Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gone, but not forgotten

Wow, life has gotten hectic here. You may have thought I was gone, that I was abandoning my co-author to this world of blogging, but you were not entirely correct. I was, you see, fired. Laid-off. A victim of the recession. I was then, of course, re-hired at significantly reduced hours and reduced pay. Not exactly a job offer I was jumping at, but this was always meant to be a stopover on the way to business school. And there was the chance that I wouldn't be fired. My official notice was that there was an 85% chance they needed to reduce my hours or fire me. I took that to mean "start applying to business school, you've got to get out of here!"

So I did. The process was, to put it kindly, grueling. My original ambitions weren't very much. You see, this fall I was supposed to move in with my boyfriend. I basically live with him now, but we were going to live together for real. It was perfect. So my original ambitions for business school were to take the GMAT, then apply to the two very good schools in the area and the one not good at all school. Well, I took the GMAT, but it was too late to apply to one of the good schools. I had three days after getting my GMAT results to apply to the other. I worked on it all weekend and all day Monday and got my application in an hour before it was due. Then I waited.

In the mean time, I started the application for the local so-so school. I was told I'd be notified 10 days after submitting my application. This, I would find out, was only kind of true. About a week later they admitted getting it, then in another two weeks, pointed out a problem (a missing transcript), but eventually everything was in. By the time I submitted the application to the so-so school, two interesting things had happened. One: I was no longer working full time. Two: I was being head hunted.

At first, I thought I was simply getting the same kind of junk mail I got before undergraduate application. You take the SAT and suddenly every college on earth knows who you are, where you live, and sends you crap. It wasn't until I got the first email from Carnegie Mellon that I realized this was different -- schools, very good schools, were asking me to apply and waiving application fees. Considering the first school I applied to cost $250 simply to send an application to them, this was huge.

I looked through the schools, I choose a few to apply to, and I put together a system. For the next month, I applied to one school a week. To say the process was tiring is an understatement. I wrote essays. I rewrote essays. I wrote essays again. My boyfriend edited them. My boyfriend re-edited them. We had fights until I cried from stress over single words. But in the end, I got it done. (He still doesn't like the word "manpower" where I used it in two essays. We fought about it both times. Extensively.) No school I applied to asked for less than three essays. Most wanted four.

The week before I turned in my application to my number one choice, I was denied at the first school I'd applied to. It was depressing. I knew it was a long shot, I didn't really even want to go there, but it was still depressing. I had a massively important realization then: grad schools should put all denials in the form of LOLcats. Or at least, not send you an email telling you to check your status on their website. Then make you log in. Then make you click a few buttons to check your status (which now reads "deny"), then click on that, then click something else to see the form letter denying you. It cannot possibly hurt to make it automatically email the letter when they change your status to "deny".

Following that, I just wanted to hear from my safety school. I wanted to get in somewhere. Anywhere. Yet, everything changed one Tuesday as I sat at my boyfriend's house, learning to play bridge online. The e-mails started to arrive. The first was from the school I'd applied to most recently -- they'd offered me a special, expedited application process, waived the application fee and no new essays to write (I'd already covered all the prompts well enough that I could re-edit to make old essays fit). So I'd applied. They wanted to interview me. I was excited! Elated! I immediately told my father. And my mother. And everyone in a ten mile radius. Then my first choice emailed me. They, too, wanted an interview. My safety school called -- they were admitting me to the more prestigious program I'd applied to (a dual degree program). The only other school I'd applied to emailed to let me know they were looking at my application. I figured they were jealous everyone else was getting in touch.

So I planned two trips, quickly, and started interview prep. The interviews were null. I felt like I'd enjoyed my time at the first school but couldn't get a read off the interviewer at all. I had no clue how things had gone. That was Friday. By Monday I was halfway across the nation, exploring the campus of my top choice and getting ready for my interview the next day. I was in my hotel room that night when I got the call: I was in. Not just in. In with fellowship.

Things were going better.

I was not only going to go to graduate school, I was going to have some of it paid for.

My interview the next day went really well. I felt like I really connected with my interviewer over some common interests and was really excited about the school. That did not, of course, stop me from tearing myself apart with doubts. "Oh, I should have said this. I shouldn't have said that. She shouldn't have focused on this so much."

It was several days later that I heard from the last school I'd applied to. Honestly, I had discounted them entirely as a school that might accept me. But apparently without reason, they were writing to interview me. Unfortunately, they didn't want to give me an answer until well after I had to respond to the number two school (accepted with fellowship). But since I wasn't that hot on them anyway, I told them my limitations and set up the interview.

That interview went like the others -- I thought it went well, though it was hard to tell. Looking back, I think I may simply interview well. They were open to responding swiftly with an acceptance decision, and so it was just a waiting game. Less than a week later, they were on the phone with me -- I was in! But they made no mention of financial aid of any sort.

It was not until I got their binder in the mail that I found out I was being offered a scholarship. That made them more interesting from a "where should I go?" standpoint, but I was still hesitant. And I had not, most importantly, heard back from my top choice school.

I knew that on that Monday I would hear. And I would know where I was going to school. And I would be able to respond. I was useless on Monday. Absolutely useless. I twitched and flinched and wanted desperately for my email to come. Around noon I realized that all the other schools had called me and thought that, perhaps, I hadn't gotten an email because they were going to call with good news. I then discarded that theory. And picked it up again. And discarded it.

I also theorized: later was better -- rejections take only a form letter and should have gone out first and easiest, simple acceptances also take only a form letter but may require slightly more work and should have gone out second, individualized acceptances -- those including scholar- and fellowships should go out last, requiring the most attention; they might call me; all of this could be wrong.

Finally, in the early evening, my email came. I was in. With a small fellowship that had perks beyond the financial aid involved. I was going to my top choice school. Life is good.

I will be matriculating with the Class of 2011 at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon. Now I just have to get ready, find a roommate, pack, and move in less than 8 weeks before my trip abroad that I return from the day before orientation begins... I'll let you know how it goes.

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