The arduous and time-consuming process of applying to graduate school is mentally, financially, and emotionally taxing. Between studying for and taking the GRE, requesting letters of recommendation, writing my essay, and meticulously compiling each required document and sending it off to the university, the process demands many months of dedication and hard work. So, if you receive the unfortunate news that you are denied acceptance into the graduate program of your dreams, here are a few steps to help you through this rough time.
1. Take some time to be sad0
It's difficult to explain the full effect of rejection. Whether it occurs at a job, from a college, or in a relationship, the feelings of shock and disappointment that rejection sparks often take time to process and recover from. Graduate school rejection is no different, and it is wise to allow yourself time for healing and planning. This process can look different for each person, but consider taking a trip to clear your head or spending time with friends whose opinions you respect to discuss your options and hear their advice on the situation. Take this time to think about how you want to move forward, whether that means applying to a similar graduate program at different schools or pursuing a completely new career path. The world is open to you, and you have the exciting opportunity to come up with a new plan.
2. Remember the statistics
It is common for graduate school programs to only accept around 12 new students per year. It is also likely that those programs receive around 20 times more applications than there are spots available. This varies with different programs, but because of this limited space, it is common for great candidates to be rejected because there is no more room. While this knowledge may not make you feel better, keep in mind that this denial may have more to do with a lack of available space than a reflection of your ability to succeed in the program. You can try asking the application office why you were rejected. The office may be willing to talk to you and provide a thorough explanation of the qualities it looks for in candidates. This advice can be beneficial if you choose to reapply the following year, making you a more competitive applicant.
3. Don't give up on graduate school
Just because you have been rejected once does not mean graduate school is no longer an option for you. If this is a strong dream of yours, spend the year improving your application and increasing your chances of being accepted. This may mean retaking the GRE to get a better score, drafting a stronger essay that highlights each of your strengths and ambitions, or possibly accepting jobs or volunteer positions that will look good on your resume. Universities always hold seminars offering advice to students planning to apply to graduate school, and these events are often open to the public, so show up and ask tons of questions. Also, reapplying to a program you were rejected from, while a costly and frustrating process, looks impressive to the staff reviewing the applications. They may admire your determination, which can increase your chances of being accepted. Lastly, be sure you are applying to schools that are a realistic option for you. If you have a spotty academic history and are trying to get into Yale University, you may need to revise your plan and start applying to programs that are more likely to consider you. So be honest with yourself and make sure you are applying to universities that will appreciate the qualities you will bring to the program.
4. Recognize that graduate school isn't the only path to a good career
This is a good opportunity to reflect on why you want to go to graduate school. Is it to get a better paying job? To have a career that you find intellectually and emotionally rewarding? Is it because you do not know what direction to take in your life and graduate school seems like the most logical choice? When university officials are reviewing applications, it quickly becomes clear which applicants are passionate about the program and which are applying for other reasons. While having a logical approach to your life decisions is by no means a negative characteristic, universities are looking for passionate individuals. So ask yourself what your passions are. If you want a career that pays well, graduate school is not necessarily the only answer. You can find positions with great companies that do not require a Master's degree. However, if you firmly believe that attending graduate school is the only way for you to achieve your passions, then keep trying, and make sure those passions come through in your application. Graduate school is expensive and demands all of your time and energy, so be sure it is what you really want.
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