Applying, Interview
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So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With Julian Randall

Image: Edward Zulawski

For the next two months we’ll be asking some of our first year contributors to talk about the post application period and how they dealt with it last year.

What did you do to get through the post application period?

Honestly, a wide variety of things that didn’t work at all. By nature, I’m a very anxious and lowkey (highkey) obsessive about my goals. I left and later rejoined the MFA Draft page to keep myself away from the big treasure trove of information. When things would get down to a level of minutia that even I could recognize as unhealthy I would play old video games that I had owned for forever and had finally not played long enough that I was bad at them again. Essentially, in order to avoid calling ten times a day I was in my room listening to podcasts and playing Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup. Sometimes I had popcorn.

What’s the best piece of advice you received about applying?

You don’t pay the program, they pay you.

Biggest high? Biggest low?

Biggest high was no doubt receiving the call from Derrick Harriell that I had gotten into Ole Miss, the biggest low was actually that morning so it’s now a fun memory to tell. Essentially despite my very explicit instructions to all my recommenders I found out (months after I had submitted my application) that one of my recommenders hadn’t sent my letter to Rutgers Newark and I was feeling very hurt and scared and betrayed because it was among my top choices and I was coming off a year of things outside of my control blowing up my life. So I was sent into a very bad spiral of flashbacks and a pair of quick panic attacks while I was frantically sending emails and making calls. It also happened to be my day off work and my day off class, yet there I was on the train silently heaving my way back to campus to go talk to my recommender (who is also a cherished friend and mentor) about how we were going to fix this.

All the way on the train I’m messaging with some folks I knew in the program at Rutgers and thinking that Ole Miss was supremely unlikely to accept me and I didn’t have very much else in the way of plans that I felt really good about. So I finally get off the train, see the college, go through my anxiety management drills (just the sight of the place could make me sick) and I was sitting in the library with one of my best friends, printing out my entire Rutgers application with the intent that I would have to get someone to cover my creative writing class for tomorrow because I was going to (and did) get on the train to Newark to drop off all the materials (letters included) in person. And then the phone rings. At first I thought it might be one of the tons of people at Rutgers who I had called and left very panicked voicemails for but instead it was Derrick, saying that I got in. We had a real good talk about what was going to happen next funding wise (everyone at Ole Miss is full tuition and has a stipend but there’s a minority fellowship that Derrick was waiting on the official word for) and then we hung up and I dabbed and sang at a volume that was definitely mad inappropriate because we were still in the library and then I went outside to call my parents. It was the first time that year I hadn’t felt like a failure, I try to remember that feeling as often as I can.

What would you do differently if you could apply all over again?

If current me was mentoring past me I actually would have told him to just chill out a bit, maybe even told him to wait till the next year to apply. Don’t get me wrong, I love my program, I love where I’m at, I feel like I’m making good progress, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I also think that the poems I was sending out and the goals I had artistically when I was doing most, if not all, of these applications were far less nuanced and balanced than I think they are now or even than I believe they might be in a month or so. I was lucky that Ole Miss saw something in me, saw something in those poems but my goals and understanding of what my poems were trying to do and become would have definitely led me to think a bit more critically (I really think I mean to think for longer; because I analyzed ad nauseam what information I had at the time but then I learned a lot of new information afterwards, because that is how time works) about what I really wanted to accomplish at some of these places I applied to.

All the places I applied are wonderful programs but looking back a couple of them are places that I sent $70+ to because someone told me that important people go there and not because I actually had any real concrete reason to be there. I think, in some ways, I’m lucky to have not gotten into those places. I was devastated at the time, but I don’t know what my trajectory would look like under the culture or guidance of those spots. Like I said, because of my anxiety I’m naturally very impatient with myself and that definitely dictated some of the path I set myself on. I’m blessed though, it all ended up going exactly the way it was meant to.

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