1. Be open to the unexpected.
I had my fair share of acceptances and rejections the two times I applied to grad school. Imagine being where you are now: applied to grad school, just finished traveling and interviewing, got your offers on the table… and then deciding to take a year off.
This is what I did, and it was the best decision I ever made.
After getting my offers and rejections, I had this undeniable, gut feeling that I was not suppose to go to grad school yet. I cried, I didn’t sleep, I was constantly checking my bank account…
But I realized that it gave me more peace to turn down my offers, and take time time to myself. But needless to say, I took advantage of everything California had to offer a 22-year old.
But when the rooftop pool parties were over and all the champagne bottles were empty, I realized that I still didn’t really have a plan. A part of my story that I’ll never forget was thinking about how I had been the overachieving student leader who’s picture was all over campus…
…to being in my bathrobe, not showering for like three days, and feeling very alone. I was looking for value and worthiness in all the wrong places (including grad school), and I knew I had to make a change.
Long story short, I cold-called President Obama’s reelection campaign LA Headquarters and asked to volunteer. I gave my elevator speech about being a recent grad and all my qualifications, and little did I know that I was speaking to a Deputy Regional Field Director who then asked if I could interview on the spot for a fellowship program with the campaign. A month or so later, I was hired as a full-time staff member running my own campaign office as one of the youngest employees in the state.
You never know what’s going to happen or where your decisions will lead you. Maybe it’s a school you thought was perfect online but awful in person, or deciding to take a year off. When making a hard decision, quiet yourself and choose the one that gives you the most peace.
2. If being a person of color is salient for you, ask to speak with students with your similar identities… and while you’re at it, ask how the program supports students of color.
You may find that their experiences are not something they can share in the big room… ask for a one-on-one and for the honest answer to what the racial climate is like, especially if you are going to a predominately White state or institution.
I applied to Vermont the second time I applied to grad school. I knew that Vermont was the second Whitest state in the nation, and I definitely had to do my homework and find out what it was really like up here. I was suspicious (with good reason) but after talking to many folks, I knew where I could go to for support, and that I was in a place to take the challenge to better learn how to navigate White spaces as a woman of color.
3. Grad school is not a way to escape a bad breakup, fight with your best friend, or anything else you’re trying to run away from. That shit will follow you wherever you go.
The first time I applied to grad school, looking back, I realized I was running away. I was running away from a broken heart, lost popularity, and a family I wasn’t really talking to. It seemed a lot easier for me to just move to another state where I could start over and build a new life.
But while traveling for interviews, I realized I was still sad. That’s because broken relationships and broken hearts don’t stay in the states you left them in… they follow you wherever you go. I knew I had to find healing, peace, and forgiveness– and that wasn’t going to happen for me by moving away; it would actually make it much harder to repair some of these relationships. Find the peace within yourself so that you can take that peace wherever you go, and make saying goodbye a little less bitter and a lot more sweet.
And it made it much more fun when I had my grad school reveal party.
4. You… yes, you. If you want to go to grad school, then do it. You belong in grad school. You are brilliant and talented and your education does not have to stop here.
When I got into grad school, I developed this really unexpected fear that I was going to die before I made it to Vermont. I stopped driving long distances, I didn’t go out late, I was always extra careful when leaving the house. And if I made it to the airport, I was convinced that my plane would crash.
I confined to J about this, and she told me about research on how folks of marginalized identities often put a lot of value in graduating from undergrad but have a hard time envisioning the future beyond that. For me, I thought I already made it. I did it. The Filipino-American, immigrant family dream– I graduated from college. Any success beyond that? It was easier for me to see myself dead before getting a masters. I am the first in my family to pursue a masters degree, so there were no role models to show me that I could do it. But I got in, I’m in it now, and I be damned if I don’t graduate as a Master of Education. If you want, live your life and get it.
And once you get there, “imposter syndrome” (that awful, numbing feeling that you don’t belong somewhere) is no joke. Read more about it on page 42 of The Vermont Connection journal by my friend and colleague, Queena Hoang.
5. At this point in the game, you will not make a wrong decision.
There is no way I could’ve predicted everything that happened when I was in the midst of applying to grad school. In my unexpected year off, I worked for the President of the United States, went to the inauguration, did three internships at Pomona College, USC, and Georgetown, got published in a book that my colleagues now use in their classes, and I was also able to be there when my mom unexpectedly got sick… and rekindle our mother-daughter relationship. There’s no way I could’ve predicted any of this happening when I was unsure about my future and sitting with three-day old, greasy hair.
This was advice given to me by one of my mentors, and it truly freed me when I was struggling with what to do. Whether you choose your first choice, second choice, or no choice at all– you will not make a wrong decision. Every decision will lead you to another lesson; free yourself of the fear of making a mistake, because at this point in the game– there are no mistakes, only choices.