In a blog last semester, I talked about the question that strikes fear in the hearts of seniors everywhere — the classic “What are you doing after you graduate?” Now the time has come for me to finally answer that question. Throughout the course of this blog, I’ve avoided it. While the job application process would seem like a gold mine of creative material to some, I have not written about it because I think I’m taking a pretty unconventional path.
But now that everything is finalized, I think that I can provide some insight — and more importantly, hope — to those that still don’t know what they want to do. After I graduate, I am interning at the American Film Institute for the summer and then I am headed to the University College Cork in Ireland to receive my master’s in Irish writing and film with a Fulbright Scholarship. This is an absolute dream come true, but it was all made possible thanks to the resources available to assist me at the College of William and Mary. Even though my plan might not be applicable to everyone, I think there are things that I learned that can be useful.
When I got back from studying abroad last spring, I had a pretty bad case of reverse culture shock that bled into the fall semester and the spring semester — and quite frankly I still have it. But with the start of senior year and graduation looming in the not-too-distant future, I turned my desire to return abroad into proactive steps. This is lesson number one from my experience — if you have an idea of something you want to do, even if it seems unrealistic, take the time to research it because you might be able to figure out a way to make your goals feasible.
Over the summer, my friend Allison told me that I should apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to get my master’s abroad. At the time, I didn’t give her suggestion serious consideration because I wanted to go directly into the work force after graduation. But when I got an email from the College about a Fulbright interest meeting, I began looking into the process because it would provide me with the opportunity that I had been dreaming of to go back abroad. I found the one-year master’s program at UCC. This program perfectly aligned with my undergraduate experience because I am a double major in English and film and I have just written an honors thesis on contemporary Irish-American cinema. I decided that I would apply because a one-year master’s wouldn’t be too much of a detour from the working world.
I knew that Fulbright was competitive. But I didn’t want the fear of not getting the scholarship to prevent me from trying. However, I wanted to manage my expectations, so I went into the process expecting that I was not going to get it. This mindset was crucial because it inspired me to develop a plan B. Furthermore, knowing that Fulbright was competitive motivated me to seek the resources offered by the College to strengthen my application.
I could not recommend the Peer Advisors at the Charles Center enough. I’m sure that I owe the outcome of my application to them because they worked with me to strengthen my essays. One critically important thing to know about Fulbright at the College is that you can still apply through the College even after you graduate. If you’re reading this and think you might want to apply for a Fulbright somewhere down the road, definitely use the Charles Center. My experience can be applied more broadly, however, so lesson number two is to never be afraid to ask for help.
Once I submitted my final application in October, I knew that I would have to wait for months. Every year, the first round of cuts comes out in January and the final decisions can be sent out anytime between March and June.
With that in mind, I realized that I needed to have a legitimate backup plan, which is lesson number three, since my desired outcome seemed both unlikely and far away.
My solution came in the form of another fabulous College resource. I applied for the 2016 W&M D.C. Summer Institute for New Media. This wonderful program helped me to secure a summer internship at the American Film Institute. I figured that by late spring semester, I would know if Fulbright had not panned out, so I could spend my summer strengthening my resume with an internship and applying for jobs. Therefore, lesson four is to take advantage of the resources that the College offers, whether it’s the Career Center, the Charles Center, or the DC office.
Luckily for me, my dreams came true about a month ago. I had been accepted into the master’s program at UCC, but I was still waiting on the final decision on the Fulbright Grant. I had convinced myself that I was not going to get it, so I began to apply for a direct scholarship at UCC; yet another back-up plan. I filled out the entire application and then saw that I needed a faculty recommendation. I opened my email to ask a professor if he would write one for me, but before I had the chance to, I saw the email from Fulbright. I will never forget that moment. I suddenly felt like I was living in slow-motion as I read the words that changed my life.
This year, it has been difficult to see my friends be rejected from dream jobs or graduate programs. But I want this blog to serve as a reminder to not give up. This situation worked out for me, but I am no stranger to rejection. As such, I know how discouraging and heartbreaking it can be. Yes, things don’t always work out, but we shouldn’t forget that sometimes dreams can come true. I honestly don’t know how I was lucky enough to be chosen for this grant, but I do know that I owe it to the Charles Center and my professors for supporting me through the process. Therefore, lesson number five is don’t be discouraged from going after your dream, even if you’ve had setbacks along the way.
A friend said to me yesterday that I must be excited to graduate now that I have a plan. But the truth is that I’ve been ready to graduate for a long time. Senior year has been an adventure. I’ve had fun times with old friends and wonderful new friends, taken fascinating classes, written an honors thesis and gotten involved with new activities around campus. It’s been a simply jam-packed year. And maybe that’s why I am so ready to leave the College. Of course I will miss it here, but I’m comforted by the fact that I will stay in touch with my friends. Even though it will be different, the people that I love are going to be in my life after I graduate. Now I’m ready for the next adventure.
Thanks for following me through my senior year. Additionally, thank you to The Flat Hat. Our relationship has evolved since I’ve changed my professional aspirations from journalism to film, but you’ve been there for me all four years at the College. And for that, I thank you.
Additionally, thank you to The Flat Hat.