Vanderbilt: Whatever the outcome, He is still good.

I didn’t want to forget a single detail of my experience applying and being accepted to Vanderbilt. I made a very personal and vulnerable note of it in my journal, but thought that I would share it because it’s infiltrated with God’s faithfulness and things that have grown me over the past few months. Below is the typed excerpt from my journal with a few less crossed-out words and grammatical errors:

My Vanderbilt experience has been nothing shy of surreal.

April 5th I began pondering the idea of maybe going somewhere else (not Lamar) for graduate school. I had an advising appointment scheduled for Lamar’s MBA program and it was essentially set that its where I would be going, but pretty late in the game it didn’t sit right with me.

I received a Vanderbilt pamphlet in the mail that had info about a few of their business courses. The MMARK (Master of Marketing) was the program that most interested me, however the GMAT requirement was a 650.

When I felt that my heart wasn’t content going to Lamar, I started Googling schools I was interested in. I narrowed my list down to about four schools and scheduled phone calls with each of them.

My plan was to 1) do graduate school online (i.e. Liberty), or 2) wait to go to graduate school next fall as I didn’t think I was ready to move for the following reasons:

  • GMAT. The score I needed to get into Lamar was mere box ticketing because of the weight of my GPA.
  • Cormac. I’m a weenie and I didn’t want to be away from my boyfriend.
  • Dogs. I am obsessed with my dogs BUT more importantly, I didn’t want Cormac or my parents to have the responsibility of caring for them alone.
  • Money. I just graduated and don’t have excessive funds to pay for a month’s rent without a roommate + groceries + utilities + afford a deposit/funds for anything having to do with school.
  • Bookings. In the coming months I have several shoots and weddings that I’ve booked with clients. If I left I would not be able to follow through with them.

Needless to say, it would be much easier for me to wait until the fall of 2019 to move. I’d be settled by that time, and I really wouldn’t have to be challenged outside of class (sounds ideal, ha). Anyway, I thought I found a list of schools that were online and didn’t require prior work experience in business — two things that were on my graduate school checklist.

My first phone call was with Vanderbilt. I spoke with Suzanne Feinstein, the director of the MMARK program.

Before getting on the phone, my mom and I sat at the kitchen table and prayed that if the Lord didn’t want me going the conversation would be horrible, and if it was where He wanted me to apply that my questions would be answered according to what I thought I needed at the time (I can tell you now that what I thought I needed and what the Lord wanted for me were two very different things and more often than not this will be the case).

The conversation went great, EXCEPT the MMARK was an on-campus program and would begin in July.

I didn’t feel great about it because it didn’t necessarily fit my list, but I also didn’t think God was closing a door considering the conversation. I continued to pray about it, chatted with my parents and began the application process.

I was in constant prayer, always asking for the Lord’s will and direction, and specifically that He would close doors. This felt easier than asking Him to open doors to places that I wasn’t even sure about to begin with.

The application was three lists of detailed experience, two essays that were optional, one that was not, transcripts, a resume, a headshot, two letters of recommendation, a project proposal, and a GMAT score. Of course all of this was stressful to complete and it took me nearly three weeks of dedicated time.

I cried about it alone. I cried about it to other people. But I just stayed in constant prayer. The song “New Wine,” by Hillsong Worship became my anthem.

I wasn’t overwhelmed by the amount of work I had to do, but more so that I didn’t feel capable.

I was in constant warfare. I was allowing lies from satan to steal my joy and attention, but it was the sweetest to be pulled back and reminded through scripture, song, and my community to press on.

When I finished the application I had to take the GMAT. I had hardly studied for the exam because when I signed up for it, I did so with the intention of using it to complete my enrollment into Lamar’s MBA program.

I took a practice exam, made a 400, studied for about a week, and made a 430 on the actual exam. I was absolutely sure this was the end of my applicant process at Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt’s application was due early May, Washington State’s in July, and Liberty’s in August, so it was ideal for focusing on one application at a time. However, by this point I was so invested in Vanderbilt that I decided against Washington State and Liberty, and whatever few other schools I was pondering from my list. Washington State required work experience but it seemed negotiable, and Liberty didn’t really seem to have standards for its MBA program which I was not ecstatic about.

With this score, I figured I’d retake the GMAT over the course of the coming year and apply for next fall.

For the next week I couldn’t really do anything but remain in prayer. I got to a place in my heart where if it wasn’t God’s timing for me to go so soon then it was more than okay.

At the end of the week I got an email from Vanderbilt inviting me to interview.

I literally thought, “What in the world are you doing, God? I thought I was done with this.”

My heart needed a break, but I took the next step because the Lord hadn’t shut the door yet.

I was on my way to a scholarship dinner in Arlington when I found out. My mom and I both got teary-eyed, but through all of this I basically kept the mindset that it probably wouldn’t happen (I suppose to protect my heart). Not because God isn’t able, but because I didn’t think I was qualified.

I bought my first pant-suit for the interview, reviewed questions, booked a hotel and went to the Nashville for the weekend.

I was sent a schedule of what my day would look like:

May 9, 2018

  • 11:45 AM – Lunch with Suzanne (director of MMARK admissions)
  • 1:00 PM – CMC Overview with Megan Nichols (over career services)
  • 1:30 PM Evaluative interview with Suzanne (same Suzanne)

Before arriving on campus I prayed for confidence and ridiculous favor with the ladies I would be speaking with. I specifically remember asking God to let lunch feel like I was out with girlfriends.

When I got into the admissions office I was greeted by name, offered a cup of coffee and given a prospective student name tag. I felt insanely valued from the start.

Suzanne came out of her office and greeted me a few moments later, and Megan followed right behind. The three of us walked across the street and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant called Nada. I didn’t have much of an appetite probably from nervousness and lack of sleep from driving late into the night, but I know on any other day I would have devoured my caramelized cauliflower tacos.

At lunch we discussed my entire life: my passions, my business, my job at the University Press, my family, my dogs… anything and everything. It was formal but relaxed and so fun. They made me feel comfortable for having never spoken to either of them.

Megan had to prepare for graduation so we didn’t chat on our own, but around 1:20 Suzanne and I walked back and had our interview. It was quite brief considering all we had discussed over lunch.

We wrapped everything up after 10-minutes or so. Everything seemed great until Suzanne brought up my GMAT score. We both agreed it was significantly lower than it should have been, but because of my lack of time to study, there was a chance I could take it again or take it before the following year and attend Vandy as part of the class of 2020.

As it would be such short notice to take the GMAT again before the start of the program, I figured I was back to square one — I’d wait until next fall.

This, to me, felt kind of like God saying, “just not yet,” or maybe, “you’re capable but not this school.” This would be easier for me, but I continued to pray for closed doors and my heart’s contentment.

Three days later I graduated. Three days after that I went to California and the entire time I didn’t stop praying.

Asking God’s will led to repentance that led to thankfulness. I prayed so stinking much. My prayer life was on fire.

While in Cali I should have found out about my admissions status, but someone on the board was out out so my decision came a week later.

I was coming home from mid-county and I got a phone call from Nashville.

PSA: I don’t typically talk and drive but I HAD to answer.

“On behalf of Vanderbilt University, I want to welcome you to the Master’s of Marking Class of 2019.”

I actually couldn’t believe it, until Suzanne told me I needed to take the GRE by July 15 and score a 300.

I asked that in the instance I didn’t make the score she needed if I could just come next fall (how many times is this back to square one?). She said of course, but that she would see about lifting the score requirement.

The next day I received an email that invited me to the MMARK class of 2019, no score requirement WITH a code to take the $200 exam for free.

I was going to Vanderbilt.

I only told my closest friends, family and small group (I had cried about it to them so it was important they knew I was no longer distressed), but I really kept it quiet. I didn’t feel like it was actually happening.

I called Kay, a lady who was over the scholarship I had received in Arlington weeks before, to let her know where I’d be going to school. The scholarship I was awarded was 1) for undergrads and 2) those pursuing journalism. I was neither of those things.

Kay called the president of the organization and they called back to inform me that marketing is kinda tied to journalism and they’d be happy to grant me the scholarship.

One of my biggest hesitations about Nashville and Vanderbilt was money. I felt like being able to receive this scholarship was a sweet and comforting reminder that the Lord does provide.

A week or so later my financial aid came back and I was awarded a decent amount over what I needed to pay for school.

In the midst of sorting finances, documents and moving, I was studying for the GRE. I texted my friend Kender the night before my exam and said, “please pray that I make at least a 300 on my GRE.” My score the next day was a 300 exactly.

I waited a bit late in the game to sort an apartment, but when my dad, Cormac and I went to find one, we settled on the very first apartment that we looked at. It’s in my budget, the safest in the area, and has a yoga studio and juice bar just down the road. Extra win.

I found a church in Nashville that I think I want to attend, and when we were leaving my apartment, we drove past the church just down the street.

In the midst of all things Vanderbilt and moving, I have so evidently seen the Lord working on my behalf to provide clarity and equip me with His peace. This experience has been so evidently divinely orchestrated.

I think what’s crazy about this is that this has clearly been a time where I’ve been attentive and trusted so eagerly because the Lord never does things by happenstance. Meaning everything in my life up to this point has not been an accident. Even when I screw literally everything up, God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.

I’ve learned quite a few things through this application/acceptance period:

  1. I (re)learned my leaning on God should always take precedence to my own understanding. Prayer should be constant in all ways and in all things. I always want to pray God’s will over my life (even though this can be intimidating. In his will is where I want to be — regardless of what that looks like.
  2. I learned to be wary of my own typical behavioral responses. When I feel overwhelmed or inadequate, by anything really, my heart can become anxious because I’m not trusting the Lord and what He has for me. I expected to be anxious about finances and decisions that would be made and this was absolutely the devil trying to steal my joy. When I recognize my tendencies I can combat them with prayer and scripture and literally preach truth to myself.
  3. I learned to act on what I perceive to be obedience to the Lord. When I was praying for doors to be closed and doors weren’t closing, I continued to walk forward trusting that the Lord would not lead me astray. I believe if you are whole-heartedly pursuing the Lord, you can’t mess up His will. He directs and redirects our paths and no matter where you are, He CAN use you. He is faithful always. If you’re pursuing holiness and He wants you somewhere, that is where you’ll be.
  4. I learned that if there is somewhere the Lord wants you, your worries will be sorted, in which case, they shouldn’t be worries at all! It’s easy for me to say this now, but even so, I wish I would have had this at the forefront of my mind from the get go. Obviously it is critical to use discernment when weighing priorities, but without trusting the Lord with my worries (finances, dogs, boyfriend, etc.), I could have missed out on this new season.
  5. I was reminded that if I didn’t get accepted to Vanderbilt, God is no less God and He is no less good. I don’t believe the things I did, the people I met or the very little work I put in would have been for nothing. At the very least, God grew my heart by revealing some of His character to me.

And isn’t that what this is all about?

To be so in awe of the wonder of our creator — His holiness, His perfect timing, His holy spirit that comforts us, His son who provided a way for us to even be reconciled to Him and experience even an inkling of His majesty — that we can’t help but share with others the richness of His love? To point others to Him?

It typically isn’t always in plain sight which direction we should take (at least it isn’t for me), but whatever the median in which He chooses we go or the median we choose that allows Him to use us, to love others and spread the Gospel of Christ, that is the will of God.

By the way, from the very beginning of my application process I felt in my heart I needed to be journaling about my experience. I felt that whatever the outcome of all of it Christ would be glorified and I wanted to share.

I waited and waited and never journaled, and a week or so after my acceptance to school, I received a package in the mail with this journal (it’s Moleskine and matches my planner!) and a note to accompany it that said this:

“… meanwhile, as you begin to write the next chapter in your career, please accept our gift to record your thoughts.”

God is sweet, He is gracious and He sees you.


Author: Shelby Strickland

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