Official graduate school acceptances are flying through the (e)mail like so many focused pigeons. If you spent your fall and winter honing your cover letter, resume, and essay, this is a particularly exhilarating and stressful time of year. After all, soon you will have to choose which program is right for you, if any. So what do you do after you have been accepted?
First, lick that envelope/computer screen with the email still up. What’s that taste? Beyond possibly tons of germs and dust? Ah yes, that, my friends, is the sweet taste of success. For those of you less inclined to acting out literal interpretations of common idioms, do a happy dance. Wiggle that butt, pump your hands in the air, and let the world/your cat know that you are number one (the cat is going to get you back for that one later).
Second, if you have multiple offers (and you probably do), you will now have to make a decision. Clearly, some column online, even on as well-intentioned and enthusiastic over your academic career as it can be, cannot offer much guidance in this arena. Take stock of your life, your current career ambitions, your need for flexibility, what the program offers in terms of financial and academic support, your family, the move, everything up to and including the kitchen sink, and make the choice that is right for you.
Throughout my life, short as it may be (god willing, I have got a good 200-some years still ahead of me), I have found that most of life is spent in the grey middle areas. Sure, there are some choices that will be obvious (getting that chocolate croissant you were eying this morning, for example, versus trying to chew the cap off a bottle with your teeth), but most choices fall into that grey area.
In the grey area, the different options have various positives and negatives, but it is hard to rank them against each other. For many people, when it comes to making that final graduate school decision, that choice will be in that grey area. Being in the grey area means that to some extent, the choice is what you make it to be. And as frightening as it can seem, it is also encouraging.
Graduate school is hard for many reasons, not the least of which is the way it forces you to confront your limitations, your abilities, and what really motivates you. But that is also why graduate school can be such a valuable experience. It is an intellectual road trip, to borrow from a popular myth of Americana – a personal challenge, a journey of self-discovery, and a good way to learn some important shit. Choose a place that will allow you to take that road trip fully and enthusiastically. Once you have got that, well, in the words of Friday Night Lights’ Coach Taylor, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”