22 April 2009

And so it begins...

Today, I went on my grad school visit to the University of St. Andrews and had the first of my grad school interviews. It was a lovely trip, the only downside of which being the fact that it was also an undergraduate visiting day and I had to contend with masses of 16 and 17 year-olds anxiously trying to figure out if this was 'the one'. Equally anxious were their parents, who had no idea what to expect from the university and kept asking annoying questions about laundry services on campus. I wanted to tell everyone to relax, that it didn't have to be as hard/daunting as they made it out to be. On the other hand, I remember what it was like when I did my undergraduate visits to St. Mary's, UMCP, and Arcadia. It is a ritual that every prospective college student has to go through. I hate to admit it, but as a third year student (so painfully close to being done), I am jaded.

I remember that when I visited St. Mary's it was exceedingly humid and I fell ill less than an hour into the pointless admissions presentations. All I cared was that the dorms were close to the campus center and that there was a movie theatre. Having spent less than three hours on campus, I assured my mother that I would apply and we left (stopping at Al's Gator Shack on the way, which is another story entirely and probably should have been an early indicator as to what my undergraduate career was to become). My requirements in life have changed a bit since then, I'm afraid. Dining hall? Don't care. Housing? Whatever. It doesn't apply when you are a postgraduate, since they can offer you neither. What mattered to me today was: 1) How strongly was St. Andrews' International Relations program ranked?, 2) How did I feel talking to the IR faculty?, 3) How close was the library to the IR building(and what were loan services like)?, 4) Do they have any financial aid at all?, 5) Would I be able to survive in this town for another year (or four, depending on which program I am offered). Sure, I listened to the bit about student societies, but considered it unimportant in the grand scheme of things as I am under the distinct impression that when you enter into postgraduate work any social life ends.

As for my impressions of the town: it is small. Students and staff make up 1/3rd of the 15,000-person population. Still, it is incredibly larger than St. Mary's, which is what I need. Of course, it pales in comparison to Oxford...but as my mother has told me, I need to get over my NEED to get to Oxford and consider the possibility that I might not (probably won't) get in. In answer to the above questions:

1) The International Relations program is ranked relatively highly in the UK. It is not the best, but it certainly isn't the worst either.
2) I met with two members of the IR faculty. Both individuals were immensely helpful, made me feel immediately comfortable within the environment, and actually got me quite excited considering the future. Listening to them describe the field and the various programs offered reinforced my belief that I am making the right decision for my future. I haven't been this excited over school-work in quite some time, so this was a bit of an exhilerating experience for me.
3) The library, despite looking almost exactly like Edinburgh's (which I dislike), is centrally located to the IR building. The IR building itself was opened in 2008 and is purpose-built. I tend to be a bit put-off by modern architecture, but I quite liked this building.
4) Financial aid is...eh. I'd have to search extensively for external scholarships to help fund my studies (and take the rest out in loans...gah). In addition, due to the incredibly poor economic climate, the university is in a financial freeze for the next 2 years, which means that there is little to no chance of an unexpected scholarship coming my way (because, you know, I'm so brilliant).
5) Whether or not I would be able to survive in this town for a year (or four) was one of the most important considerations for me. In truth, it is fairly isolated in that one must take a bus or train to get anywhere. Edinburgh and Glasgow are each an hour away by train. Still, it looks like they have an incredibly active student body. And when I was walking around, I felt...at ease. Not entirely comfortable as I do in Oxford (and increasingly Edinburgh), but content. I think that I could grow to quite like St. Andrews.

I suppose that I will wander over to the Chrystal MacMillan building tomorrow in George Square and schedule a meeting with the Politics & IR department's postgraduate office. They don't do interviews here at Edinburgh, but I would like to discuss the merits of the MSc (research) versus the MPhil (taught) degrees here. I should have gone to Cambridge whilst I had the chance but, unfortunately, did not do so, for obvious reasons. (This reason being that its Cambridge. So what if it has a better IR program than Oxford...I am allowed to be biased!)

Other than that, life is back to normal here. Tomorrow will be divided between the main library and the one at New College. Still, I am quite excited for the Retrospect Launch party tomorrow night.

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