It’s been an entire week since the end of my Preview Days whirlwind tour—I spent two days in Chicago, followed immediately by three days in Seattle, and then right back home to San Francisco. (If we’re keeping count of the cities I’ve touched down in the last 6 months, we have: London, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle. An interesting bunch of places to be.)
Both schools I visited ran Preview Days pretty similarly. We started out with a lot of information about their program, the institution, the benefits of being in their host city, and, of course, the financial aid it takes to attend. When discussing the graduate assistantships (GAships) that heavily assist with the cost of attendance, it was like the room started to collectively salivate. Everyone wants a GAship. That’s why everyone took time off from their week and travelled from far distances (we’re talking throughout the country) for both programs. While the information about the program was important, everyone’s primary focus was to nab one of those prized positions.
Organizers did their best to quell the obvious air of nervousness when it came time to experience the interview process, but for so many of us, this is it—without a GAship, I can’t go to graduate school. It’s just that simple. And I was both comforted and worried to find that my situation is shared by so many others.
My comfort came from a sense of solidarity when chatting with my newfound friends. We were all in this high-stakes make-it-or-break-it GAship circuit together. I was worried because everyone’s story was incredible—some of the narratives in the room brought tears to my eyes, and mine theirs. It’s hard to imagine that out of a room of 40-60 incredible candidates with heart-wrenching stories full of passion and resistance, only 20 people at each institution will have the opportunity to reach their dreams. I still think about some of the people I’ve met and the struggles they’ve overcome to make it this far in the process.
I’ll be honest: I went into Preview Days wanting to dislike everyone interviewing with me because each person represents another candidate that could be chosen instead of me. With each conversation, though, I couldn’t help but have the utmost admiration and respect for every person in the room. It’s a competition where everybody is going to lose—with even just one of the narratives in the room blocked from entering the student affairs profession, we lose an important perspective, a potential leader, and prospective hero for students in need. No matter what happens next week with the first outcome release, I’ll be heartbroken.
“It’s all about fit”
Being averse to cliche statements and generalizations, I wasn’t sure what to do with this piece of advice going into Preview Days. Once I visited both prospective universities, though, the cliche became my reality, manifesting in a gut feeling, triggering my intuition. As soon as I got to each school, I knew if I could see myself there or if it wasn’t the place for me. Not knowing what you want is scary, but for me, knowing exactly what I want is even worse. If I emerge unsuccessful from this process, it’ll sting to have the vision I already started building about myself in a certain space as a student affairs professional wiped off the table in an instant, in one email. I felt I fit, like I belonged. Now I just need the program to feel the same way.
The whole thing is a little like dating (as if I’m anything close to a dating expert): both parties need to feel a connection, a spark, in order for this to work. I felt that spark during my Preview Days tour. I smiled, gave them my phone number, and asked them out on a date. Hopefully, they’ll call me back with good news, reassuring my sense of belonging.
The Waiting Game
Life after last week has been like living in a haze. Did that all really happen? I went from going to classes as an undergraduate one day to getting a taste of what it might be like to be a professional the next. I’m back to school again, but it’s different. I’m waiting, suppressing daydreams about what my life could be like in four months, living in a new city surrounded by my colleagues. I don’t want to get too excited because the possibility of rejection looms in the back of my mind. I’ve done all I can do to prove I’ve got what it takes, and then some—I have no doubts about my performance during Preview Days.
I wish I knew how to feel. I guess I’ll know next week.