Meet Amanda Howlett: A young woman who didn’t let the word “NO” stop her from meeting her goal

Meet Amanda Howlett, a 22-year-old Master’s of Science in General Psychology candidate who recently received her acceptance into the program at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. After months of application perfecting and meeting with mentors to stay motivated, Amanda is now making plans to move 1,000-miles away from home to start her new life.

I caught up with Amanda over e-mail to chat about her experiences with applying to graduate school. Read our interview below:

1. Why did you decide to apply for graduate school?

I really wanted to have a future in psychology and really wanted the opportunity to work with people, hands on. I know there are jobs that you can get with your bachelors degree doing that, but to be honest, none of them really struck my interest. A lot of them involve you being an assistant, or working relief work, which is great for getting started, but for someone who wants a family someday, working relief work (and terrible shifts), was not something I was feeling. When I learned grad school was the only way that I could get to where I wanted to go, the choices available to me were: Apply or don’t get to where you want to be.

2. What was the hardest part about the application process?

Waiting for a response. You kind of develop an obsession with checking your email and logging into every grad school account that you have to see if there are any updates. Some schools have you waiting four months for an answer. It feels like your entire life revolves around hearing back from these schools. You don’t want to start applying for full-time jobs because what if you hear something? Yet, you don’t want to wait in case you end up with nothing come September. The worst part is, there’s nothing to speed up this process. You just have to sit tight with your fingers and toes crossed, hoping you’ll hear back, one way or another, soon.

3. How many schools did you apply to? Where were they located? Did you receive any rejection letters and if so, what went through your head when you got the notice that you were not admitted to any specific school or program?

I made the choice to apply to six schools, I was working on a seventh application when I received the acceptance from Pittsburg State University in Kansas and I’ve decided not to finish that last one. I applied to two schools in Canada (University of Alberta for Social and Cultural Psychology and Laurentian University for Applied Psychology) and four schools in the United States (Duquesne University for Clinical Psychology Ph. D, Appalachian State University for a Master’s of Arts in Clinical Psychology, Marywood University and Pittsburg State University for the Master of Science General Psychology program).

I was rejected in early February from Duquesne, which I was kind of expecting because it was a long shot for me to get into a Ph. D program. On March 19, 2014, I received an e-mail from Appalachian State saying that all candidates had been contacted. Meaning, if I hadn’t heard back from them, yet, I probably wouldn’t be accepted. When the schools reject you, though, they send you a really sweet letter that tells you this does not reflect whether or not you’ll succeed in graduate studies. Still, in your head you’re thinking: “YEAH, RIGHT. IF THAT’S THE CASE WHY DIDN’T YOU ACCEPT ME THEN?!” I was upset about Appalachian State because I really liked their program. I assumed that when I heard the bad news from them, that everywhere else was also going to reject me. So, I began making plans for fall 2014 that didn’t involve my Master’s.

4. What (and/or who) kept you motivated?

The majority of my motivation came from Dr. David Danto and Dr. Nikki Martyn-Capobianco, two faculty members at the University of Guelph-Humber, the school where I completed my undergrad. I didn’t even think about grad school until about a year ago. Dr. Danto and I had a long chat about where I wanted to go with my future and he convinced me to come back to Guelph-Humber to continue my undergraduate career. He was supportive every step of the way. He was a fountain of knowledge that I couldn’t get anywhere else. When I told my parents I was returning to the place of my undergrad last year, they told me it was the best spot for me because the staff there could support me and understand what I was going through better than they, as my parents, could.

From left to right: Nikki, Amanada, Dr. Danto
From left to right: Nikki, Amanada and Dr. Danto

Dr. Martyn-Capobianco has been equally as supportive. She proof-read every single document I submitted to various grad schools and gave me tips to fine tune them, and even recommended a book for me to read to add into the mix. When I told her I had no research experience to put on one application, she simply asked, “Do you want some?” She then offered me a research position. Dr. Martyn-Capobianco was also a HUGE moral support. There are only so many brick walls you can run into when applying before you feel like breaking down, and luckily she was completely understanding of the tears and deciphering the “I can’t do this anymore” between bawling fits. She never forced me to keep going, but told me she knew I was resilient and knew I could do it if I wanted to. Dr. Martyn-Capobianco also told me she knew I wasn’t someone who was going to give up easily.

From left to right: Amanda, her friend Kayla and her friend Jen.
From left to right: Amanda, her friend Kayla and her friend Jen.

My friend Jen has been a rock for me through the whole process, and even drove over two hours to take me to write my Graduate Record Examinations (GREs). She sends me little motivational quotes and always reminds me I can get to my dreams.

Tristan, a friend from my undergrad, has also been a rock. He went through the grad school process himself last year (for a different program) and was able to relate to a lot of the emotions I was experiencing. Plus, you always need a friend who encourages you to drink the whole bottle of wine after a long day of studying!

From left to right: Amanda's friend Tristan and Amanda.
From left to right: Amanda’s friend Tristan and Amanda.

5. What went through your head when you received your letter of acceptance to the program you’ve decided on?

I was in disbelief to be honest. It had been about a week since I had been rejected from Appalachian State, and I received this e-mail from Pittsburg State asking for my financial statements now that I had a conditional acceptance. When you’re applying as an international student to the States, the school will require you to show that you have access to x amount of dollars so that you’re not going to become a burden on society. I spoke to every school I applied to about submitting these forms after my acceptance. I did not want my financial information floating around in a university that I wouldn’t be attending.

I kept getting this automated message from the same Pittsburg State email account for a while asking for my financial statements. I emailed a person in the financial office and she told me to ignore these automatic messages. She said she had a note on my file that my financial statements would come upon acceptance. So really, I have no idea why I opened the one e-mail that lead to me learning of my acceptance.

I kind of stared at the email a couple of times, read it over, and then logged into the application site to see my status had changed from “Pending” to “CONDITIONAL – I” – the “I” being international. I was at work and I opened my boss’ door and told her that I got into grad school and hugged everyone, than simultaneously emailed my other two mentors while calling my mom. My email essentially said, “I GOT INTO PITTSBURG STATE!!!” with the subject “ACCEPTED!!” It will probably go down in history as the least professional email I’ve ever sent, but I knew my mentors would be equally as excited as I have been. I think I hugged every person that came within a five foot radius of me that day because I was honestly just SO stoked. “Oh we’ve talked like maybe two times in our life and you’re saying congratulations to me? COME IN FOR A HUG!”

6. What will you miss most about moving away from home and Toronto?

The people. Without a doubt I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world to know so many outstanding individuals. I’ve met some of my best friends at Guelph-Humber, but I also have a few of my best friends that I grew up with from elementary school. It’s going to be weird to not make weekend plans to all come home at the same time. Yet, I know all of these people will stay in touch with me when I move. Even though many of us are starting new chapters of our lives, we will still manage to stay connected, which helps bring me a lot of comfort with moving 1,000-miles away.

7. What does this new chapter of your life mean for you as a young woman?

People always have an opinion about where you should end up, and what you should do, but it takes a lot of guts to stand back and throw your middle finger in the air and declare that you’re going to blaze your own trail. I’ve definitely developed a lot more self-confidence through this process. I started off very timid of where I was going to end up and now I’m standing tall and proud and declaring to the world that I’m going to get my Master’s. I’ve also become a lot happier. When you do things for you, the chapters of your life become so much better.

8. Where do you see yourself in 10 years and how do you think your graduate studies will help you get there?

I have a passion for working with teenagers and children because I find them easy to connect to, plus they can be a lot of fun! Without going to graduate school, I’d spend a lot of time being an assistant. We all know from Beyoncé that girls run the world, and I’m going to be no different than that. I plan to go on and get my doctorate, in what I’m still unsure. But it’ll be something to do with psychology and youth/young people.

9. What song would describe how you’re feeling right now about working towards an amazing goal?

Haha, there are a few!

Beyonce – Run the World. Because really, what feels better than the Queen reminding you how awesome you are?!

Hedley – Anything. This song was my pump up song before I went and wrote my GREs. Basically, it’s an anthem to remind myself that I can literally do anything if I put my mind to it. I’ve got this. There isn’t going to be anything that, or anyone who, tells me I can’t do it.

10. What would you say to someone who is struggling with their graduate school applications and feeling discouraged?

I have a lot to say! Haha, but I will keep it to three short lessons I learned during this process.

Lesson one:

A rejection letter should not define you. They’re bound to happen and applying to graduate school is all a numbers game. Right school, right time, right faculty fit, etc. Sometimes rejections happen so we can see the better and more fitting things for ourselves.

Lesson two:

You’re going to get a lot of haters, so find people who can fill you with words of love to drown them out. I heard, “Oh you’re going to grad school so you don’t have to get a job,” and, “The States? Why? That sounds awful,” and, “You’re not actually going to go are you?” a lot. But the negative comments quickly can be forgotten with an, “I know you can do this,” or a, “Good for you!” People radiate with excitement for you.

Lesson three:

Don’t limit yourself. There are a number of factors that we allow to build up these “I can’t do it” brick walls. Distance, money, what others will think. In five years, none of that is going to matter. Take a moment of courage and dive head first into this. You’ve got it.

For more information about how to share your personal achievements with A Quarter Young, check out our “Contribute & Suggest” page, here.

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