Posted by: counselorcarmella | August 26, 2014

Grad School Decisions Part Three: Confident Expectation

I decided to delay graduate school a little longer so that I could strengthen my travel and technology skills by taking classes at the SC Commission for the Blind. By the end of 2000, I’d been accepted by USC as a non-degree student for the spring semester. A friend had told me about this option and I’d been very excited about pursuing it. As a nondegree student, I could go ahead and take two general classes in the Counselor Education program while finishing my application for full admission. In the meantime, I could get a better sense of what graduate level work was really like without the pressure of being a full-time student and would have the chance to get to know some of the peers and professors I would be likely to continue working with once I was officially enrolled in the program. I decided to take Communication Skills and Human Growth and Development.

I knew there was no guarantee , but chose to move ahead under the assumption that I would be officially enrolled in the Counselor Ed program by late spring. My boyfriend V was wonderfully supportive and helpful around my grad school preparations. He helped me find an apartment near campus and helped me pick out new a laptop computer. The folks at the Commission for the Blind who’d been helping me update my computer skils helped me obtain and install the latest version of the speech software I used and I started working to get comfortable with this new technology. I wanted some time to get used to it, since my previous computer experience was on the desk top I’d had since early 1998.

V and my family helped me move shortly before the semester started. DuPree McKenzie (my orientation and mobility instructor), Maggie, and I started working on the route from where I lived to the College of Education where my two classes were held. I appreciated Maggie so much. She handled the challenges of city traffic very well. The more we worked those street crossings and other routes around campus, the more I trusted her and our abilities as a team. We became familiar with the Russell House and Thomas Cooper Library area of campus. The Wardlaw College of Education where the Counselor Ed program was located was in the same area. The graduate school and Disability Services offices were close by, as well. Wardlaw was across the street from the horse shoe and the School of Public Health, where I would also have several classes.

I also learned how to get to the Counselor Education offices on the second floor of Wardlaw, and other main areas in the College of Education, such as the canteen and computer lab. Its hallways were very windy so it could have been easy to get confused, but Maggie and I quickly got used to the twists and turns we needed to make to get to the parts of the building we went to on a regular basis.

V also helped me study for the MAT, which was a test I needed to take as part of the requirements for my graduate school application. I could take it or the GRE, which seemed much longer and more difficult. The MAT consisted entirely of analogies (light is to dark as wet is to dry, for example). The final word would be omitted and the correct response would be among a list of multiple choice answers. The ones on the test weren’t nearly that easy, though. V and I bought a couple of practice books and he spent a lot of time in December and January quizzing me on them.

Actually getting the accommodations I needed to take the MAT was a nightmare. I needed a reader and someone to mark down my answers. For some reason, getting this arranged through the USC Testing Services office was problematic and more complicated than seemed necessary. By the time everything was set up, I was worried that my application wasn’t going to be considered because the test scores wouldn’t be in by the deadline. I called and spoke with the program director who assured me that, since this issue was not my fault, they would review everything else and then make a final decision after receiving my MAT scores. I was tremendously relieved and thankful for their understanding. Now that I was finally taking grad classes, I didn’t want more delays. If I was accepted by the end of spring semester, I would be able to take several of the required summer classes and could have as many as five courses completed by the time fall semester started.

I finally got the test taken with the help of a really nice graduate student who had to spell half the words to me because he didn’t know how to pronounce them. I had no idea either. The MAT was harder than I ever could have anticipated and I felt sure my scores were going to be horrible. This was kind of embarrassing, since the Counseling program was waiting on them to decide whether or not to consider me for admission.

Either I did a lot better than I’d thought, or the Counselor Ed faculty didn’t put a lot of weight on standardized testing. Several weeks later, I received a letter to let me know they wanted me to come in for an interview. I was very excited. The unofficial information I got was that the faculty were already planning to accept those who were called in to meet with them personally. Unless a potential applicant totally bombed their interview somehow, they would most likely be admitted into the Counselor Education program.

The interview was the morning of March 2. I was in a small group with about six other women. Most were interested in School Guidance, but a couple of us wanted to take part in the Marriage and Family Counseling specialization. Different faculty members took turns talking with us. I knew Dr. Bowman already because I was taking his Communication Skills class. I hoped he’d been able to speak from his personal experiences of me when applications were being reviewed. I had met Dr. Gold on several previous occasions, as well. Several doctoral students also spent time with us.

One exercise we were given involved personifying an emotion. A bowl was passed around. The emotion I drew was “Anxiety.” I almost laughed out loud. I was painfully familiar with that feeling and was currently experiencing an ample supply of it.

“I am anxiety,” I said. “I make people worry all the time and have trouble sleeping. I make them afraid bad things are going to happen. I make them afraid of getting sick, or of their children being injured or kidnapped. I make them afraid of losing their jobs or their money. I make them assume the worst of any situation.”

“What’s good about you?” Dr. Gold asked.

“I motivate people to be prepared, I said. “If someone has a test coming up, I make them want to study because they’re afraid of not doing well. I help them be aware and cautious so they’ll stay safe.”

We also had to ask one question of a pretend client. Since I was taking “Communication Skills,” I knew to phrase my question using “what” or “how,” rather than using words that could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

The process lasted several hours, but the time passed quickly. We had some interesting discussions and interactions. Everyone was friendly and encouraging, and unlike taking the MAT, I felt very good about how the process went.

Several weeks later, I received word that I had been accepted into the graduate program in Counselor Education With a Specialization in Marriage and family Counseling. I was thrilled! After years of college, I felt as though I would finally be studying what I wanted to do most. I would be learning how to be a counselor. I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me, but I looked forward to the challenge. I’d worked hard to be ready for this and felt like I had the skills, adaptive tools, and support I would need to be successful.

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