How I Got Into Graduate School

My younger brother is in his senior year at Morehouse College. As a Big Sister who has matriculated through graduate school, I get the pleasure of offering advice through one of the most challenging years of his life. The other day, as I was fixing him a hearty breakfast before his GRE Exam, he asks me, “How many graduate schools did you apply to?” Lost in thought, I absentmindedly replied, “Three.” I didn’t think much of it, but he did and responded, “That didn’t seem like much. Why didn’t you apply to more?” I sighed and thought, Kobi always asks a lot of questions. I let out a deep breath and proceeded to tell him my story.

I can be indecisive about a lot of things, but in 2007, during my senior year in college, I was decisive about the three graduate schools I wanted to attend. My first choice was located in the South; the second choice was in the Midwest and my third choice was Boston University (BU). There were no other schools I wanted to attend. If I didn’t get into those schools, I planned to apply to graduate school again the following year.

Shockingly, I did not get accepted to any of my first two choices. Although I had maintained Honor Roll status throughout my four years at Spelman College, successfully competed and defended a thesis, listed three research related internships on my résumé, and had held leadership positions in four campus organizations, my first and second choice schools did not accept me. Their reason? My GRE scores did not meet their criteria.

I have never been good at standardized tests. I get anxious. I over-analyze questions. I take too much time and fail to complete the sections. Standardized tests don’t like me and I don’t like them. It was no surprise that my GRE scores were low; my SAT scores weren’t high either. My top two choices had stringent GRE standards; they used GRE scores to filter your applications. If your application didn’t meet the GRE requirement, your application was ruled out no matter what your credentials looked like.

BU wasn’t like that. During my visit to BU in the Fall of my senior year in college, I met the admissions recruiter and professors who in spite of my shortcomings saw in me raw talent. The admissions recruiter was adamant about maintaining contact with me throughout the application process. We both knew that my GRE scores were below the school’s requirements, but given my other qualifications, he thought I had a good shot. Even so, I had to work extra hard to get in. I submitted research papers and projects; I solicited recommendation letters from professors. I had even started communicating with professors at BU.

The end of April was quickly approaching. Final exams were around the corner, and I was putting finishing touches on final projects. Some of my classmates were already saying their final “Goodbyes.” Most schools had already sent out their acceptance letters and I was getting more and more anxious about my graduate school career with each passing day. My classmates were welcoming acceptance letters from Ivy League institutions like Harvard University and Columbia University. Others were entering into the corporate world, boasting about job offers on Wall Street. They asked what I was doing after graduation, and I didn’t have much to say. I met rejection letters in my campus mailbox frequently. And I was beginning to feel like graduate school was not in the cards for me, at least not immediately after college.

But to my surprise and joy, good news finally came.  After about six weeks in agony about not getting into graduate school, I received a phone call from the admissions recruiter from BU at around noon on Friday, April 20, 2007.  “On behalf of the admissions team here at BU, I’d like to welcome you to our school,” said the Admissions recruiter on the other end. I started yelling, screaming, and jumping up and down. Given the numerous conversations the admissions recruiter and I had held in the past few months, he had become accustomed to my vocal gestures and tendencies, he chuckled. “I know you’d be excited. CONGRATLATIONS!!” I hung up the phone and proceeded to call my biggest fans and supporters to tell them I did it.

It has been four years since that phone call, but I can still vividly recall the series of events leading up to my admission. I remember the anxiety I felt about the possibility of not getting in and I remember the long hours I invested to produce paperwork for the School to grant my admission. I am happy that I did not get into my first and second choice school. If I did, my life would have turned out differently.

BU offered me a host of opportunities that the other schools could not. I met some amazing people that I not only admire; I call them my friends. I learned from professors who were pioneers in their field.  I also had the time of my life in Boston, while learning alongside the nation’s most educated people. As a young woman from a historically Black college for women, I seized opportunities to share my experiences with my classmates. My college and my experiences were foreign to my classmates, as were their experiences to me.  We represented different cultures, countries, perspectives, and lifestyles, yet we learned from each other; we exchanged notes, stories, opinions, and perspectives. Each person I encountered at BU has made a positive influence on me and have contributed to the professional I am today.

You’d think, having gone through a series of ups and downs in my career, I’d be used to the feelings and the anxiety that it brings. I’m not. I am always in need of encouragement to continue pursuing my dreams. It’s when I look back at where I come from; it’s when I look at others who are successful and have been through tough times, that I am inspired to keep on keeping on ’cause in the midst of turmoil, rejection, and chaos, you will get what you wanted; in fact you will get even better than what you wanted.

So if this story resonates with you because you are in the midst of applying to graduate school; If you’re that woman from a small liberal arts institution; if you’re talented but talents are not reflected in your standardized tests scores; if your personal statement is just not perfect enough no matter how hard you work on it, then I encourage to keep on trekking on. Your time is coming soon. And when it does, you will be satisfied with the outcome even if you weren’t granted your first choice.

4 thoughts on “How I Got Into Graduate School

  1. Jess, your experiences at BU completely mirror my experiences as well. I greatly enjoyed my tenure at BU. And even though i didn’t get a chance to hang out with you all as much as i would have wanted to, my encounters with everyone’s character and personality have left a lasting mark in my life. I too had wanted to attend other graduate schools namely University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins, etc. These schools did not offer me an admission for one reason or another, and i am glad that they didn’t. Otherwise i would never have met the wonderful people i got to know, including you, and i believe my life would have turned out completely differently-i believe not as good as this life that i have today.


    • Hi Grace! Thanks for your comment! And yes, it was a pleasure meeting you as well. I remember how you helped me with SAS. Arrrgggghhh! What would I have done without your help?


  2. I remember that time of senior year. I didn’t apply to grad school then; instead, I was looking for a job, and all of my prospects turned me down. I actually didn’t get my job until after graduation. I will never forget; it was in September, and I was so excited because it was with Emory Healthcare, and I would’ve never thought I would get that job. I applied on a whim that Monday, and two weeks later, I got the job.


    • Awww. It’s funny how we look back on our life. At the moment while we’re enduring it, we think it’s the most painful experience ever. (Cause let’s face it job hunting is ROUGH. but when we look back we think, that wasn’t so bad.)


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