Grad School Or Bust: Test Anxiety and Armpits (Part 2)

Some people are simply born to do or be something. Singers sing, writers write, bakers bake. For those who have an undeniable talent in a particular area, their life purpose is usually obvious from a young age. To do anything else would seem quite unnatural.

Well, I think this is how it was for me. I’d spent the vast majority of my life saying I wanted to study psychology and contribute something notable to the field. If I didn’t grow up to be a psychiatrist, what else on God’s green Earth could I do? More importantly, who would I be? Be it wrong or be it right, my entire identity was soundly wrapped up in the notion of me becoming a therapist one day. It was the pillar of all my other life goals. I truly believed it was who I was.

My favorite childhood daydream consisted of me graduating from Stanford, settling in Palo Alto, starting my own practice and marrying a fellow practitioner. My kids would go to Palo Alto High School, I’d drive past my alma mater every single day and I’d have fancy business cards embossed with gold lettering that read, “Somebody X. Someone, M.D. Psychiatrist.” Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t say exactly that, but you know I can’t be giving you all my full name on the Internet like that, you crazies. 😛

According to my life plans, graduating from college was supposed to be this wonderful, magical springboard that would help propel me into the career path of my dreams. But according to life and its sometimes trying circumstances, graduation propelled me smack into the concrete of my new reality. Once I’d lost my zest for psychology, I became disoriented and lost in life. There’d never been a Plan B for me because I’d been so sure of Plan A working out, so the years that followed were marked by a disheartening lack of fulfillment and certainty.

Long story short, I eventually landed my first job out of college (a story in and of itself). In the years that followed, I held several position in a broad range of different industries and capacities. While each position taught me valuable life lessons, I was never completely at peace with myself. I love to work and be purposefully productive, so I always gave everything I had to ensure that I was an exemplary employee. However, when the excitement of a new position would wear off, the challenges became too easy and my performance would max out, I’d become deeply unhappy. Like, tearing up for no apparent reason as you’re working in your office unhappy. It was…not good.

Though my work wasn’t completely pointless, I never felt as though I was helping people or furthering society in the way I had always desired to. Additionally, the pay was often garbage for the effort I put forth and the potential I had. I admittedly allowed myself to get ripped off for years, being poorly compensated out of a fear to ask for what I was genuinely worth. However, what was worse was the lack of opportunities to grow within the companies I worked for. I couldn’t climb the corporate ladder quickly enough, but unfortunately, working for smaller companies left me running out of rungs within the first year or two. Before long, every job looked like a dead end to me.

It didn’t take me long to realize that without an advanced degree, I simply couldn’t land the kinds of jobs that could provide the dynamic and consistently challenging environment I so desperately needed. No, that was something I understood within days of graduating. Instead, it was finding the right industry and role that took me ions to figure out. This apprehension and lack of direction led to several failed attempts to enter grad school; all of which cause me to still cringe today. From shitty follow through and a serious lack of confidence to an overwhelming fear of making expensive irrevocable decisions, I made tons of mistakes.

Hopefully, sharing my prior graduate school application experiences will help someone avoid making the same piss poor mistakes I made lol. It might help shed some light on where I stand in this whole process today as well.

(Semi) Attempt #1

Besides psychology, a lifelong prominent interest and skill of mine has been writing. Although my forte has primarily been fiction and other forms of creative writing, many teachers and people in my life believed I would make a good journalist. So, coming straight out of college and looking for a change in educational pace, I thought an MFA in Journalism or Creative Writing would be my best bet.

I was interested in moving to the East Coast back then, so I researched and selected a handful of schools throughout New York and New Jersey. My best friend at the time wished to transfer schools to complete her undergrad, so we agreed to make the move across country together. I ended up adding a few schools in other locales as well, but the school I most wanted to attend out of the bunch was Columbia (with Northwestern as a close second). Columbia had a new media program that really spoke to me; I remember being so excited about trying to get in. That is, until they asked me to take a test as part of the application process.

Despite me being aware that it was more common than not for grad schools to require applicants to take an exam prior to applying, I still wasn’t thrilled about it. I had tried to avoid considering any school or program that required the GRE due to having severe reservations about taking it (which is a major mistake I have made over and over again). Columbia’s test wasn’t the GRE, but a test evaluating an applicant’s writing style and knowledge of current events. I’d already submitted a good chunk of my application materials to the majority of my selected schools (including Columbia), so I reluctantly registered for the test.

I never took the damned test. Don’t ask me why. I realize now that I never had any business applying for J-school in the first place, but at the time, I simply couldn’t wrap my head around taking a graduate admissions test. This same test anxiety plagues me today and has prevented me from achieving my grad school goals. Strangely, tests for class have always been fine, but ask me to take the GRE, GMAT or something similar? Kick. Rocks.

It all sounds so stupid to me now…heck, it probably is stupid. I knew I was a strong writer and was quite well-versed in pop culture and current goings on, but still, the idea of being tested on it freaked me out. Add to it the fact that the test had to be taken in some random individual’s home. Yeah…no. I can’t remember if it was the home of a former student or what, but for some reason, that particular program had out of state students take the test in a random stranger’s house instead of at a testing center or another university. If I’m honest, I probably canceled the test just because of that. I know, I know. I’m the worst.

By the time I chickened out of the test, my interest in pursuing the MFA was pretty much dead as a doorknob. Even though I could have simply applied to any other school on my list without a testing requirement, I didn’t— I couldn’t. Something about not attending the test made me feel like an immediate failure. I mean, who cancels an admissions test the day before it is supposed to be taken? As I saw it, if I couldn’t force myself to take the test, NYC would surely swallow me alive. If I was already allowing an irrational to hold me captive, how the hell did I expect to get through school? I felt like such a pathetic loser…I can’t even explain how it made me feel, not accurately anyway.

Testing anxiety wasn’t the only thing that put an end to my application process though. Whenever my friend and I would tell people we knew about our East Coast ambitions, many of the responses were discouraging and derogatory. I still remember such a situation that took place at my friend’s brother’s wedding reception. My friend and I shared a dining table with an aunt and uncle of hers. When they were told of our desire to attend school in New York or New Jersey, they went ON and ON about how “ghetto” and “dirty” the region was…that New Jersey was the “armpit of America”. Though I’d never met either individual before, they were just certain we would hate living there. After all, they never traveled there if they could avoid it. Pfft!

Rude.

Anyone who knows me personally knows I am not one to change my mind about something unless I absolutely want to. My decisions are rarely, if ever, influenced by someone else’s opinion. In fact, if I really, truly want something, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I give up on it, no matter how long it takes me. However, there was something about all the negativity surrounding our moving away that got right up under my skin. The snide comments were like a seed that took root and grew into an apprehension so strong, neither of us knew why we’d ever wanted to go there in the first place.

Something in my spirit made me feel as though I was making the wrong decision, but I couldn’t figure out what was off about it. Was I moving to the wrong area? Was I pursuing the wrong field? Was the timing not right? Whatever it was, it was too late to back out. I mean, I’d already promised to be roommates with my friend…it would be so inconsiderate of me to suddenly change my mind (even though this same “friend” has actually screwed me over in this way several times). Luckily, my friend freed me from my conundrum when she announced her desire to remain in California. Relieved, I quickly followed suit. And so ended my first semi-attempt to go to graduate school.

I never formally submitted a complete application to any of the schools I chose this particular round, so it is hard to know whether I would have been accepted or not. In a way, I wish I had at least gone through the full process just to know how strong of a candidate I was (or wasn’t). All the same, it is safe to assume that everything would have worked out had it been meant to. I’d never seriously considered studying creative writing or journalism before that point in time because I never believed I needed to; I figured knowing how to write at my present skill was good enough. And looking back, my opinion of this matter remains the same. I guess I made the right choice.

Despite being highly disappointed in myself for having not taken the test, I didn’t dwell too much on the situation as a whole. The experience didn’t stop me from looking ahead and coming up with a new plan. Besides, I was young, still fresh out of college and would have no problems gathering my materials to apply for new schools the next time around. After all, I’d already just gone through most of the application process before; I could easily do it again when the opportunity presented itself. Well, an opportunity presented itself much sooner than I’d expected, but it was anything but smooth sailing.

It was an absolute shipwreck.

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