Grad Schools, why must you be oh-so-difficult?

I have come to a place in my life where I believe I can comfortably claim the following statement:

I hate every single part of the grad school process.

A little less than a year ago, I started thinking seriously about where I wanted to go with my professional life, and in doing so, seriously contemplating grad school.  During my senior year of college, while talking to an advisor/mentor-type person I look up to, he suggested that I look into getting my Masters in Public Health.  At the time, I was burned out of school and bullshit work, and wanted at least a year off.  Now, a few years later and modestly wiser, I tentatively looked out there into the world of unlimited knowledge, and much to my surprise, there are specific programs that have arisen in the past decade or so which focus on precisely the area of Public Health I am interested in.

Fast forward many months and stupid standardized tests later, and I found myself in the midst of 4 applications to schools that each had a program in Global/Intl Health that appealed highly to me.  Based upon my work experience, GRE scores, undergrad transcripts, and personal statement, I felt that I should have no problem getting into 3, but one was a very exclusive program in a very exclusive department in a very exclusive Ivy League school, and to be honest I thought it was a long shot since I didn’t precisely have the full 2 years of international work experience they wanted.

Fast forward again, and color me befuddled when I actually found myself being accepted to all four schools – including the exclusive Ivy League program!

In my mind, once the admissions letter came, I mentally was set on going there.  Great program, great school, great reputation, great city.  I mean… everything I’ve been reading in the past several months a bout PH research seemed to have been mocking me by mentioning this particular Public Health school.  I decided to coincide my visit to this school with my other top choice, just as a back-up, since they are in cities relatively near each other.

I show up to the tour at the Ivy League school to find myself disappointed with our tour guide.  She’s fairly quiet and not extremely forthcoming about the school’s benefits.  Since no on else is asking questions, I took it upon myself to be THAT obnoxious asshat who dominates the tour, but just kept finding myself more and more disenheartened with her.  What I took away from the tour was this: Unlike most people, who are dying to get into a school like this, she seems to have chosen this school on a whim, because she’d always lived in the city.  Additionally, the professors are very helpful… as long as you email them 4 or 5 times.  And the library is tiny, and she often shleps all of her stuff 60 blocks away to the undergrad library.  And the facilities are all fairly outdated, but she doesn’t really care because she doesn’t live on campus, and isn’t part of any after-class activities. But she thinks they’re great. From what she hears.

Okay, I know better than to just take one student’s opinion on this, so despite my initial distaste for this school, I decide to go visit the department to which I’ve been accepted, since it’s those students and that department I’ll be dealing with the most, so those will be the most helpful people to talk with, right? Apparently not.  The woman I met with only had 5 mintues to speak with me (understandable, she’s busy), and despite me asking some specific questions about the program and the practicum, what she gave me was basically the course outline which was online. Which I told her I’d already seen.

Oh well… financial aid department?  Nope. The guy basically looked at me like I had 7 heads when I asked him about my options and what he thought of housing and loans and whatnot.  Seriously?  Guy?  It’s your job to answer these questions.  Just f.y.i.

Okay, here’s the thing. I know you’re an Ivy League.  You’re great. So great in fact that nature is so much in awe of you that the clouds actually rain diamonds on you.

But that doesn’t mean you get to treat your prospective students like turtle crap that has inconvenienced your day.  Honestly, I think every person I came in contact with, be it the tour guide, the receptionists of the admissions desk, the department receptionist and admissions officiers, and Mr. Financial Aid, acted like I was a majorly INCONVENIENT addition to your day.  Which, saying this, I understand you’re busy, but at the same point, you all work within the admissions sector.  Basic customer service, people.

Contrast this with a day and a city later, I force myself to visit the second school, and am greeted with a completely opposite reception.  This school is ranked approximately 7 below the Ivy League, and misses the “Top Ten” rating.

Without an appointment, I show up to the admissions office, apologize for the inconvenience, and ask for a map.  Instead, the -extremely friendly- admissions officer recognizes my name from emailing, and sets me up with a 30 minute session and one-on-one tour with a recent grad from my program, where I will then be brought over to meet with one of the heads of the International Health Department for a meeting, and apologizes she couldn’t do more.

My tour guide is extremely helpful, telling me about the ups and downs of the program and school, introducing me to other students in the student activities center, and telling me about her own experience with professors and job seeking.  I was surpised to learn that my guide actually was also accepted to the same Ivy League school, but decided to decline and attend here because she’d had a terrible visit with them as well, and liked this other program’s flexibility in the end.

After our tour, I met with the IH Department chair and she went over the wealth of classes offered, summer programs, exclusive internships available overseas, specific research of professors, student life, housing, etc.  Hell, she even showed me how to use one of the student-resource portals available on their website.

Now, after all of this, I feel like my choice should be obvious.  I should go to the school who treated me with dignity, who provided me with spontaneous courtesy, whose students were honest, friendly, and [at least somewhat] truthful.

But I can’t get out of the back of my head those stupid stupid benefits of the other school.  Grad school is going to cost me, either way.  I’m going to be in massive debt either way (in fact School #2 might cost a couple grand more)… so part of me wonders whether or not its worth it to go to a school that has a better reputation, ranking, and more job opportunities in the city its in, or if I should throw all of that to hell and go to a school where I might not have access to the wealth of opportunities and regalia which comes from being associated with a) Ivy League School, and b) one of the most ground-breaking Public Health schools in general.

I have three days to decide.

I hate this.

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