I distinctly remember watching the Carolina Tar Heels playing an NCAA basketball game at a friend’s house around March 2013. I kept telling my friend that the team in blue and white was soon going to be my team as I was expecting to receive an admission’s offer from UNC’s Graduate Admissions office. I was certain that I was going to be admitted to the MSW program, that I had submitted an impressive application, and that God simply wanted me in Chapel Hill. Looking back, I cannot say that I was entirely wrong, but that my timing was a bit off.
Sometime between the fun of watching the Tar Heels complete this pass and the other, I thought about checking my email to see if I had received any response from UNC. And there it was: an email with a subject line that more or less read “..the decision is now ready to view”. I had to open it. My heart was beating faster and faster. This was it. The moment I had long been waiting for. Things would never be the same! I was ready to embrace a new season of my life in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, as a Social Work student.
“I didn’t get in”, I said with indescribable disappointment.
“What?” with concern my friend asked.
“I didn’t get in”. Those were the only words I was able to say before crying for an hour.
I was dumb founded with the news. How could it be? I really thought I was an ideal candidate for the MSW Program. I had followed all guidelines to apply, and I had taken all the tests, including the GRE (painful experience). Moreover, I had actually thought that Social Work was the field where my desire to empower impoverished communities was going to be solidified and championed. The disillusionment was rough because I kept thinking “God, I thought this is what were you wanted me to be for the next couple of years”. I was so ready to leave Washington D.C., and grasp all the knowledge that graduate school offers. It might not sound that critical, but this was a very difficult moment for me and my faith.
The days went by, and I decided not to give up. At least I needed to know why I wasn’t offered admission. I emailed the Assistant Dean for Recruitment, Admissions & Financial Aid (aka: Sharon Thomas) to ask if I could receive feedback with regards to my application. My first question was: “Am I a good candidate for the program?”, Sharon kindly replied that yes, I was. Nevertheless, she highlighted that taking into account how competitive the MSW was (and is!), my application needed to be more competitive and tenacious. During our conversation, Sharon kindly went through each of the elements of my application sharing both the strengths and weaknesses of it. I am still grateful for that challenging conversation that provided precise guidance for my next application attempt.
A year later I was ready to click the “Submit your application” link again. During those months of preparation, I had the opportunity to save money, read books on community empowerment and volunteer in my church’s trip to the Philippines. These experiences weaved my path towards grad school as I was able to learn and benefit from each one of them. Likewise, I examined the MSW’s program website, I read about the classes, and I even emailed a couple of faculty to inquire how their classes could enrich my project and how I could enrich them. I worked very hard on my new application, and it was worth it.
On March 2015, I received what I believe has been one of the best phone calls of my life. Sharon Thomas, the same person that two years before had graciously walked me through my rejected application, was calling to congratulate me on my admission’s offer and to ask about the possibility of an international field placement. I cannot begin to describe my surprise at that moment. I didn’t even know then that I had been admitted! I was still expecting an email, and God responded through an unexpected phone call.
As I look back and remember those difficult days in 2013, and the years that followed, I thank God for the opportunity of being challenged, both personally and professionally, through my application to graduate school. The mere desire of helping the “least favored ones” was not enough. As a potential student, I was challenged to thoroughly question my motives to pursue a MSW, and as a Christian, I was challenged to understand God’s timing versus mine. It was worth the wait and it was worth it to try again.