Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Grad School Search: Chatham vs. Cornell

The hunt has officially started. I've been looking into graduate schools for about a year, but this summer it's starting to get serious. I need to start applying to programs this fall, and reality is quickly creeping up on me. No more casual shopping for schools; serious decisions need to be made soon. I had planned on applying to a ton of schools with the hope that the odds would be in my favor and one or two would take me, but now I'm considering scaling back. A lot of schools have their own teacher recommendation forms and submission procedures, and I don't want my professors working overtime because I insist on applying to twelve programs. So I'm trying to narrow down the list by doing some in-depth research and cutting the schools that aren't exactly what I want. If I won't jump at the chance to go there, I probably won't end up applying. I'll have to talk to my advisors during the semester, of course, but this is my plan as of now.

So I thought I'd outline some of my top choices on here in a series of posts, giving the program stats and pros/cons. Then maybe I'll have an epiphany of where I should go. Here are my first two choices. They're both about the same distance from home but in two completely different directions:

Chatham University
Pittsburgh, PA

Why I want to go: It sounds just like SU. Small, private school, inventive writing program. I could have a double concentration in fiction and travel writing, or fiction and children's writing. They have some sample course outlines posted online, and they sound perfect. There's also a summer requirement of a study abroad type program, just like the South Africa program, where you go to a foreign country with a professor and write for two weeks. I would absolutely love another chance to do something like that. Plus, the school is in Pennsylvania, which would make my parents happy. I got little butterflies when I checked out the website, and I've learned lately to trust my gut. My gut tells me this could be something great.

Downsides: Since it's a private school, tuition is expensive. And the only way to be put in the running for fellowships (jobs that pay for part/all of your tuition, like being a teaching assistant, editor of the literary magazine, etc) is to apply early decision. I don't want to potentially trap myself, especially since there's a chance I wouldn't get funding after all that. I could get funding at another school but already be committed to Chatham. And that makes me nervous. Also, living in the city can be expensive. There are school-owned apartments, but they are still $5000 a semester. So what seems like my automatic first choice school has the most serious downsides. I'm not sure what that means.

Cornell University
Ithaca, NY

Why I want to go: Two words - full funding. Because the program only takes ten or so students, the school is able to pay for their tuition. I would be guarenteed a teaching job, most likely teaching a freshman intro course. They posted sample class descriptions online, one of which is Great Books of Today (a class about contemporary literature and how media like book clubs/movie adaptations affect how the book sells), which sounds SO fun! It would be easier to find housing here than in a big city, I'm sure, and my parents are comfortable with me living in upstate NY, since they've both lived in the Syracuse area. There's also a 5-year masters/Ph.D option, where one or two people a year are accepted to work towards both degrees (the Ph.D would be in English language and literature). That application would be a lot more work (along with the basic GRE, I'd have to take the English/literature subject test and include a critical essay along with my fiction portfolio), and I don't know if I'd want to get my doctorate, but it's something to think about. I also have alumni family members, so there might be a slightly bigger shot of acceptance.

Downsides: This problem is more personal than technical. The family members who went to Cornell majored in super sciency things like engineering, and I've grown up believing Cornell is a snobby school that turns out geniuses who think they're smarter than everyone else. It's just a perception I'll have to get over. I'm pretty sure my family alumni don't take creative writing as a serious major, so if they heard I was going to Cornell for my masters in it, I'm not sure if they would take me seriously or think I'm wasting my opportunity at a great school on a BS degree. Granted, I don't really value the opinions of these people in regards to my own major life choices, so this shouldn't be a deciding factor. Another downside is the selectivity of the program. Because they accept very few people, there's more competition and a higher chance I won't get in.

This is the first of a few grad school related posts. They're mostly just so I can wrap my head around things, but I'm open to any advice!


  1. Chatham sounds exactly what you're looking for and where I can honestly see you. It sounds perfect for your personality and I know how much you fell for Susquehanna for all of its small charm and focused attention (which you deserved and benefitted so much from).

    Does Cornell only accept 10 people world-wide?! Geeez.

    1. I know, Chatham sounds SO perfect for me! I just get nervous about putting my name down for early decision and committing before I know all my options. :/

      And yeah, Cornell is pretty selective, but other schools take even less. Vanderbilt only takes 6 (three poetry, three fiction). It's INSANE!


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