As my parents and I were directed to move to the side and wait with the crowd of other hungry onlookers to be seated, I casually refreshed my email inbox on my phone and found I had an “update on my Application” from Brandeis University. We were at a chain restaurant that boasts an Americanized Italian cuisine, and up until that moment my mind was consumed solely with thoughts of chicken and gnocchi soup, but this certainly broke my hunger haze. I anxiously logged into my admissions page to see – I was in! It was my first graduate school acceptance letter up until that point, and I was ecstatic. I informed my parents of the good news, to which they congratulated me, and then we returned to waiting in silence for our buzzer to ring. Sorry, a little anticlimactic – I know.
The Lougheeds are a pragmatic people; we celebrate, then quickly and systematically come back down to Earth. As we slid into our faux leather, well-worn booth, we began looking at what Heller had to offer in terms of cost, opportunities, etc. How naive we were to spend considerable time talking about what the physical campus and city of Waltham could offer for social activities and outdoor recreation. But, to be fair, this discussion took place in January 2020 when COVID-19 had yet to find a daily permanence in our vernacular. All that aside, by the time we had consumed half our body weight in pasta, we had discussed many of the pros and cons of the Heller school.
At this point in my story you may be thinking, “Wow, is she a paid sponsor for Olive Garden?” To that, I would respond, pass me those affordable and delicious never-ending breadsticks and just hear me out.
As I emerged from my pasta-induced coma the next morning, I was delighted to see multiple emails welcoming me into the Heller family. I was showered by warm smiles, stories of the impact that Heller has made on students and faculty alike, and a sense that this graduate program was different from the others to which I had applied. I also deeply appreciated that this program was seemed to uplift students to succeed, whereas others boasted about their competitiveness and challenging material within the program. To be candid, I was sold on Heller but still had one reservation: name recognition.
I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, then moved to rural south-central Pennsylvania when I was young, so my exposure to higher ed institutions had been limited. I have always been starstruck by institutions with “big” names and dreamed of dawning a sweatshirt that proudly read “Johns Hopkins” or “Harvard” so the world knew I had “made it”. So, sillily enough, one of my major reservations for attending Brandeis was that many people, at least in my small circle, had never heard of the school. I reached out to meet with my undergraduate academic advisor and general giver-of-great-advice human and he reassured me that Brandeis does have great name recognition within academia, and that I would be foolish not to go to a school that fit me well just because the name is not “big” enough.
I spent considerable time still assessing my options, but found that the Heller school was a perfect fit. My advice and something I am working to change in my own thinking: do not let names alone guide your path. For grad programs, jobs, etc. You are special and your value is not validated by a name on your resume, but by who you are innately.