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My Grad School Application Experience Pt.1

Alas, fellow seniors, graduation season is gaining upon us! As our time as undergraduates dwindle, I encourage everyone to reflect on their academic journey for all of its facets—from the woeful missteps to grandiose accomplishments—and assess how far they may have come from when they first began. Personally speaking, I certainly remember having a rocky adjustment period to university life but thinking of where I am now (and the heights I’ll be able to reach in the future), I’ve accepted that my path to success wasn’t conventional but was necessary in order for me to blossom into the academic I aspire to be. So for this first part, I figured that I would share the beginning of my journey towards graduate school. It is my hope that I can inspire even just one person to pursue their dreams incessantly, not even when things become challenging but especially when they become challenging. 


beam design-printed paper
Photo by Sergey Zolkin from Unsplash

For those who don’t know me personally, I’m a Liberal Studies major. It’s funny because whenever I tell people that, they always ask me if and what I plan to teach, prompting an internal recoil almost instantaneously. But I can’t blame them. After all, most liberal studies students generally study to pursue a career in education because the major is generally designed to teach students skills relevant to elementary education (and at one point, I was bound for a career in K-12 myself). Further, by UCR definition, “The Liberal Studies major includes a core of lower-division courses designed to provide students with broad subject matter coverage to give them the foundation needed to pass the CSET and enable them to be well prepared to teach. The five upper-division tracks allow students to build upon their strengths and interests and at the same time provide them with a connection to the core Education courses.”In other words, this course of study enables students the ability to engage with other academic disciplines in order to provide us with a more holistic understanding of human interactions and social/societal processes. So to an outsider, it may seem as if liberal studies majors are aimlessly wandering for four years before they graduate—but I disagree. Let me explain: my entire life I’ve been artistically inclined. It didn’t matter what medium it was because I’ve tried a little bit of it all from perfecting my hand-drawing skills just from looking at pictures of cartoon characters I wanted to draw to a brief stint with acrylic paint to existential and race-forward poetry—which can be credited for jump-starting my interest in writing for HerCampus—there wasn’t an art form that I was interested in at some point, whether I had stuck with it or not. And I don’t know what it is but I’ve always been driven by visual aesthetics, it’s how I best process information and produce supplemental materials. The more I leaned into this truth, suddenly, a career in education just didn’t seem so appealing anymore. When you run into this situation the best thing you can do is check yourself and reassess your passions, your reasoning for choosing one path over another. When I did that, it became more clear than ever that what I truly wanted to do with my life was based on design. 


black and red computer keyboard
Photo by Ali Mahmoudi from Unsplash

More specifically, I knew I was interested in either interior design or architecture. With this in mind, I decided that I would go straight to graduate school after my time here ends and began my search in Spring 2020, about five months into the quarantine. I had no idea before then what exactly it took to be a designer so it came as a big surprise to me when my research into both industries that an undergraduate wasn’t always required for graduate programs. From that moment on I was sure that this was something I wanted to seriously consider—after all that had been what kept me from taking it on as a serious passion all these years. I just never thought I was qualified, I never thought I was good enough. I was so wrapped up in self-doubt, dwelling on what I couldn’t do that I didn’t realize all of the amazing things that I could do. That’s not to say that I wasn’t met with a host of challenges though. For one, I hadn’t ever taken an art class and one of the biggest components of a design application was to submit a portfolio of creative works relevant to the discipline or a body of work that could express a range of mediums. And in the midst of quarantine and online learning, I was screwed. Or so I initially thought. As I said, my path to design was unconventional; I didn’t take classes that would have organically led me to design or gathered professional experience that would have made this transition a lot simpler. There was definitely a learning curve. And if I wanted to be eligible for the Fall 2021 semester, I’d have to figure it out pretty quickly. 


black covered book with pencils
Photo by Savannah Wakefield from Unsplash

There’s plenty of architecture and interior design graduate programs available in and out of the US. In America most of them are clustered around the East Coast, leaving me with few options if I wanted to stay not only close to the West Coast but if I also wanted to remain in California. By late summer 2020, I decided that I would apply to two schools: California College of the Arts for the M.Arch program and Woodbury University for the MID program because at the time I was still undecided if I was more interested in architecture or interior design, deciding to go with whichever program I would be accepted into. As I worked on my creative portfolio and attended various workshops held by both schools, it became apparent that my passion for design was more securely rooted in interior design. What drew me into interior design? Maybe it’s a deep consideration of the people we design for. Or maybe it’s the deep appreciation of color, light and shadow, floor planning, composition, building codes, and materiality. I can’t say what it is exactly but I knew that it was a profession I wanted to take part in.  Thus, from there, I’d been working diligently to secure letters of recommendation, write a strong personal statement explaining why I’d make a strong candidate for the program, and most importantly, develop an impressive portfolio showcasing my design sensibilities and capability to perform. It wasn’t easy but the experience was indubitably rewarding because as of April 19, 2021, I was accepted into the MID program at Woodbury University!  I’m excited to say that I will be committing to the program and I really look forward to establishing my own design legacy. 

So I’ll end the first part of my experience with a word of advice: when you don’t think you can do it, do it anyway. You may surprise yourself with gratifying results. 

Thanks for reading; next time I’ll talk more about what I included in my portfolio and share some of my thoughts about this monumental achievement!

Ayanté Hardy

UC Riverside '21

How would I describe myself as a creator, as an individual? I don’t know I just love cynicism and chaos and villainy, color, texture, tenacity and audaciousness, just exhausting every facet of life, nauseating grandeur. I think my strength is that I know how to play it up but also reel that in when needed. I’d like to think I’m quite good at containing this dichotomy within myself and really letting that free in my creative or intellectual expressions. My articles are my interpretation of this notion.
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