A Sign from the Universe (Recounting my Graduate School Decision Timelines)

The cat is officially out of the bag. In just a few short weeks, I will be flying across the pond to begin graduate school at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am hysterically excited.

When I started chronicling my graduate school application process, I had promised to provide updates on all the stages along the way. While this did not happen in real-time due to my nine-month hiatus, I still want to lend some clarity and insight on the process. I remember how desperate I was for information about timelines when I was applying last year, so with this year’s application cycle gearing up, hopefully my retrospective musings will be of some assistance.

As I shared in a post last year, the application portals for most of the schools I applied to opened in early to mid-September. The Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and St Andrews all opened within the first two weeks of the month, and of course, I was right there stalking the websites waiting for it to happen. Other universities, the London School of Economics and the University of Edinburgh, opened in early October. Sciences Po also opened in mid-October, however, I did not end up applying.

Being the overly eager person that I am, I finished and submitted most of my applications by the end of October. Then the mad waiting game began. Despite knowing that I would not learn of a decision for several weeks for some, and many months for others, I incessantly checked my emails and the application portals for updates on my applications. The logical part of my brain knew that this was a futile and vain effort. Every university website and piece of information I had gathered on the application process told me that news would come at a later date. I even heard this from actual people, having stalked and questioned current students at these universities on LinkedIn. My sleuthing would not make it happen any faster or have me learn of a decision prematurely. However, rationality had no business occupying my thoughts when my heart, fueled with the passionate fires of impatience, demanded that I act like a rudimentary Sherlock Holmes.

I have never been very good at waiting. I frequently grow impatient with people and situations. In a forgiving light, I would attribute this to my determined personality or my strong sense of self and values. I often know what I like or want and go after it, one hundred and ten percent. Or, I am simply so eager and excited about a project or an idea, that I want to begin right away. In an unforgiving light, it is simply impatience and my inability to handle uncertainty. When I do not know the outcome of something or I am worried about the outcome, I again grow impatient. An overwhelming desire to know the outcome controls my whole being. More often than not, this version of impatience gnaws at my confidence in myself. It has convinced me of many false truths, feeding the voice in my mind that lies and tells me that I am not good enough for what I desire.

Both these versions of impatience made appearances while I waited for decisions on my graduate school applications. I excitedly mapped out my entire year abroad, making multiple budgets and plans to fit any possible scenario. I researched affordable accommodation options in London, discovered new places I wanted to explore in Edinburgh, and made a list of everything I could do in St Andrews that would make me feel like Kate Middleton. However, I also cried in despair at the prospect of not being admitted to any university, dreading the emails I would have to send to the professors who wrote my letters of recommendation to let them that know I had failed. I wept at the idea of being so close to my dream, only to watch it slip from my grasps. I obsessed over “what ifs,” berating myself for not studying harder and smarter during my Bachelors degree and earning a better GPA. I bounced back and forth between being blissfully confident and crippling insecure as only someone who is so close to achieving one of their biggest dreams can be.

On November 15th, a beautiful email from the University of Edinburgh pushed the greatest fear from my mind. Around four in the morning, I woke with a start, as if the universe were speaking to me through my dreams. Snatching up my phone, I opened my email and burst into tears when I saw “congratulations” in the text. As it almost always is, all my worrying was for nothing. Everything worked out in the end. The universe had received all the gratitude and genuine messages of desire and intent that I had been sending, and the law of attraction returned it to me in kind.

Less than a week later, on November 21st to be exact, the University of St Andrews made me the happiest Anglophile alive when it informed me of my acceptance. I felt as if I was on cloud nine. Being admitted to one program gave me the opportunity to pursue my dreams. Being admitted to two gave me the privilege of choice, not to mention the feeling that all my hard work had paid off. While I still waited for the outcome of three other universities, I already felt as if I had truly achieved something momentous. I felt happy and proud.

At this stage, the only university whose decision I still truly waited on was the London School of Economics. While the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford were still outstanding, my heart did not call to those programs in the same way that it did to the other three. The Oxbridge universities are indisputably strong and prestigious. They are world renown for their programs in International Relations, as well as other subjects. However, just as not every student dreams of going to Harvard, Stanford, or UC Berkeley, I did not dream of going to an Oxbridge university for my masters degree. My heart longed for Scotland. Edinburgh felt like my home away from home and St Andrews called to me in a mystical kind of way that I couldn’t and still can’t quite explain. The only place that I thought could take me away from Scotland was LSE.

I had built LSE up in my mind as the NYU of the United Kingdom. The idea of living in London seemed like an exciting and cosmopolitan experience, and the prestige of the university across international rankings pulled at my heartstrings. I felt convinced that going to LSE would open doors for my career and make it so people would look at me with impressed glances. I am not too proud to admit that this was very important to me at the time, and still is to an extent, though not disproportionately.

So while I waited for a decision from LSE, which I anticipated to come in late December or early January, I tentatively explored the option of accepting a place to study at either Edinburgh or St Andrews. At the time I believed that if I was offered a place to study at LSE I would accept it outright. However, I wanted to decide between Edinburgh and St Andrews in the meantime should I not be accepted to LSE.

I would like to stress that Edinburgh, St Andrews, and LSE are all incredible universities. All are highly regarded internationally and in the UK, and all three held special places in my heart. I firmly believe that I could not have made a wrong choice and that I would have been happy at any of these universities. My strong pull to LSE was not purely because I believed it superior, but rather that it was the school that I had thought I envisioned myself going to. For years, I had imagined myself saying “I go to LSE.” When I shared with people that I wanted to go to graduate school in the UK, LSE was the first example I gave to them. It was a symbol of this next step I wanted to take in my life.

However, I began to doubt this constructed truth while I decided between Edinburgh and St Andrews. Re-investigating these universities, I learned once again just how much I loved and missed Scotland. Scotland is a special place. Its people, its landscapes, and its history calls to me in a way that other places simply don’t. I began to grow slightly disappointed at the prospect of not hearing bagpipes daily or walking along the coast in Fife. Of course, London has its own splendors. But when I started to reflect on what I really wanted from my graduate school experience and where I had been imagining myself during that time, I learned it was in Scotland.

More so, I thought about how I imagined myself walking everywhere I went and being at a university rich with traditions. I compared the life I thought I might have in London to the one that I had dreamed out in my head. I realized that for as much as I thought I wanted to go to LSE, these two pictures did not fit. My desire to go to LSE still weighed strong despite this, but my resolve weakened slightly.

At the end of November, I had the great pleasure of speaking to one of my professors who wrote me a letter of recommendation for my applications. She had attended the University of St Andrews for her masters and PhD, and she and I discussed my options, from the reality of a choice between Edinburgh and St Andrews to the hypothetical of LSE. Throughout our conversation, my creeping suspicion that LSE might not be the best fit for me became more solid and the knowledge that perhaps St Andrews was the better option started to grow. After an hour long conversation, I came away from the call with pure confidence that the University of St Andrews was the place for me.

Yet, I still felt slightly unsure. I worried that if I was admitted to LSE, I would feel as if I had to go. For the prestige, for the fact that I had said for months that it was what I wanted… for all the wrong reasons really. When I wrote out everything I wanted in my graduate school experience, from the important to the ridiculous, Edinburgh, St Andrews, and LSE all ticked many things on the list. However, St Andrews ticked nearly all of them. When I reflect back on why I personally had such a difficult time deciding between universities, I believe that vanity and pride were influencing me too heavily and could have prevented me from listening to my heart.

The universe has a way of working things out for you. It knows your thoughts, your desires, the true path that you are meant to take. While I do not believe that everything in life happens for a reason and that some events are acts of hatred or horrific instances of chance, I do believe that what happened mere days after I had my epiphany regarding St Andrews was truly a sign from the universe.

On December 3rd, I was rejected from the London School of Economics, and I honestly think it was the best thing that could have happened. While I spent the next several weeks in a state alternating between denial and despair, a part of me felt relieved. LSE may have been the symbol of my dreams for graduate school, but I knew that St Andrews was the reality. Being rejected from LSE opened the door for me to go to a university that I believe was a much better fit. After I took time to process things and change the rhetoric in my mind from LSE to St Andrews, I knew that I had made the right decision.

By the new year, I happily accepted the offer to study International Security at the University of St Andrews. In the springtime, two more rejections from Oxford and Cambridge came my way, but they did not phase me at all. I was going to a university that so perfectly captured everything I wanted out of my graduate school experience. I was and I still am hysterically excited.


The Travelsmith

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