Have you ever been in a situation where you’re meeting new people, and your cheeks ache from the incessant smiling and talking that you’ve had to do?  Add cold fingers and toes to the stiff cheeks and you’ve nearly summed up my current situation.  As I sit and type this out, I’m on my last night of a prospective graduate student visit to Michigan State University.  Since early this morning, I’ve been smiling, shaking hands and answering some variation of these questions:

  1. What are your research interests?
  2. Where do you see yourself 5-10 years from now?
  3. What brought you all the way out here from Arkansas? 

(followed by a chuckle for their cleverness)

It’s hard to believe that I’m on the cusp of graduating, seeing as how it feels like yesterday when I arrived to Pomona’s campus with my overstuffed duffel bags and two pet rats.  Where has the time gone?!  I’ll be twenty-two in May, and despite my mom’s assurances that I have my “whole life ahead of me,” I noticed a wrinkle on the back of my hand the other day & I’ve pretty much decided that my glory years may be behind me.  Back with the kindergarten naps and sixth grade crushes that lasted through third period (after starting in first period).  In thinking more seriously about my next life transition & the interview/recruitment process that I endured (yes…endured) today…I have a few words of advice:

  1. Brush your teeth in the morning.  Minty freshness always starts the day off right & you can feel confident while smiling, at least until lunch.
  2. If you’re in Michigan during December, don’t forget your scarf.  Or gloves.  Or close-toed shoes.  AKA…dress for the weather and plan for your environment.
  3. Show an interest in others, including those interviewing you.  Even if it seems impossible to conceive right now, admissions officers are PEOPLE…with interests and hobbies and lives outside of their college.  After speaking about your amazingness & all of the ways that you plan to change the world…ask them a question about them.  It can be as simple as, “How is your day going?”  
  4. Stand up for your story.  Don’t be afraid to share the experiential knowledge that you have as a first-generation student.  What was the college process like for you?  What was difficult?  Who mentored you?  What sparked your first interest in pursuing higher education?  Has your family been able to help?  What difficulties have you confronted that are related to your first-generation, racial, class, or gender identification?  Be you.  And know that YOU are great and deserving and intelligent and (many other positive adjectives).
  5. Smile.  (Refer back to #1 before proceeding to complete #5).

This may not be true for everyone…for every interview…or for every visit, but my cheeks hurt because I was smiling so genuinely so frequently today.  The interview/recruitment visit was amazing, and beyond what I expected.  Was I nervous?  Yes.  Did I stumble over “critical consciousness” when I tried to say it the first time today?  Yes.  And the second time, too.  But oooh golly gee…by that THIRD time, I had it!  And I humbly laughed at my first two tongue-twisted mistakes.  As you interview for different schools and get to know more about the environment, try to feel out the vibe of the campus or the students that you meet.  Can you see yourself there?  If not, why not?  If you can’t visit the schools, see if you can talk or email or Facebook with current students.  You want to end up at a school that has ample room for you to grow in who you are, as well as what you hope to accomplish…which will shift (possibly as often as the weather forecast).

Who knows…maybe a year from now, I’ll be saying-“Go Green!!”  with fellow Michigan State students.  And unlike on this visit, I’ll remember to bring my scarf.