I promised myself that I would not check my application progress until I got back from Cancun. The program I use to check student information for my job is the same one that shows the progress of my application to grad school. Too often I would be on the site checking something for work, and then I’d just click over to see where my application was.
I saw it as submitted, then under review. I was checking too often. So I said, I will not check until I get back from vacation.
Unfortunately I was still checking my personal email.
I found out on the way to Cancun that I would not be a MFA student come Fall semester.
I told only two people: my best friend and my dad. Dad was only on the list because he happened to be the one taking me to Cancun. Otherwise I might not have told anybody else.
I didn’t even want to tell my friend, afraid to admit that I am less than ideal and quite possibly dumber than previously thought.
Maybe the hardest part for me at this point is not knowing why I have been rejected.
The email states that they received more applications than they have spots in the program (I knew that going in; it’s a small program), and there were applicants whose applications were simply stronger than mine.
What is so weak in my application? Is it my 3.87 undergraduate GPA and that I was considered for valedictorian? Is it my GRE scores? Is it that I have only one publication under my belt, an unknown literary anthology from a now-defunct writing community? Were my letters of recommendation not strong enough? Is there simply too much information from too long ago; I waited too long and maybe that reflects poorly on me.
Was it my writing samples? Am I not MFA material because my writing cannot hold up under scrutiny? Have I been going down the wrong path for 30-some years?
The rejection only brings one answer (no) and too many questions.
Everyone said I was a great writer.
Everyone said I had nothing to worry about.
Everyone said I’d be accepted.
Everyone had no idea what they were talking about.
And now I’m stuck with more decisions to make. Do I take the GRE again, study harder, improve my score? Do I apply to the same place again, the place where I work and where tuition is basically free? Do I find other schools to apply to, and build more debt before my undergraduate degree has been paid off?
Do I just give up and hope to find the motivation to write without an educational community and the workshops I was looking forward to?
Do I keep taking classes, knowing that if I ever did get accepted, only 9 credits could be transferred?
Do I give up and admit that I am hopeless and helpless?
How do I move forward after waiting so long only to be rejected and humiliated?
Oh, there are the tears I thought would never come.
I wrote this on the flight home from Cancun at the end of February. I hadn’t processed the rejection, wanting instead to enjoy the sun and food and time with my dad. I needed to write about it, to get the words out of my head and onto paper. It was cathartic as writing always tends to be, but what was more helpful was talking to people about it.
I don’t have a concrete plan (when do I ever?), but I’m considering options. I’m not ready to completely give up the idea of a graduate degree, so for now it’s about getting a meeting with the director to discuss how to strengthen my application (whether I apply there again or find another program, this will be invaluable). Next semester I will choose a workshop class, get into the environment I’ve been craving. The classes I’ve taken have been interesting, but let’s be honest–getting an MFA in creative writing is about the creative writing and getting feedback from peers.
I’m not wasting my money on taking the GRE again because there isn’t a huge emphasis on those scores. I checked and my score will not expire before the next application period (like I previously thought while writing), so I don’t even have to think about it.
In the meantime, I will bring writing back into daily practice. I will get the words out, in a notebook or on a screen or here on my blog. I will focus on the stories I want to tell, revisiting them to edit when needed. I will keep reading, keep writing, and keep trying to make myself better. I will send them away from me, no longer hoarding my stories out of fear, and ask for them to be published, to be shared with the world.
I will grow from this rejection.