hi, i know this is super rogue but i figured that this is around the time that the next cycle of applicants might be logging onto gradcafe and thinking about where they want to go/apply. there's so much going on right now--i know this won't be seen for another few weeks or months, or until someone needs it, which is exactly how i want it to be. it's of no real importance but i wanted to leave something here on these forums. until then, i hope everyone's well (as well as you/we can be atm). i stayed off (ish) gradcafe for the most part through this cycle but ya, suppose i thought i should probably contribute something. i'm going to keep out specific professors' names and other identifying information (about myself, though maybe that's futile), though i have spoken to MANY professors across all of these schools. these are some thoughts on choices, and what i learned over this past year in this long--but oddly short-feeling--process.
honestly i'll also admit that i don't know why, exactly, i'm posting this now--it's ages after 15th april, a weekday afternoon on a hot summer day, and everything's said and done (vis-a-vis the 2020-2021 application season). but i still have yale on my mind--nearly every day--and just yesterday i found myself wondering whether i should have "chosen" new york--columbia, that is, but really, new york--and thinking, also, about how lush and communal (as in, forming a palpable intellectual community) the faculty at uchicago seemed. and how great it would have been to go to penn and work with [redacted], and how beautiful philadelphia is, and how it reminds me of boston, and how i bet i'd vibe with the current students there. and i'm sad that none of us were able to see all these schools because covid-19 decided to show its whole dramatic ass at the start of march; i was only able to go to the recruitment days for yale & uchicago, which were held early in the month, before the rest were cancelled.
i guess i'm writing this as a way of processing--so, in a huge way, for myself. which probably means i will start rambling, in which case, i'm sorry.
anyway. i'm here to tell anyone that cares about what i mentioned in the title. to clarify, i didn't get in absolutely everywhere--i also applied to a small (top 50) college on the east coast, which i got flat out rejected from--no WL, etc. i was weighing offers from every other university i applied to, all of which are top 10 programs and are listed above. i have no new advice, but i guess i do have some words. FEEL about what you're doing. be moved by yourself and your own work, which is really the work of others (the literature, moving you). write specifically and originally. surround the holes in your readings and lift them up--make them the OBJECT of your approach. and write something you actually think is GOOD WORK, good, solid criticism, in and of itself, for your statement of purpose. show them how you think, lay it out on the page and ask--like what you see?? then take me, work with me, that's it, that's what i do. be undeniably the best, think in new ways that are challenging (to yourself) but also deeply "easy," like you had a smooth, dark stone in your palm and you did nothing but open your hand. as effortless as breathing.
i struggled with the statement because, for months, i didn't know what to write. why do i want to do a phd??! i thought. because i just DO, because i always have wanted to??!? it took me until i realised that i just had to do what i already (ostensibly lol) knew how to do--write about literature--to actually sit down and write the thing, which, of course and in the inevitable end, was the afternoon of my first deadline, mid-december. i edited it a few times after that, submitted it everywhere else over the next week or so and that was that.
in terms of the samples--i wouldn't dwell on them. if they are good enough to get you in, they are likely already good enough. i did not edit my primary sample. my second sample, for harvard, required a great deal of fat-trimming, but that's just because i write it when i was going through an over-modification phase in my writing across the board, lol. besides tightening your language/obvious proofing, i would say don't overthink it. if it's smart, it's smart. originality is originality.
now--the big issue. i wanted a program that had everything. i wanted a bustling intellectual community--faculty mentorship, a kind, brilliant cohort of peers who'd challenge each other and grow together and weren't afraid of failing or not knowing/unknowingness + unknowability. i wanted real, deep working relationships with my professors; i wanted an inspiring, beautiful space that i knew i could live and thrive in, and a city that meant something to me. rousing seminars that would keep me engaged for ALL 3 hours (unheard of !!!!). a place where i could engage, seriously, and on paper, [with] my intended subfield without having to get a dual degree (i want a phd in english, period, not in english + [x]). pedagogy training and a TA'ing/teaching structure that made sense to me. a beautiful grad lounge (!!) with a coffee maker that wasn't gross and LOTS of windows and natural light. libraries on libraries with oppertunities for archival training. full and adequate funding, obviously. i wanted the best. but i also wanted a VIBE. i wanted "my people," real pals, people i could cook and drink and dance and live with for the next, let's face it, 6-ish years of my life--the rest of my 20's. and the totally saddening, saddest, sadder-than-soil thing about not being able to go the recruitment days is that i was unable to sus out the vibe of each program--a kind of particular and cutting, very obvious FLAVOR, distinct in and of itself and also from that of other, even comparable schools--and, similarly, that i wasn't able to meet all the people i would have met, maybe-future friends--potential cohort-mates and current students alike.
the thing is, basically all of these schools could have offered me basically all of these things; i sat in on a seminar at yale that was, in my eyes, as perfect as a phd seminar (O inscrutable object) gets--my eyes felt bright (you know that feeling??!) for the entire 3 hours. i sat in on another incredible seminar at princeton (albeit virtually); across the board, i found professors with whom i would have loved--LOVED. LOVED--to work. and i'm worried that if we had the visits, i would have chosen penn, or somewhere else--i would have visited and fallen in love. instead, we were all left to decide alone, in our apartments, hundreds and maybe thousands of miles away from the beautiful stone buildings and long, green yards. the marble libraries and ivy-sprawling gardens--and the cities that gave life to their constituent universities. i love new york so, so deeply. i've never even been to princeton.
the problem was that no program had everything. i wasn't sold on new haven, i had no idea about penn, i wasn't sure about columbia, i heard that most princeton students move out of NJ after the first couple of years. chicago is far away, and i've spent my entire young adult life (since high school) being far away. i didn't know if anything was what i wanted, though there were things in/about every school that i wanted. it was, literally, an impossible task with no answer, only a choice. and i do, still, hope to do a postdoc year at columbia or penn or chicago or yale (etc.), something i've told myself to get through the process--there is ALWAYS more time, if you don't choose columbia that doesn't mean you can never be in new york, etc. etc.
but you must choose the program that allows you to have everything. from harvard--cambridge, massachusetts, the place i really, truly wanted to live and work and grow some roots--i knew i could spent time in new york, chicago, philly, england; i knew that i could even spend a year at princeton or yale or penn if i really felt like i needed to. i could attend public events and talks at all these places, especially if i ended up making friends across institutions. it's the decision that felt the least rash, given the circumstances. and i don't know if it was right, but it's what i did. and, in the end, all it took was one unlikely phone call, from a faculty member i'd been too intimidated to reach out to myself, that made me click the button. i prayed about it. i said yes. but who are we to know we're "right" about our choices? harvard didn't have everything--i plan on, for instance, endowing (PERSONALLY!) a coffee maker in the english dept. as soon as i get there, lol. but, at the same time, it did have everything, because, in the same way that you must choose the university that will allow you to have everything else--that summer in new york, that year in oxford--i believe that, by nature of matriculating in that institution, you change it, the way the tree is changed by the bird that decides to nest in it.
if you want to, come to harvard. we can make vegan banana pancakes and have house parties with huge dusty speakers and someone's dad's old pioneer decks and get beers in allston on a weekday evening after our seminar. we can live opposite one another in a beautiful, run-down triple decker in somerville with parallel fire escapes and a balcony overgrown with plants from that garden centre in brighton in crumbling clay pots. this is a pitch. but it's not a pitch for harvard, it's a plea for hope. the title of this forum was a ploy to get you to click, to tell you this: there is another side, there is always another side. go out and apply to your programs. we will get through this. and we will be together again, forming communities and comradeship in a new and formidable world that is, i think, impossible, right now, to imagine--the dangers that the pandemic poses WILL pass, and i know, too, i think, that these protests pose a revolution. our numbers and spirits are more than theirs. it will cause unimaginable heartbreak and then it will pass, but also not pass, and the heartbreak will continue in new and strange ways that i know we can't yet anticipate. and what's happening, right now--in the midst of the pandemic, yes--is necessary. and our cities, our universities, our SYSTEMS, will be better for it, or even changed. and wherever you choose or need to be, watch your institution for their response. they are bound in unimaginable ways, particularly to their endowments, that will make radical maneuvering difficult, but not impossible. watch them closely. matriculate and, in matriculating, remember that you are changing, literally, the institutional body. and i'll see you on the other side. BLM, love and power, ACAB, give to bail funds, keep reading, be safe and be vigilant, and, for the love of literal God, delete your am*zon account.