Tuesday, July 10, 2007

freak-out, followed by rational resolve

So last night my boyfriend, E., and I had one of our spontaneous graduate school freak-outs, the kind where we're both doing something else (he was eating pistachios while folding the laundry, i was working on a cover letter) and then suddenly the urge hits one of us: we must freak out about graduate school. NOW. E. came into the office where I was working to tell me about how good the pistachios were, and then I'm not sure what happened but all of a sudden there we were, panicking at the prospect of the graduate school application process that loomed before us.
(Brief backstory: E. is a biostatistician who wants to apply this fall to epidemiology PhD programs. We want to stay together. The dilemma is where could we go that would offer us both good options, who gets priority, and how can we make this happen in the least painful, most fair way possible?)

Back to the office: E. declared that we must start figuring out ASAP how we're going to make this work, then commandeered the desk chair and began looking up all possible public health schools he might apply to, while I rushed to the bookshelves and grabbed my copy of "The MFA Handbook". E. would call out the name of school he'd like to go to, and then I'd madly flip through the list of MFA programs in the book to see if there was a writing program in the same city. (This is not the first time we've done this, but for some reason we start from scratch each time.) E. seemed calmed by this experience, having come up with a list of around 15 schools where there could be some overlap, but I was left feeling frazzled by all the work ahead. Not just in terms of finding schools that are in mutually agreeable locations, but about all the other parts as well--recommendations, writing samples, applications forms, etc. I was feeling like I should have started all this months ago.

But this morning, after a nice morning run, I have regained some perspective, remembering that it's only July, after all, and I've got a lot of resources at my hands, both with the book, and the blog, and those of you who have been through this already or are also starting out on the same path. So yes, I'm going to really start focusing on this application process thing starting now, but I'm going to try to do it in the most rational and resourceful way possible. Anyone else out there who is also starting to think about applications this fall? give me a holler and we'll do this together...


karin said...

i am! and i'm lost....

also, my boyfriend is pre-med so i feel your graduate-school-relationship pain :)

Mike Valente said...

Abby, one thing that I found extremely helpful was using a spreadsheet to list the schools and their requirements, like heading the columns with School/Deadline/Writing Sample/GRE/Mailing Address/Application URL/etc. Seeing everything in one snapshot makes the process more manageable. Regarding starting time, I'm sure that you'll be fine. Just be courteous to whomever you ask for recs, and just give them enough time in advance to prepare. I know. I'm just preaching stuff already in the MFA Handbook, but it works! - Mike

kennan said...

I am so with you. I am stressed enough about applying to MFA programs, let alone working that out with my boyfriend's (I call him e, coincidentally) graduate plans. And I have to take the GRE... shit. I should have started months ago - months! Anyway, glad to have others on this blog to commiserate with.

Samara said...

I am in the exact same boat! I am just now starting to get serious about the process--I went through the guide this morning to see which schools jump out at me at first look-through. I have one rec all but lined up and another I'm assuming will come through (but I still have to ask for it) and I need to figure out how to find my third. My husband is a newspaper reporter, so not great job options there--the challenge will be finding a school where we can afford to live, where he at least has the possibility of getting a decent job, and THEN dealing with keeping our relationship good with what I'm sure will be the massive stress/time commitment of grad school--and that's IF I get in anywhere. Jesus.

Noah said...

yep... having a significant other certainly adds a level of stress to this whole process - my wife, in my case. like samara, not only am i worried about school, but where she might find a job. it would definitely be easier if i only had to worry about me.

it seems that narrowing schools by location would simplify the process (and in reality it does). however, i feel like it's soooo arbitrary, and that's freaking me out a little bit. by location, i've narrowed my list to 18 schools and now i'm looking hard at funding and teachers to narrow a bit more. i don't recognize any of the teachers at these schools and at one point last week i thought maybe i should apply to all 18 (you know, just in case). i guess that's why kealey suggests not looking too hard at teachers until you find out where you get accepted (if you get accepted).

anyway... it seems that most people are at the same point in the process here in july - narrowing our list of schools and getting all the applications. i know it feels like it's right around the corner, but maybe we shouldn't freak out about the time issue yet.

Bolivia Red said...

I'm impressed at how early you are all starting the process. I didn't get serious until about September, and then it was a mad scramble.

One suggestion to those of you who are thinking in terms of planning around significant others. Look for schools or towns that are close to each other (1-2 hours) as a option for choosing programs. We've had several students who have family or jobs in Indianapolis who commute up to West Laf (about an hour) for classes, and a professor who lives in Chicago (two hours away) but comes down during the week. Most keep a room in town for the week and trek home on the weekends, though a few do the daily commute. It's often possible to plan schedules so you only have classes three or four days during the week. Not as cost effective as rooming together, but it may actually be helpful since you time and space during the week to concentrate on studies and then spend weekends together.

Mike's suggestion about the spreadsheet is fabulous. I found it helpful when I applied, especially with the deadlines. Once you've narrowed down schools, group them by deadlines so you can concentrate on the soonest deadlines first, and then work your way through.

Good luck to all!
Daryll Lynne