Monday, April 25, 2011

Grad School Decision

I'm going to UC Riverside.

Specifically, I'll be joining the UC Riverside Palm Desert Graduate Center MFA in Creative Writing Program.  Phew!

Just in case you were keeping track, here are my application results:

Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA: Accepted
UC Riverside (sort of) in Palm Springs, CA: Accepted
Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA: Wait-listed or Fall 2012
Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT : Rejected
Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, WA: Unknown
(SPU isn't considering me until Winter 2011 admissions, so I won't hear until late fall.)

As I said before, I'M NOT MOVING.  All of these programs are low-residency, which means I work from home (just little ol' me) on my reading and writing and then I go twice a year for a 10 day intensive period of workshops and meetings with professors and others in the program.

This process has already been such a learning experience.  I haven't even begun to put my writing on the line and already I'm facing the highs and lows of rejection and praise.  I'll admit that I've been feeling really down since I got the rejection from Vermont.  Even though I knew it was a long shot, the rejection stung more than I thought it would since it came with a sentence about the quality of my writing not being up to par.  On the heels of that letter, finding out I was wait-listed for PLU was a bit of a disappointment too, since I really liked what they had to offer and I felt like I had a good interview with the director.

In talking to the director of PLU, I came to realize how much I valued a small program.  Going back to school to get my MFA now means I have a much better sense of what I like and what I don't like.  I did the "lost in the crowd" thing when I was an undergrad at UC Davis, and it didn't work for me.  I was miserable and lonely and basically I felt like I floated through the system without anybody really noticing I was there.  I really appreciated the personal attention of a hour-long phone call from the director, and I realized that what I wanted was a program with a limited number of participants.

When I didn't get into Vermont it was a blow.  But what I came to realize yesterday as I talked to the director of UCR's program is that Vermont is the type of program that wouldn't have been right for me, anyway.  UCR, like PLU, is a limited number, personal relationship-based program.  All of the things I liked about PLU were true of UCR, plus a few things that I didn't think about before (I'll get to those in a minute).  I appreciated (again) getting a phone call from the director and that he was willing and enthusiastic about answering all of my questions for the better part of an hour.

Conversely, I haven't heard much from Chatham at all.  I received my acceptance by email and then snail mail, but I've had no interaction with their office at all.  I suspect this is because they too are a larger program.  While there are a few things that pique my interest about Chatham, I don't have the same warm fuzzy feelings about it being a good fit for me.

On to the plusses that UCR has in addition to it being very similar to PLU... Some things about Riverside are an even better fit.  Instead of beginning with a residency period, UCR students begin working at home for a quarter and then attend their first residency in December.  I like this idea of easing into the program.  I tend to move slow out of crazy introversion, so this is a good fit.  I feel like I can get my feet wet before I'm reading short stories aloud to a bunch of strangers.  The major difference about UCR, though, that the director communicated to me on the phone, is that they put more emphasis on actually geting published once you graduate.  There's a whole other component of their program that includes one-on-one interaction with editors, literary agents, studio producers, etc.  Since that is the part of this most foreign to me, I am extremely interested in it.

When I decided I wanted to go back to school it wasn't because I had a specific career goal in mind.  I still don't.  My number one goal is to meet people and to learn about things that are out there in this world.  I want to be a part of a community of writers.

Practically, it's much easier to get to Palm Springs (where UCR hosts its residency) than anywhere else.  I've randomly spent a ton of time in Riverside itself because of student Mock Trial competitions, so (even though it's somewhat of a pit) it is not unfamiliar.  Riverside's proximity to LA influences its visiting faculty for residencies, too.  Let's be honest: I don't mind, either, that they host their residency here:

at a resort and spa in Palm Springs.  I have a feeling that when I "have to" travel to Palm Springs in December for 10 days I'm not going to be too pissed.

Just to keep things real, you should know that my phone call from UCR wasn't all good.  I had to answer one question and I was in limbo until I got the final acceptance letter from UCR Graduate Admissions this morning.  When the director called he let me know that he liked my work and wanted me to be a part of their program... but also that he needed me to answer this question: what happened in your last two quarters at UC Davis?  My heart sank a little but I answered him honestly.  He was referring to my less-than-stellar (or less-than-decent) grades in my last two quarters.

I gave him the truth.  I hated college.  By the time I was in my last quarters I wanted nothing more than to get out as quickly as I could.  I had been commuting for 2 1/2 years, I didn't know anyone, I felt no connection to my school and I was planning a wedding in April.  I was working way too many hours in one town and taking way too many classes in another.  I was trying to finish my classes in March so I could be completely done before I got married.  For this reason I thought it was a good idea to take 21 units a quarter.  I was also teaching about 15 hours a week of dance classes in my hometown and dancing 6-8 hours a week in my own classes while I planned a wedding.  I was insane.  And I was 20.

It's hard.  On the one hand that was so long ago.  Almost 12 years.  On the other hand, it's the last relevant academic experience I have, so the University has to consider it.  it weighs more heavily in a UC school than it would for a private university.  Since my undergrad GPA is beneath a 3.5, they had to get special approval to accept me into the program.  The director assured me that he would go to bat for me (which was nice) but it meant that I was a little bit on hold until they gave it the okay.  He said that from my work experience it's clear I can handle the workload of school, and that they consider that with the application.  I remember around that time saying to E something like "what does it matter what my grades are, I'm still graduating--it's not like I want to go to graduate school..."  Yeah.  Whoops.  And I'm making light of it but it wasn't my intention to tank it in my final two quarters.  I just wasn't good at saying no.

That's life though, I suppose.  You learn about how much you can take on and what conditions you need to be successful.

I'm really excited about this program.  I will start in late September 2011 and I will graduate in December of 2013, hopefully with a book that I can present to agents at my graduating residency.  I feel like a new door just opened to me.  I'm excited to see where it leads.


  1. That sounds so exciting! I am so happy for you. I remember being excited when I got into my schools of choice too, that thought of promise of where they might lead you.

    And yeah, that resort looks pretty awesome! :)

  2. To go to Palm Springs in December when the weather here is miserable? LUCKY!


  3. Yay you! And I appreciate your honesty about your last two semesters, it helps me realize I did what was best in waiting until I'm older and more settled to do college. Says the 33 year old me.

  4. That is so exciting P! I am going back to school this year also. My husband and I just got BOG Fee Waiver-approved. Hopefully I will graduate Spring 2013.