On Friday March 4, I got back to my desk after lunch and saw that I had a missed call and a new voicemail from New York. I quickly opened up the voicemail. Here is the word-for-word transcript of the message:
“Hi Regina Kim, this is Terry Curtis Fox. I’m chair of Dramatic Writing at Tisch School for the Arts. Please give me a call, I have some very good news to convey. I am at 212-998-1942. That’s 212-998-1942. It’s about 4:20 in New York and I’ll be here for another hour or so. Bye.”
I ran out of the office, down two flights of stairs and the long hallway, and barreled outside. It was sprinkling, but I barely noticed. My heart was pumping as I called the number Terry left me.
I got through to a woman who connected me immediately to Terry, who sounded very happy as he let me know that I’d been accepted to the Dramatic Writing program for the upcoming school year. I told him, “You just made my year!” He laughed, then said, “Wait, there’s more.” He told me they were also offering me a scholarship that would fully cover my tuition. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic, especially considering the fact that NYU is notorious for its lack of financial aid. “It comes with a caveat,” Terry continued. “You have to cover housing fees yourself.” At that point, that was mere peanuts. Terry went on to say that the faculty was “very impressed” and they all “can’t wait to meet you in the fall.” He said I’d be getting the official letter of acceptance in the mail soon before we hung up.
A week and a half later, the rug was pulled out from under me.
On Monday March 14, I received an email from Graduate Admissions stating that they were unable to offer me admission to Tisch. Here’s what I noticed first: the email said “Dear Kim.” Not “Dear Regina Kim” or “Dear Ms. Kim.” Just “Dear Kim.” Naturally, I thought it was a mistake and I got someone else’s rejection letter. After all, Kim is a very common name, both first and last. Since it was already 10 pm and I couldn’t call NYU, I emailed Terry, hoping to have a reply by the time I woke up.
This morning, I was walking across the street with Bob for coffee when I felt a buzz in my pocket. I pulled out my phone and saw that there was a voicemail from an unknown Los Angeles number. Again, here is the word-for-word transcript:
“Hi, this is Terry Curtis Fox from Dramatic Writing. Um, please give me a call at this number (left blank for privacy protection). This is my mobile. It is 12:40 eastern time and I am leaving to go out of the country at around 3:30 eastern time. Again (phone number left blank). Thank you.”
Terry began by apologizing profusely. He said how much he hated having this conversation, but my admission was actually a mistake, an error on their side. He said what anyone would say in that situation, things like “I can only imagine how difficult this is for you right now” and “I have no words.” Standard apologetic lines.
Other things I noticed during this conversation, and please keep in mind that these are purely observations, not accusations: Terry stammered a lot, sounded unsure, and seemed very flustered. He also seemed to be in a hurry to get off the phone with me. The first time we spoke, he sounded confident and calm. Today, he was the polar opposite. Yes, this is a completely different scenario, which could have affected the dialogue. But why did he “have no words” today when he could have provided a deeper explanation besides “You were contacted in error”?
Here’s where it gets interesting though.
Terry went on to say, “We just don’t have enough funds to take everyone.” Something felt off so I inquired further: “Is it just the funds or…?” Terry repeated that they just didn’t have enough funds. I asked, “…or was it the whole application?” Terry immediately said, “It was the whole application,” and he sounded almost…relieved, like I’d given him an out, an excuse to blame the application. I’m not saying this was his intention and I am in no way an expert at deciphering speech tones and patterns; relieved is just the best way I can describe Terry’s reaction to my question.
Keep in mind that funding and admission are two very different matters i.e., rescinding a scholarship and rescinding an admission are not the same things. “Not enough funds to take everyone” means something completely different from “not enough space to take everyone.” And while Terry repeated the word “funds” several times, he never said the word “space.” I’m positive I could have found a way to fund a graduate education myself if it were simply a matter of “not having enough funds” to keep me in the program.
After the call, I was obviously in shock. In less than two weeks, I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. I found myself running through every possible scenario: When they read my FAFSA, did they not like the numbers? Did the graduate committee overturn the decision? Did something not check out on my application? Was it simply financials or was there something bigger in play behind the scenes AKA did I not fit the mold of the NYU student population or did a rich donor knock me off the list? Before you say I’m overreacting, remember what Tisch’s Director of Graduate Admissions Dan Sandford told Joshua Jackson last fall when he inquired about an application fee waiver.
Yes, you can argue that a non-recorded phone call regarding my admission is not a formal declaration of acceptance. Yes, the email I received is written evidence of my rejection, which arguably makes it official. Trust me, I’ve overthought every aspect of this. Here’s the scary truth though: with or without written evidence or any “official” snail-mail correspondence, admission can still be rescinded at any point and there’s nothing you can do about it. Call me naive and stupid but there is no doubt in my mind that Terry’s first phone call was legit, that I had been accepted to the program as of that moment in time.
NYU is a private school. NYU is an elite school. It is also one of the most expensive schools to attend. I understand that things like this happen, and I’m probably not the first person it’s happened to. I want to make clear that I’m in no way attacking NYU, Tisch, or the department chair. In my heart of hearts, I believe Terry was put in a tough situation and today’s phone call was a difficult one to make, which is why I appreciate that he chose to call and talk to me directly instead of sending an email. Although I’m bitter, because it’s human nature, I still respect the decision and uphold the admiration I have for the program. I’m just documenting the experience from my perspective, and I’m sure the people at Tisch all have their own versions of the story. I was in denial all day today but I’m slowly coming to terms with it tonight and writing this post is helping immensely. Although I won’t ever know what truly happened behind closed doors with my rescinded admission, I hope this illustrates a clearer picture of my brief stint on cloud nine and the dizzying descent that happened shortly after.