Today is a big day, and it’s been killing me. I have been counting down to this day for months.
In January, I applied to graduate programs at five different schools and today is the day that one of those schools promised to announce its final admissions decisions. I realize that this might not seem like a big deal. And in fact, writing it now–that one out of five decisions is coming out today–really makes it sound like today shouldn’t be a big deal. But my ego disagrees.
This isn’t just any school. This is the school where one of the professors wrote one of my favorite books, and it was a book that was hugely influential in my decision to go back to school and change careers.
Until five months ago, this particular school was the only grad school I could ever imagine myself attending. After some research, I did identify a few others that had appeal, but I entered into the application process with a strong preference for this particular school. I spent 30 hours perfecting the application essays for this one, and about three hours writing each of the others.
Oh, and this particular school happens to be the one where my boss’ son is currently enrolled. My boss wrote a soaring recommendation for me to get into this program.
On the web, there are forums where people like me connect with other high-strung applicants. Most days, we just trade bits of insight about the various programs. But when decisions are coming out, the forums are on fire. Everyone is online, commiserating as we wait for “the call” or “the email.” (With this school, an email before a call is bad news. The best news, I have learned from fellow applicants, always comes by phone.) When someone gets news, they immediately share it, good or bad. Some people are even thoughtful enough to add pertinent information to help everyone else get through the day, like this:
“Just got the call. Accepted! The lady said they’d be making calls until 7 p.m. Eastern, so don’t lose hope!”
“Accepted with scholarship. They said scholarship details will come out next week.”
“Dinged. My first ding. So disappointing. 750 GMAT. Really didn’t see this coming.”
Last month was the interview invitation deadline. If you don’t get invited to interview, you don’t get admitted, so the interview deadline day is stressful, just like the acceptance deadline. On that day, I was refreshing my email every few minutes, waiting for the news. At 3 p.m. local time, I lost hope. It was 5 p.m. on the east coast then. I couldn’t imagine that a school on the east coast would continue to send invitations after 5. p.m.
In the end, I did get an invitation that day–at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. I was speechless. I had been invited to interview at one of the best business schools in the world. I couldn’t believe it.
Yesterday, I stepped back onto that emotional roller coaster to check in with my compatriots on the applicant forums. I knew I couldn’t be the only person who was beginning to feel anxious. Earlier in the day, someone had reported that he had logged into the school’s applicant tracking system and had found his acceptance letter online, without getting a phone call. It incited a flurry of panic.
I tried to access the system myself, but I couldn’t get in for a couple hours; the system was bogged down with too much traffic.
Then the phone rang and I nearly jumped out of my seat. It was a false alarm. My local beauty salon was just calling to confirm my next eyebrow appointment.
I tried to access the system several more times over my lunch hour, but I kept getting the same error message: “This site can’t be reached.” It was maddening, but I eventually resolved to leave it alone. Getting the news a day later wouldn’t change anything, anyway. And until someone had posted about accessing the system early, I hadn’t been expecting to hear anything for at least another day.
I walked down the hall and chatted with a co-worker. I confided that I was finding it hard to concentrate. I grabbed a cup of coffee from the kitchen and returned to my office.
Back at my desk, a light on my phone was flashing, indicating a new message. It was an email from the applicant tracking system:
“We have reviewed your application file and have updated your admission decision in the Applicant Self-Service system. You may now access your decision online.”
It was an email. Not a phone call.
I tried the system one more time and was able to log in. A new icon appeared on my dashboard: “View Decision.”
I clicked the link to be sure, but I already knew what I was about to see. And sure enough, on the next screen was a message from the dean, with three sentences I’ve dreaded seeing for months.
It was a ding. I have been rejected by one of the best business schools in the world.
I knew for the last month that today would be excruciating, but I thought it would be from the torture of waiting to hear. My phone woke me up today with a reminder alarm at 6 a.m.: “Decision Deadline,” it said.
In hindsight, I can’t believe I set a reminder; there is no way I would have forgotten what was supposed to happen today.
I dragged myself to the office late this morning. I wanted to avoid bumping into a co-worker who might ask if I had heard anything. I have decided that if anyone does ask, I’ll say I haven’t heard anything yet. I know I can’t keep that up forever; I’m just stalling until I figure out how to answer in a way that doesn’t feel completely deflating.
I know better than to watch as the forums are continuously updated with acceptance news from all over the world, but I haven’t been able to stop myself from doing it today. Optimism dies hard, just like any old habit.
My first ding. So disappointing. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I suddenly understand how hard it must have been for all those people on the forums who have brought themselves to report bad news throughout this process. That day when a group of us got invited to interview, everyone else had to find a way to say that they hadn’t. It must have stung.
I have tried several times today to post my own update, but I haven’t been able to do it. Sometimes, no news is bad news.