I think that it is safe to say that I have established my reputation as a proud nerd. If my ramblings about lusting over graduate school programs and my obsessive writings about potential application portal dates did not make that clear, then I don’t think that anything will.
Whenever my fellow classmates, or characters in books or on television shows, would complain about going to school, I was secretly horrified. I have loved school for as long as I can remember. School presented an environment dedicated to learning, a whole world of problem-solving and playing make-believe. As a child who grew up with a love for dressing up and creating my own screenplays to act out, completing assignments that involved delving into the history and life of the pioneers, ancient Egyptians, or roman empire provided a similar outlet. Even the historically dreaded subject of math fascinated me, with the mysterious inner workings of derivatives and integrals being the closest thing to black magic that I could imagine.
Since my love for school is so profound, pursuing a graduate degree is a natural and obvious step for me. Especially since my chosen field of International Relations spikes my interest so much that it literally keeps me up at night. I absolutely adored every moment on the academic side of my Bachelors degree. Sure some parts were better than others: family and friends will remember the time I sobbed when a mean TA refused to help me better a paper on US National Security and my grade in the class plummeted, or the time when I had a crisis upon realizing that I did not want to complete an area focus on China like I originally planned. But, I can honestly say that I liked every class that I took as part of my degree. I know that my experience is not only lucky, but rare. Most people will encounter a subject or two that they did not particularly care for as part of their program, and it is totally normal for that to happen. However, the universe seemed to be giving me a giant, flashing, neon sign shouting “THIS IS THE PATH FOR YOU,” and I followed it happily and without hesitation.
When the time came to research potential graduate school programs, the decision to continue my studies in International Relations was obvious. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I toyed with the idea of going to law school, completing a masters in public policy, or even getting my teaching credential. But as time grew on and I gained more professional and life experience, I realized that getting an academic masters degree was the most appropriate next step for my current goals and wants.
After about two years of program stalking, I crafted my perfect list of programs to apply to, based on a criteria of international ranking, program description, and how much I liked the university itself. There may be much better, more strategic methods to determine what graduate school programs to apply to, and I read several articles about those methods while I was program searching. However, trying to narrow down or alter my list based on those suggestions did not sit right with me.
Graduate school was something that I was pursuing, more than anything, because I simply wanted to go to school again and learn more about International Relations. When I applied to, and eventually chose, my undergraduate university, I let rankings rule my process above all else. I was so caught up in wanting to go to the school with the best reputation, that I did not think about what school would actually be the best fit for me or for the specific field that I wanted to study. Graduate school is an opportunity for me to go to school for me, at a university that I like, without worrying about what other people might think. All the programs that I am applying to are ones that I would genuinely want to do. Each program speaks to me for a different reason, and all those reasons are legitimate in my eyes.
Within the programs I am applying to, I have three categories: “YOLO,” target, and bonus programs.
YOLO: Programs in this category are at universities that the realist in me knows I do not have a high likelihood of being accepted into. While I am a firm believer in the law of attraction and think that anything is possible, I don’t hold any delusions about my GPA. When I originally developed my list of programs, I opted to not include any YOLO options. I wanted to save money on applications and these seemed the best to cut. However, after constant encouragement from my parents and one of my old professors, I decided to add them back in. People get into these universities all the time: why not me?
Development Studies, MPhil at the University of Cambridge: I really appreciate the multi-disciplinary approach that this program offers. I feel that I would be able to study development as it relates to human rights, international relations, and other fields. Also, the college system at Cambridge makes me feel like I would be in Harry Potter.
International Relations and Politics, MPhil at the University of Oxford: Quite simply, this is one of the top rated International Relations programs in the world. The self doubt demon in me is screaming that I don’t stand a chance, but (as of now) I’m going for it anyway. And, Oxford also reminds me of Harry Potter.
Target: Programs in this category are ones that I hope I could realistically get into. They are the ones that originally sparked my interest and that I will apply to no matter what. Whenever I read the program descriptions, they make my heart race with excitement. If it were possible to have a crush on a grad school program, then mine would be one (or all) of these.
International Relations, MSc at the University of Edinburgh: Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities of all time. The chance to return to it for a full year is something that I cannot pass up. Another opportunity to climb Arthur’s Seat, drink strawberry cider at Whistle Binky’s, and roam the cobblestone streets of the Royal Mile is enough to make me faint with happiness. And the program itself seems great too…
International Security Studies, MLitt at the University of St Andrews: Kate Middleton went here. Need I say more? But in all seriousness, this program looks fascinating. I love that the program is so specific, and will give me a deeper look at this sub-field within International Relations.
International Relations, MSc at the London School of Economics and Political Science: I think of LSE as the NYU of the United Kingdom. If you know me personally, you will know that NYU was my dream school for undergraduate study, that was simply too expensive to make a reality. LSE gives me all the same excited feelings. It is an excellent school in a killer location with a program that I adore.
Bonus: Programs in this category are ones that I am interested in, but might not apply to. These schools are by no means of lesser academic ranking than the others, but rather, ones that do not speak to me with quite the same feeling as the others.
International Relations and Diplomacy, MSc at the University of Leiden: Not only does the University of Leiden have a great reputation for its International Relations programs, but this specific program looks fascinating. I would study international relations, diplomacy, and have the opportunity to complete an internship. The program is also hosted on the university’s campus in the Hague. A chance to be close to the UN’s International Court of Justice? Sign me up!
International Relations, MSc at the University of Amsterdam: I love Amsterdam. Really, I just love the Netherlands. And Dutch culture. And the Dutch themselves! When I went to Amsterdam three years ago, I fell in love with the charming buildings, tulips, canals, and the tall, beautiful, blond Dutch people. I could easily spend more time in Amsterdam, and an opportunity to do so while studying a subject that I love would make it even better.
Global Development, MSc at the University of Copenhagen: This program is one of the most impressive and interesting Global Development programs that I have seen. The University of Copenhagen is one of the top twenty five schools in the world for international development, and after looking at this program, it clearly shows.
International Affairs: Human Rights and Humanitarian Action, MA at Sciences Po: If LSE is the NYU of the United Kingdom, then Sciences Po is the LSE of France. Confused yet? Sciences Po, with its stellar reputation as one of the best schools for International Affairs in the world, makes me confident that I would receive a top notch education. The ability to specifically study human rights within International Affairs is very exciting to me, especially since it would be in the country where the basis for human rights were born. Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, anyone?
When the time for admission decisions come in, I know that I only need one acceptance, from any of these nine programs. It does not matter which one, because I would be perfectly content going to any of them. And that, dear reader, is exactly how I think that it should be.
The Travel Smith