School Rules! Going for your Master’s Degree while hugely unqualified

Posted on October 9, 2012


As I was running today in the brisk, brisk cold with my little buddy Oliver (much bigger now, terrible running partner, but we are working on it,) I quite uncharacteristically went without headphones.  I am in desperate need of a new pair, and rigging my ears for music was a step I chose to forgo today.  Although the music doesn’t hinder my ability to meditate, it was refreshing to listen to the sounds around me as my backdrop, and I found myself not as sour about my headphones as I had been heading out.  Sometimes it’s very good for me to break patterns, I really like my systems, and curve balls ensure that my (ahem) retentiveness stays in check.

There was much to be sorted  through in my mind today.  I had attended the annual open house for UNC Chapel Hill’s applicants for the MPH/RD program this past weekend.  That is the Masters in Public Health/Registered Dietician degree for those not familiar (and seriously, why on Earth would you be unless it was relevant to you?)  This is the Nutrition program for which I decided my family should relocate, and when the opportunity arose, we did.  Then I started school, we bought a house, and outside of raising my kids to be awesome human beings, this has become my single focus.

Attending this weekend took sacrifice, I had to make sure my schedule was cleared, missing out on an annual camping trip with my dearest friends, forgoing the duty of organizing and running the craft fair at said camping event, my entire family also missing out. ( But all great things take sacrifice, so we will get them next year, Skunk Fest!)

I have also been working really hard on my grades at the community college, only taking one class a semester (including summer) since I am paying out-of-state, and am still the full-time primary caretaker of the little ones.  I’ve enjoyed being a Durham Techie, I am glad to have such a resource available to me for getting in those prerequisites I need before applying to the program.

I’m getting straight A’s, recently took and received a good score on my first attempt at the GRE, have a background full of working at gyms and in vitamin departments, and a lifetime of personal study on Nutrition.  My undergrad is in Theatre Arts, which for some reason tends to be more of a gold star than you would think.  Seems people like to hire folks with an interesting and varied background.  I DID work in my field for many years.  Between the occasional student film, theatrical performance, stand-in and extra work, and even a stint as a celebrity assistant, I am a world-class waitress. Oh yes, the best you’ve ever seen.  I can serve up a pretty darn good latte as well.

I showed up for the weekend on campus with big dreams in my heart and hope in my eyes.  It was very exciting.  It was extremely informative. And it was disconcertingly more than I thought it would be from all of my preliminary research.  These other candidates, well, they were the real deal.  None of them did any messing around with the low GPA I scored at ECU in 1995.  I graduated with a 2.6. Yikes.  They are all 3.8 type students.  They have been busy since graduation working in labs or growing farms in a third world country.  Some of them are running hospital programs!  A few soundbites from the day out of the mouths of other candidates;

“95? Wow.  Actually, a lot of people come to this program looking to start a second career later in life.”

“I’m so worried!  I know they said they like diversity in their students with a different background than nutrition, but I have an MBA in Marketing and another Masters in Public Policy.  I don’t know how varied a background they are willing to consider”

“I worked as a medic in the military for 5 years on the front lines. I finally got in after my third attempt!”

I felt like a giant banana in a room full of white lab coats. It is mostly common for a student to receive admission into the program after their third attempt.  They only accept 24 students a year.  I also found out that I may have misunderstood the policy of having incomplete prerequisites before applying, so long as they were fulfilled before the program begins in the Fall. (I had an ambitious plan to make this happen, as I have four classes to go.) I will not be eligible to apply for Fall 2013.

I will tell you something about myself.  There is no way I am going to let all these amazingly qualified candidates  and a few pesky technicalities deter me from doing anything I can to achieve this goal.  I may be a late bloomer, but I know who I am and I know what my passion is.  I truly believe that if you are honest with yourself and go after something with FULL passion and effort, you will succeed.  Where I find myself in the moment is relieved.  Relieved that I have more time to finish my prerequisites, relieved that I will be able to have my kids starting school before entering the daunting and time-consuming Masters Program.  Mostly, I am relieved that I have time to design my plan of attack. ( I shouldn’t say attack, so something more positive but with equal force and gusto.)

So here’s my plan:

  • Research my two top choices of Elementary school for my child entering Kindergarten in the Fall, meet with the principal, and ask how I can help and volunteer in regards to Nutrition for the school.  If there isn’t anything, by golly I’ll get something going.
  • Call the numbers for Overeater’s Anonymous and see if I can be of any help there. I see a listing for a meeting every day of the week in the paper, and obesity of Americans is my primary concern.  I want to help us get better.
  • Call my clubhouse in my neighborhood, can I get a program started there?
  • Continue receiving A’s (and only A’s!) to bring up that GPA, and retake the GRE to get a stellar score.  My first GRE score is right in the zone for accepted applicants’ average, but I do not have their competitive GPA, so I need to rock the GRE much harder and I need to take more classes than just my prerequisites to bring up my GPA.
  • Join the Phi Theta Kappa honor society I’ve been invited to.
  • Start studying Spanish. It was my minor, and back in 95 when I lived in Ecuador and Panama I was fluent.  I am not at all fluent now, but it seems that the program considers this to be a major asset, especially when you are looking for ways you can volunteer.  Consider myself a hablar espanol con fluidez.
  • Apply for the online course taught by Dr. Caldwell Essylstein (my hero) at Cornell to earn a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition.
  • Send an email to the professors on the admissions board I met at the Open House explaining my plan to apply for the following year, and a much more professional and concise version of the plan of attack outlined here, asking for any feedback which would help me become more competitive.
  • Get some books on these topics at the Library:  Professional Etiquette, how to act around fancy people without looking like a dumb blonde wearing a banana suit (this would be the most important book on this list); Spanish, probably a book on tape sort of thing, do those come in mp3 now?; How to train your dog to run and not eat library books.

I am surprisingly not taken down by my lack of qualifications for this program.  One thing I have for certain is my dedication to make this dream a reality.  I have the passion and the drive, and I have the brains.  People just don’t know that about me yet, since I spent most of my life trying to fit in and not be a weirdo (whatever on Earth for??) and play down the fact that I am a bit smarter than the average bear.  Please don’t see this as my being smug, I am so very bad at so many other things.

That’s it!  My big life plan laid out, expensive, shiny, exciting, terrifying, awesome, insurmountable, possible.  If anyone has anything to comment on, good or bad, your feedback would be greatly appreciated!  I do hope that my goal will make yours seem more attainable, or maybe even cause you to find one that forces you to aim higher than you thought you ever might.  I also wish for you all that your daily runs bring you as much clarity in thought as mine do, isn’t that why we do it?

Happy Running!