So I started looking into Ph. D. programs and realized how few of them there are in the United States. I took the GRE, I made a list of ten of the twenty schools that offered my degree and then narrowed it to the ones I could actually see myself attending.
I applied to grad school like it was my full time job. I worked on personal statements and writing samples, I emailed the head of every program I applied to, just so they knew my name. I lined up as many recommendations as I could. I had a list and calendar of deadlines, and made sure I submitted each one at least a week early. But eventually, it was out of my control and all I could do was wait for the decisions to come rolling in.
On February 1st, just two weeks after the deadline, I got an e-mail from Oklahoma State University offering acceptance into the creative writing Ph. D. program. Honestly, no matter how excited I was, my family (particularly my father) were even more so. My dad started researching Stillwater, Oklahoma immediately, and all but ordered “OSU Dad” merchandise from the school store. I, however, wanted to wait until the rest of the decisions were in. The pressure was off: I’d gotten in somewhere, and the hard part was over. To this day, I’m glad I got that e-mail first, because after that, it was rejection after rejection. I’m not ashamed of it—it’s extremely difficult to get into a program, much more so to get into more than one. A few of the rejections came with amazing letters of encouragement (here’s looking at you, University of Houston), and some were a little on the rude side, but either way, I was happy.
My First Year as an Oklahoma State Cowgirl (Go Pokes)
When I came to Stillwater for the first time, I immediately regretted my decision. The town was too small, too run down. But then I looked at my new school. The building I would call home, which was built in the early 1900s took my breath away—even if my office was in the attic and cramped with all of the other grad students. This was the type of school I had pictured for my undergrad—it just took me a little more time to get here.
I’m not going to lie, though, when school started, it almost killed me. I was only taking three classes and working through my teaching assistance position, but the workload was so much more than I ever imagined. Those three classes assigned homework like they were six. In the first two weeks, I had a fifteen page short story due for workshop, a group discussion project, classes to shadow, a research project to think of, and six table hours per week in the writing center. That doesn’t count the reading for each class. That first month humbled me, but I figured it out. I paid immense attention to my planner, looked at syllabi for my classes once a week, and asked every second, third, and fourth year I could find question after question. Those second years—the ones I pestered over and over at the beginning of the school year—are now my best friends. We’re all still trying to figure out the program: what forms need to be turned in by when, what we can and cannot do in the eyes of our advisors, how to pick committee members, not to mention the politics we all fell into. But we’re doing it. I got through my first semester with a 4.0, the highest my GPA has ever been. Even now, we work all week, do homework all weekend, but make time for ourselves on Saturday nights (and Game of Thrones viewing parties on Sunday evenings). It’s not easy, and the work/life balance is hard to figure out, but it’s doable.
My Advice Even Though No One Asked For It
If you’re thinking of a higher education degree for creative writing, I’ll tell you this: it isn’t what you’re expecting. And it’s going to be hard. There will be criticism and tears and people you don’t trust telling you things you don’t believe. However, I have become such a better writer because of these things. I trust my own writing style now. I see the issues before people point them out. Getting these degrees, even though I didn’t need them, were the best decisions I could have made, both for my writing and for myself. If you’re thinking about it, do it (or, at least, try it), because you’ll regret it if you don’t.