Dispatches from the Grad Apps Abyss

I’m not dead, but I sure feel like it.

I returned from a blissed-out wedding in Cabo* only to be plunged back into the depths of grad school application hell. Admittedly, hell isn’t so bad. I’m sitting at my dining room table, stress-eating five bowls of cereal and erratically browsing my blog feed, in the golden light of San Francisco. On second thought, I wish all of my mornings would look like this.

As we know, however, crises aren’t always apparent from the outside. Though I may look like a lady living the life of leisure, I’m in agony internally. I’d decided to apply to a dozen schools, not realizing the crushing weight of twelve separate deadlines. One afternoon, as I started creating the applications, I felt a sense of panic rising in my sternum. Questions I’ve been hysterically screaming at the computer:

  1. Why am I spending an hour trying to find a single program code? It’s a wild goose chase tracking down the application requirements on university websites.
  2. Why does every school want an impossibly irritating level of detailed information? Not only do I have to list the exact dates that I took some throwaway class at a community college — but I have to do so for every single application. It is data entry of the most infuriating order.
  3. Why must I rewrite the same “personal statement” for each program? Basically, I have to say “pick me” twelve different ways, 1/2 to 3 page(s), single- or double-spaced.
  4. Why am I hemorrhaging money already?
    4a. Why do schools charge so much for the privilege of having some admissions committee member roll their glazed eyes over my CV before tossing it in a pile of scraps?
    4b. When we’re so early in the application stage, why must I pay for official GRE reports and transcripts when free, unofficial copies could suffice?
    All costs considered, each app will likely average $100 a pop — and that’s not even considering potential open house travel expenses. I’m being hazed into the order of broke-ass graduate students before I’ve even become one.

It’s like pulling teeth, if those teeth were numerous and very expensive. After thinking seriously about the emotional/financial costs of this process (i.e., staring in horror at the number of open tabs in my browser window), I’ve decided to pare down the list of 12 to 10. I’ve already spent a good amount of time culling the list, asking myself the obviously important questions (Which programs are strong? Where would I want to live? What faculty have my same research interests?). Now, I’m going to have to be very careful in which remaining programs I cut, using the following rubric:

  • Is the economy thriving? I suppose this should’ve been a top consideration, but some of the top programs in the field are in smaller college towns. Either way, there needs to be strong internship and job opportunities available.
  • Is this city in the South? Because: if yes, then no.
  • Is weather nice. ??? . I’ve spent too many summers staring into the fog soup of San Francisco. I don’t need the climate to be desktop wallpaper-esque, but I’d appreciate sunshine and/or seasons.
  • Most urgently, is there good Vietnamese food in the vicinity? You might say that this question really gets at issues of diversity — and yeah, you might say I care a lot about not being the only woman of color in the room. (It’s one of the things I aim to study in grad school.) Ahem. That said… sometimes a gurl just needz her cá kho tộ, nah?

So, there we are. These very important questions may decide how I spend the next five years of my life. I’m sure there’s some anticipation in me; it’s just momentarily buried underneath many, many layers of angst. Dante’s Inferno, meet Dinh’s Inferno.


* More on Cabo later. It was a beautiful dream soaked in sun, sand, surf — full of laughter, tears, and unbelievably good-looking people. All this, even in spite of the hurricane that recently devastated the peninsula (and the food poisoning that wrecked our bowels). It’s truly painful for me to remember how, only days ago, I was frolicking in the tropics, celebrating the union of my two dear friends without a care in the world. Now: here I sit, huddled under my garish green fleece robe, pouring out my sixth bowl of cereal and hoping for better days soon.

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One thought on “Dispatches from the Grad Apps Abyss

  1. Pingback: Dispatches from the Grad Apps Egress | yours, julie

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