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Grad School Rant

Grad School Rant

Amy Wilson

It’s grad school application time, and so I’m watching my current and former students one by one go up, apply to their fave schools, get rejected by one and accepted by another, over and over. It’s an excruciating thing to watch even in a year when applications aren’t through the roof, as they are this year. Most years I know maybe one or two people who are applying; this year, it’s over a dozen.

And I know how these things go: You get to know a student well, so you become convinced that he or she is qualified beyond all other candidates; you hear their story and watch their work unfold and know all the things they go through to get to where they are. You see them grow, slowly but surely – intellectually, artistically, personally, etc. You know them, in other words – something that graduate school admission committees don’t. All the committee sees is a couple of slips of paper and a few images flashed on a screen for mere seconds, and from this they have to make their decision. I’ve been in that committee room before and I know how hard a process it is.

Still, life goes on and year in and year out, I have written letters for students applying to grad schools. And since I work with great students, and also because I’m a little picky about who I will write about, every year I see most of them at least get to the interview process. It’s not me or my intervention that gets them there – but I do get to support people who I honestly believe are the best of the best, and so it only makes sense that these are the ones who make it this far.

(Sometimes things happen during the interview that keeps the applicant out of the school – it could be anything from the applicant freezing up terribly or the school simply trying to get a good demographic mix of students or anything like that. Basically, if you make it as far as the interview, you’re qualified to go there and the rest is basically luck – or so it goes in my book.)

So this is why I’m so shocked and upset as the news has started trickling in as schools notify their applicants of where they stand. Three young women I know, all of whom applied to Yale, never even made it as far as the interview stage. This is absurd.

When I heard about the first, I thought, “Well, maybe something went wrong with the application. The images didn’t look good on the screen or something was forgotten or whatever” because these things happen. For Person #2, I thought, “Well… maybe they’re looking for a totally different kind of painter or… something” (at this point in my head it was all getting a little suspect). And then Person #3 tells me that she didn’t get in, and now I’m ready to punch someone. I’m livid. It doesn’t seem possible to me that all three might have made some sort of mistake on their application. And I can’t say this enough – all three of them are super intelligent, very strong artists, totally played by all the rules and got great grades and did everything you’re supposed to do… and… this??

Who do you have to be? I have seen so many of my former students make it to the interview stage – did something suddenly change this year? Is it just that the numbers of people who are applying are so much higher? I’m just also confused – if these women didn’t get into Yale, how did I get into Yale all those years ago?

And I know that I sound like a ridiculously overprotective mom for saying this, but I feel so hurt and disappointed for them. I want to take a big bottle of white-out to my CV and just cross out where I got my MFA from, because clearly this school doesn’t know talent when it sees it. And I can’t reiterate enough – it’s one thing if one (or even two) of them hadn’t made it to the interview stage, but the point where all three didn’t make it… that’s where this all seems suddenly really unfair and I start wondering what’s up.


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