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One last college road trip

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There are three kinds of exits on the I-8: “luxury” exits, truck stops and those that lead to nowhere. When my dad accidentally passed the last exit with questionably edible food and an indoor place to relieve yourself, we thought nothing of it. After I had toured Arizona State’s graduate journalism program earlier that morning, we’d set out to reach Yuma in three hours . Neither of us had eaten lunch, so we banked on grabbing a bite at a rest stop. However, for the next 80 miles, we passed nothing but surprisingly tall cacti and abandoned shacks. I became hangry.

The long periods of sitting, drinking to avoid inevitable dehydration and praying that your bladder doesn’t explode are the hallmarks of the proverbial multi-day college road trip. Between my sophomore and junior years of high school, my family spent a steamy August week driving from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, starting at Johns Hopkins and ending at Duke. Every trip detail had been preplanned — campus tours, information sessions, meals. I never felt overwhelmed or lost amid the crowds of high school students hoping to make a good impression like me. It was an experience my parents curated.

Missing the only exit for 80 miles was a microcosm of The Official Graduate School Road Trip™ I had, for the most part, planned myself. Of course, my dad booked the flights and hotels, but I chose the schools, reached out to departments, scheduled meetings, reached out to departments again, scheduled tours, and reached out to departments one last time, knowing full well I’d have to bust in like Ben Gates in “National Treasure.” I was on my own — my dad always at a nearby Panera Bread. 

Now three weeks after graduate program applications have opened, I’m more apprehensive than ever. While I’m thankful to have explored the physical campuses, I know that none of the schools will be the “best fit” because Stanford has already earned that title. The second time you have an experience is never the same as the first. The road trip was different, graduate school will be different and I should be different — improved, really. Now, if I don’t start on my first application, I’ll accidentally miss the exit for the scholarships I’m banking on.

Contact Emily Schmidt at egs1997 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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