You Only Need One "Yes!"

Photo:  iStock

Photo: iStock


I didn't even want to apply to PhD programs for real. As a senior in college, I actually wanted to pursue a Master of Education. But all of that changed when I attended my school's Graduate & Professional Schools Fair. Every year, they invited representatives from various grad programs to campus to expose students to different post-college opportunities. And the only reason why I decided to go my senior year was because one of the schools I wanted to apply to was there. I wanted to, you know, show face, mingle a lil bit, and (maybe) finesse my way through admissions. At least that was my plan!


When I got there, what was funny (or sad?) was that I immediately noticed that there were only TWO Black women in the whole auditorium: one who represented the master's program that I wanted to apply to, and one who rocked beautiful locs and represented Northwestern's Graduate School. So I mean, quite naturally, I had to talk to both of them. "Wakanda FOREVER!" *crosses arms*


After I got my lil goodie bag from the master's program, I circled the auditorium until I ended up at the Northwestern booth.


"I know that y'all have a really dope Black Studies PhD program, but I don't even know if I wanna do that right now. I'm thinking about doing a Master's in Education," I said.


"Yeah, I saw you over there laughing at that other booth." (I love Black people.) "Well, here. Take our brochure and sign up for our email list. You never know," she replied.


I left that event and went straight to my dorm room, where I instantly researched Northwestern's Black Studies program. For about an hour or two, I looked up the faculty. But it was a wrap when I saw that they didn't require GRE scores! (I was STRUGGLING with the GRE.) In that moment, I decided that I was gonna also apply to Northwestern's PhD program, and I quickly returned to the grad school fair.


"I just looked up the program, and I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna apply!" I said, excitedly.


"Well dang, that was fast," she responded. (Did I mention that I love Black people?)


It was already mid-October and most PhD applications were due in December. So yeah, I kinda decided to apply at the last minute. But I mean, I was already studying for the GRE and my advisors had already told me that I was a "competitive" applicant, considering my previous research experience. So why not?


After talking to a couple of professors, I ultimately decided to go all in, and I applied to eight different PhD programs, ranging from Black Studies to English. (I had a minor in English.) Once I submitted all of them, I just had to wait. I don't know if I was just impatient or if the programs were actually taking forever, but it felt like YEARS had gone by before I heard back from the schools. Suddenly, one by one, they all started coming in.


Now, I'd consider myself an optimist at heart. So I expected to get into every program I applied to. Why not? Dream big! I mean, hell, my advisors did say that I was a "competitive" applicant. Weeeeell....guess how many rejection letters I got? lol

One? ... Two? ... Three? ... Four? ... Five? ... Six? ...


Maaaaaan, I got SEVEN rejection letters. SEVEN!!! I was hurt, truly. It got so bad that one school (it rhymes with "Barvard") sent me two rejection letters: one via email and one through the mail. How do you mail somebody a second rejection letter? Was my shit THAT bad? Sheesh!


It all came full circle, though, because the one acceptance letter that I received was from Northwestern University. Wild. 


Now, fast forward three years. I've presented at various academic conferences. I've been published. I've earned over $20,000 to carry out my research. And soon, I'll be writing my dissertation. Yeah, getting into a bunch of PhD programs would've been cool. Hell, I know that it would've helped with my anxiety. But going through the grad school application process taught me that you only need ONE program to believe in you and your vision. You only need one "Yes."

Don't give up.


About the Author

Bennie is a third-year PhD student at Northwestern University, where he is studying African American Studies. He created Just Tryna' Graduate to help Black students get to & through graduate school. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter.