alarming clarity. We drove the four hours through rain, passing by such amusing towns as Edwardsville and Jasper (I was going through a bit of an extreme Anti-Twilight phase at the moment, so they caught my eye). We stopped at a rest stop and my MapQuest print out almost blew away (this, if you can believe it, predated the predominance of the GPS). I raced after it, avoided disaster, and the rest of our trip passed without incident, unless you count the four times we passed the exit ramp for Weinbach on the Lloyd before getting it right.

As we pulled up through the front oval, I stared up at this impressive, old-looking building. My first look at Olmstead Hall, where I would later spend so much time climbing up to the fourth floor, once the Creative Writing department moved there. I was half holding my breath. This felt like a big moment. I was a little superstituous back then, and several people had told me "you'd just know" when you set foot on the right campus.

I opened the door of my mother's jeep and planted a foot firm on the ground, taking in a deep breath and letting my eyes rest on the gorgeous tree sprawled out in front of me. I exhalted, took in the little bench under the tree, and I knew.

It sounds a little bit ridiculous, but it's true. I knew I wanted to go here the moment I got here. Sure, I'd already been pretty convinced this was the place for me--I knew I was interested in getting a BFA, rather than a BA, and that I liked the looks of the place, but it really did just FEEL right.

My second visit solidified things. It was round two, revisting the places I liked the best, and this time we opted for an Open House rather than a private visit. I settled into a stiff desk in Hyde Hall for the English department talk (this was before the Creative Writing department split off). In wandered a woman with billowy skirts, her shawl held on with, not a brooch, but a blue binder clip. I glanced back at my mother with a look that said "no, seriously, I HAVE to go here." And that was that.

My graduate decision has been a very different animal. I'm too busy with my studies, looking at schools too far away, to consider visits. I browse their websites, looking for some sense of that FEELING again. It doesn't help that, rather than a stready stream of emails from schools that want me, I'm the one chasing after the programs and begging them to take me in. Instead of sitting back, going "Yes, I suppose my GPA and I will consider you," I'm all nerves, writing personal statements as if they could save my life; "No, really, I'm worth it, I promise. I write good. And stuff."

While I hope that I make the right decision, the main concern this time around is just that someone, anyone will see how passionate I am, and how determined I am to be the best writer I can possibly be. And yes, I'm only applying to places where I think I could fit in, be happy, and learn a lot. But it's not the same process wherein I get to choose from amongst a ton of schools that are all hoping I'll enroll. It's holding my breath, it's trying to prove in two pages or less that I'm worth it, that you should read that 20-30 page creative sample because, really, it's going to be worth it.

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