by Kaelyn Grace Apple
Waiting for undergraduate decisions to be released, I felt the pit in my stomach that only comes about when one has no control. Years of grade school education, exams, sports, and extra curricular activities weighed in the balance of the undergraduate admission committee’s decision. When applying for my undergraduate degree, I applied to thirteen institutions so when my first decision was released, I felt an immediate sense of relief - I had received an acceptance. Soon after, acceptances and rejections began pouring into my inbox but the blow of missing an opportunity to study at one school was soon replaced by the relief of knowing I would study for my bachelors degree no matter what.
Waiting for postgraduate admission decisions, on the other hand, is a whole other ballgame - as we Americans like to say. Waiting for PhD and DPhil decisions is coupled with the pressure of knowing that an acceptance is your ticket into academia and without it, the road to the “ivory tower” is far less certain. Unlike in undergraduate admissions, PhDs are (often) decided by a committee of faculty within a department - and often within a subfield. The spots granted doctoral students are few and far between due to the lack of funding, resources, and the rather daunting state of the job market on the other side. The programs I applied to back in the U.S. said they received over two hundred applications for my subfield and only seven were granted an offer of acceptance. The odds are dismal but unlike undergraduate admissions where thousands of offers are made, the postgraduate experience is only accessible to a limited few.
While meeting with possible advisors for my PhD, I was told that committees often select the students that are the most likely to accept their offer and often will not grant an acceptance if they feel you may choose to attend another institution. While undergraduate admissions committees acknowledge the likelihood that a certain percentage of students offered admission will not ultimately accept their offer, postgraduate admissions have several other factors to consider. Students on the other side of the decision process are then left waiting in the balance after having dedicated financial, emotional, physical, and mental resources to their research and education. We are left considering "what if” and waiting (impatiently) for the letter stating “You’ve been accepted.”
While waiting for any decision is nerve-racking at best and extreme anxiety inducing at worst, I suggest finding ways to occupy one’s time. Waiting for your “yes” doesn’t mean anxiously clicking refresh on your email. Go out and enjoy the company of your friends. Leave your phone behind, grab a scoop of ice cream, watch some ridiculous reality tv show and stand behind your work. Find comfort in remembering how hard you have worked. If this decision cycle is not your year, just know that if you are dedicated enough to your discipline, you will find your way back into academia. The road is long and winding. There is no direct path to success - and that is certainly true in academia. Stay the course and wait for your “yes”.