Getting in

By Chih-yu Chiang, temporary Admissions Assistant

Every year thousands of hopeful applicants bet their futures on getting into music school. Just a few years ago I was one of them.

I’d just finished my master’s degree and was applying to the doctoral program at my alma mater. I loved the school and the city and never entertained the possibility that I might not be accepted. Still I was leaving nothing to chance: in preparation for the audition I practiced harder than I ever had. The performance went well and I proceeded to the interview part of the application. I felt the normal anxiety that accompanies any interview, but was confident about the eventual result.

That’s why, when the result arrived several weeks later, I was completely unprepared. As music was the only life I’d ever envisioned for myself, I felt my future collapsing around me. Music defined who I was, and I’d failed at it. I resented the school for “kicking me out.” I was so ashamed I couldn’t face any of my friends. (I even sent one away who had come to visit me at my apartment.) My life was now a blank slate: everything I thought I would be had disintegrated. I felt like I was drowning.

In the time that’s passed since then I obviously turned out all right. Now that I’m working in the admissions office I’m reminded of my own experiences as I watch this year’s crop of students try and either succeed or fail to get in. I can’t help but wonder if it’s the same for them as it was for me. Are their entire identities wrapped up in the results of a decision that’s to some degree beyond their control? Have they made their own choices to get to this point? Do those who aren’t accepted feel lonely as they watch their peers “pass them by”? I want to reach out and share my thoughts.

A professor at Boston University once asked me how I define success. Not until years later did I realize how narrow my answer conception of success had been.

Now that I’m a bit more experienced there are two “truths” I would share with my younger self. The first is don’t be so sure you know exactly how everything in your life will turn out, or even how you’ll be the happiest. Life can take you by surprise, and we hold a surprisingly small degree of control over our futures. Years after my audition result I wouldn’t trade my life now for whatever life I might have had if the result had been different.

The second is don’t define yourself solely by your accomplishments, especially according to a definition of “accomplishment” you formed at an early age. I now see myself as whole person with intrinsic worth – something that might have helped me whether what I now see as a temporary setback.

We all have different goals that we want to achieve and we all define success differently. If I can play a role in helping today’s students through an experience that can be powerful and sometimes traumatic, my own experiences were a small price to pay.