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The After: Decisions, Decisions

Image: Thomas Hawk

I got my first acceptance the second week of February while heading to my second class of the day. I spent the 75 minutes in my class reading that acceptance letter over and over and trying to keep a smile off my face as the class went over Faulkner. I was on cloud nine the entire day, right through the end of my last class that got out at 7 PM when usually I’m exhausted by then.

It was after that class I got my second acceptance letter and I know I looked foolish as I sat on the bus heading home humming a song blasting through my earbuds. I read the first acceptance letter and then the second acceptance letter, then the first, then the second, back and forth during the 30 minute ride. I know people were side eyeing me. I caught a few doing it. But I had gotten into two MFA programs in one day. I was going to celebrate, even if it was just humming loudly on the bus.

Two weeks later I got my third acceptance, a phone call from the program director, and, well, no one could tell me shit for the rest of February.

***

One of the things that isn’t discussed during this process of writing samples and application fees and statements of purpose is the after. Actually, that’s not true. People talk about the wait—the checking your email ten times a day, logging on to your application account, the random email you send to a program because a different program has started to notify people. That part of the after is discussed. What is less talked about is the decision making process in March/April. Whether it’s a person who got into a dream school but the funding just isn’t there, the person who got into more than one dream program and is now weighing option, or it’s the person who did not get any acceptance and now must decide where to go from here (including if they should apply in the upcoming application season), the decision process this time of year becomes crucial.

I can only speak on one of those situations. It is, admittedly, the best option of the three. I know I’m lucky in that aspect. I truly do. But I have spent the past month terrified that I was going to make the wrong choice. Not that I thought any of the schools were a bad choice, of course not; I applied to them and they’re places I want to go.

But I spent the majority of March imagining myself at each school and then imagining myself miserable at each school because it wasn’t the exact right fit for me. I kept asking myself if Program 1 was the best program for me because it has faculty I really wanted to work with or was it Program 2 because they offered one of the most flexible course and degree options out there or maybe it’s Program 3 because it has the best financial support of them all. Did I want the program in a big city or the program that’s the definition of college town or the other program that is in what can at best be describe as small town? Which program did I truly see my writing thriving at? I spent the month researching and thinking and overthinking and worrying and worrying others close to me because I would not stop worrying about choosing the wrong school because worry is my middle name.

I don’t remember who said this to me once, but I had forgotten the first rule in getting into multiple top programs: thou shall remember that no top program is a bad program. There is a reason they are the schools that get the most applicants every year and it’s not simply due to the best funding packages. I was focusing so much on the potential negatives that I had forgotten why I applied to each place to begin with. I had forgotten that all the faculty was great. I had forgotten that the most important part was the writing and each program was offering that chance.

Getting into multiple programs is amazing. A blessing, really. But it’s also a time for your deep anxieties to come out and play and mine, that little voice in my head that not only tells me that I’m one notch above outright suck but refuses to let me decide on anything at all came roaring into play.

I made my decision on the last day of March. When all was said and done, I was really thinking about one program more than the others. I was imagining myself there more than the others. I was speaking to the students and staff there than the others. Part of me making a decision was because of time. I graduate the first week of May and I know I’ll be busy not only finishing up these last remaining undergraduate classes but with various senior class activities I’m participating in. I want to focus my April on that and not have the added requirement of deciding on a school to spend the next few years at as well. I am amazed that once I made a decision and let everyone know I felt at peace. I’m still so grateful for those other two programs’ belief in me. But I feel like I’ve made the right choice for me in these next upcoming years. And it’s good not having a nervous stomach anymore.

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