Grad School Grandiloquence

 Grandiloquence [gran-dil-uh-kwuh ns] noun

  1. Speech that is lofty in tone, often to the point of being pompous or bombastic.

Much to the irony that the title of this blog post suggests, this post is likely to be far less eloquent than you might be lead to believe. This is my first post in a while, and I apologize for my absence. The last few months the majority of my focus has been dedicated to the soul-sucking process of applying to graduate school. Such as learning the definitions of words like grandiloquent and coterie (“a small group of people with shared interests or tastes, especially one that is exclusive of other people”). And learning how to factor quadratics, write pointless thirty-minutes essays, and ultimately how to sell myself to the coterie admissions committees at the elite universities I applied to.

Part of this post was written after I submitted my third application (an emotional free flowing rant of sorts). Now that I have turned in the last of six applications, I decided to go back and fill in the gaps. The exact point in writing this is to express my personal thoughts and feelings about being a first-generation college student, the first in my family to apply to graduate school, and ultimately the psychological roller-coaster of questions that have swirled in my brain for the last several months during these application processes.

I can provide you statistic that show the stark differences in economic earnings of people who get their GED compared to people who get their master’s. I can show you the mental health differences of first generation students versus legacy students. Instead, I would like to share with you my own thoughts and emotions throughout this graduate school application process. I’ve always felt that a story sticks with people more than stats do. I hope that through sharing my deepest emotions and feelings towards the graduate school application process you can understand what it’s like for someone who comes from a working class family and is a first-generation college student. The emotional turmoil that you must recon with while applying to specialized degree programs is a much different experience for us than those students reigning in from the upper echelon of society. I’m not sure if I can offer any solutions or advice, or any concrete ending or foundational knowledge that could mitigate the negative psychological aspects of the college application process for low-income folks. All I can really do is share how it made me feel. Show you trough my lens and my brain’s processes in hopes of increasing awareness.

Through life’s many transitions, I find myself consistently grappling with the same doubts and questions about my self-worth. Am I good enough? Can I progress? Can I really become the person I desperately want to be? No one teaches the poor kids how to deal with the anxiety surrounding college applications. We are told that education is our ticket out of poverty. We are sent informational materials through emails, in the transfer center at our undergraduate institution or community college, and made to seem like we have a chance to matriculate into the highest academic levels of the Ivory Tower.

In reality, I’ve come to understand that many poor folks fit a diversity quota. Although the actual act of “diversity quotas” was banned following the Supreme Court case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which concluded specific race based quota systems (and by proxy, student poverty quotas), could not be a determining factor in the admissions process. Fortunately or unfortunately, we still live in a world where that happens. Application questioners still ask questions such as, “on a scale of 1 to 5, how much of a financial burden will attendance at this university be on your family.” They claim these questions are not necessarily a qualification for admissions, but rather that they want a “diverse applicant pool, where students from all backgrounds can have a chance.” To me, it feels like these application questions and admissions behaviors are a way for universities to feel good about giving some poor kid from the ghetto a handout. And the effects on that poor kid are detrimental in ways I don’t think the coterie understands.

This is not to say diversity does not matter in education. I believe the opposite, actually. I think having people from all economic, racial, geographical, and political backgrounds is imperative for fostering a substantive and well-rounded education system and fruitful classroom discussions. However, these types of admissions questions are triggering, in a sense, and lead to questions about one’s “worthiness” of going to graduate school.

“Am I really good enough to make it to an Ivy League?”

“Have I just been pushed along in the system as a way for universities to feel good about themselves? Letting us poor folks get in like some sort of specimen to be examined and probed?”

“Am I really smart, or do people just feel bad for me? Is my trauma ‘good enough’ or ‘better’ than the other poor and marginalized kid who I’m applying with, and ultimately against?”

“I know they won’t let all of us poor kids in, we have to be a specific sob story that tears at one’s heartstrings, something that is so bad they have to let you in… whether or not you’re “smart” enough.”

These questions keep swirling around in my brain. So much so that I feel like it takes the breath out of my lungs at times.

In reality, I know I’m smart. I want to make a difference. I’ve dedicated my life to helping others so they don’t have to feel this pain I do now. I try to understand, but no one ever teaches you how to deal with the crippling anxiety in regards to the feeling of inadequacy  at being (or attempting to be) in an institution of higher learning. The irony of it all is frankly, intense. Get into grad school to make it easier for other folks like me to get into grad school. But in order to get into a graduate school to make it easier for others to get into a graduate school, I have to participate in this process that unfairly burdens people who historically don’t go to graduate school??? The new tax plan, where graduate students would have to pay taxes on the minuscule amount of financial aid needed to survive is just the cherry on top. Not only was this system not made for people like me, but there are systems being implemented in 2018 to make this kind of transition into graduate school even more difficult. Not only have I felt up against a master’s admissions process that is already laborious for people from any background, but you have this added weight of feeling as though people and institutions don’t actually want you there in the first place. After all, the systems weren’t really made for poor and working-class people anyways; institutions of higher learning have historically been reserved for the elite.

However, throughout all of this, I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve seen that light, and I’m pretty sure it’s the exact feeling you get the moment after submitting your final application. What I will eloquently deem that “fuck you” moment. Pushing through all the doubts, worries, financial sacrifices, time, and paperwork and just jumping in head first; then floating to the surface to take a deep breath of air, uttering “fuck you” to the systems of oppression. I still can’t tell you with any amount of confidence that I will get into the schools that I applied too. But I do know that the work I’ve done, the professional experiences I’ve gained, the positive relationships I’ve made, and the work that I have put into giving back to my community is in fact worthy enough of getting accepted into graduate school. When I get in, it won’t be just because I fit some sort of quota, it will be because of the merit of my intellect and dedication to social justice activism and changing the world that will ultimately secure me a spot in a Master’s in Public Policy program.

I hope that by reading this you might glean some insight into what it is like applying to graduate school for people of low socioeconomic status. Standardized tests for people who grew up in low-income neighborhoods can be excruciatingly difficult – we didn’t get the training. The financial burden of paying for application fees, and the time it takes to actually fill out six individual applications is a burden as well (you can’t make money when you need to take days off to write essays and take tests). And ultimately, the self-doubt and anxiety over self-worth in regards to if you’re even qualified to be an applicant. Having to relearn simple mathematical equations and antiquated definitions of words a majority of regular folks don’t use can make any person from my circumstance feel inadequate and unworthy of admissions into a good graduate program. Which is why it is so important for people like myself and others who weren’t handed life on a silver platter to get into these institutions of higher learning. Without our experiences being represented at the very top, in a decision-making capacity, things will never change.

I’m here to say that getting into your dream school is possible; the emotional weight is real and it’s heavy, but preserving through struggles is the only possible way to change the system for future generations. Regardless of the institutional systems and barriers that are in place that oppress poor, working-class families, and communities of color, there is a way to Level Up. Just listen to some Bay slaps and remind yourself that YOU ARE WORTHY, YOU ARE SMART, YOU ARE CAPABLE, and your zip code and the antiquated ideas about elite universities should not deter you from pursuing your dreams.


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