How I Applied to Graduate School (After Being Told Not to)

The summer after I took my GRE, I went to the career services center at my university to ask for guidance on what I should consider as I prepare for the upcoming application cycle. Instead of receiving advice on how to search for programs that are a good fit for me, what ensued during the 30 minute session was my adviser telling me that I should not apply for graduate school, as my grades and experience do not make me a competitive applicant.

Though I was aware my grades weren’t anywhere close to straight A’s or a 4.0 GPA, I didn’t think that this fact alone should deter me from applying and trying in the first place. I had the passion and the interest in the field, and I believed that I should at least try.

My adviser at career services did not end it there. Their continued attempts to dissuade me included comments about how I might be wasting money on application fees if I apply right now and how I should only apply if I’m 100% confident I’ll be accepted into a program. Though I wouldn’t say I was confident about getting accepted, I still wanted to try and felt that it was unfair of them to try to cloud my judgement. I might not be 100% certain I’ll be admitted into a program, but I am not 100% certain that I won’t be admitted into a program.

Despite this, I left the career services center feeling dejected and not enough. Maybe I shouldn’t have went in the first place. What was I thinking? Maybe they’re right and I shouldn’t apply this cycle. Negative thoughts flooded my mind as I thought about how incompetent I was. Self-doubt already existed within me but hearing it from another person confirmed my doubts.

But I didn’t let their words stop me there. I applied anyway.

If I end up wasting my money on application fees and end up being accepted no where, so be it. I wouldn’t know unless I tried. I felt confident that regardless of what grades I had, they were not the best determinants of my passion and success. My experience with my community and campus have helped me become the leader and individual I am today, and I am proud to have experienced and partook in those movements. Though I may not have as much research experience or work experience as other applicants, I believe that my ambition and drive speak volumes for what potential I have to grow.

It is crazy to think that if I had listened to my adviser at career services, I would not have been accepted into my first choice graduate school program and enrolling this fall as a graduate student. I thank my skeptical mind and rebellious nature for that.

I share this story to emphasize the lesson of ‘taking advice with a grain of salt’. I do not think the adviser at career services had ill intent in their comments to me, but had I blindly listened and followed their advice, I would not be making large strides toward my goals today.

I also share this story to challenge the narrative of what we consider “competitive” when we are applying for college, graduate school, or another application-based program. There are many layers to an individual and grades on paper are just one of them. We’ll never know what’s hidden underneath unless we take a chance and we can’t let a number or letter on a piece of paper define someone’s potential.

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