What To Do If You Are Rejected From Graduate School

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The sting of rejection is real. Worse than being waitlisted, is receiving the message that, sorry, you were not admitted. Like most people, you were probably cut from a junior varsity basketball team, or you lost out on the chance to be chair of the orchestra section. When you were younger, it seemed like nothing else mattered because that was all you ever wanted. Of course, with time comes perspective. That violin chair really didn’t matter as much as you thought it did, and now, you probably hardly remember how upset you were.

But it’s different with graduate school. You’re an adult and the stakes are greater. It’s the beginning of a career, and it’s tough. It’s normal to feel a bit disappointed right now. You had a high grade point average, extra curricular activities to round out your schedule, and excellent letters of recommendation. You spent weeks on your applications, fretting over grammar and sentence construction, making sure each of your points was salient and concise. Finally, you prepared for your interview and thought you did well. And while all of these steps led to rejection, they were valuable; it was a learning process.

You are not alone, statistically speaking. Every spring, students receive emails or envelopes with news about their admission status. Some basic math tells us that some people won’t be selected; graduate programs almost always receive more applicants than they have spaces to fill. Sometimes, the number of students who have applied far outweigh the number of available slots. It’s just a reality of how the programs operate. It’s good, from the school’s perspective, to have more applicants than spots. This ensures that they will fill spaces with the most qualified students, while having waitlisted students on standby in case an admitted student decides not to attend. If you find yourself in this category, confide in family and close friends if you need to talk. These people know you best and will help you work through your initial feelings.

Once you feel like you are ready to take a look at where you stand with your options, talk to a couple of professors or mentors with whom you have close relationships. Perhaps consider the people who wrote you letters of recommendation. They will likely ask you if you applied to any safety schools and whether you have heard from those programs yet. If you haven’t yet applied, it might be worth doing some more research. Perhaps there’s a program with rolling admissions that you overlooked.

If you are in the unfortunate position of receiving a rejection from your top and only choice graduate school program, or you’ve been denied admission to all of the schools you applied to, there are a few things you should do. Meet with your undergraduate guidance counselor or career center. Even if you’ve long since graduated, many colleges and universities offer career advice to their alums long after graduation. Once you’ve done that, consider taking some time to think about your options and try to learn the reason or reasons that you weren’t accepted into the programs you chose. Perhaps you applied to exceptionally competitive schools or you were unqualified in areas like standardized test scores, grade point average, extra-curricular activities or experience. If this is the case, you may want to work hard to improve these aspects of your application and apply again the following year. The old idiom applies here: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

After time to think and reflect, you might decide that you were unrealistic with yourself about your expectations to be admitted to certain programs. Some students apply to graduate school and disregard the benchmark requirements of admitted students; if you need a 3.5 GPA and you have a 3.2, chances are that you won’t be admitted. It’s important that you take an honest and thoughtful look at your application after you’ve been denied admission and ask yourself what you could have done differently or better.

On another note, remember to be nice to yourself during this time. Take some extra time to do one or two of your favorite activities. Some students forget this and allow a rejection to get in the way of their last semester of undergraduate studies. Finish strong, no matter your graduate school admission status.

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