By now, many of you have received answers from early application efforts – either you got in…or you didn’t. If you got in, congrats – you probably feel amazing! However, if you face a fistful or rejections or waitlist notifications, then it’s normal and ok to feel disappointed and to express that disappointment. But I urge you to try and move on quickly. Rejection is not a tragedy; it’s not a judgment of your worth as a person or a sign that your future plans are not meant to be. It simply means that this particular school can’t take you for this particular class.
So what’s a proper response?
If you were rejected but ALSO have acceptances, then a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush: if you applied to these schools, then you should be happy to attend. So you should probably accept one of these acceptances and stop worrying about the rejections.
If you are dealing exclusively with rejections, then you need to get to work analyzing what went wrong.
There are 3 categories in which you can usually place your cause for rejection:
1. You weren’t competitive/qualified at the schools you applied to. You simply shot too high.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Here you’ve got two choices. You can either spend the next year improving your qualifications and reapplying to these same schools next application season, or you can lower the bar and apply to less competitive programs.
2. You WERE competitive/qualified but didn’t present yourself well. In this case, you applied to the right programs based on your qualifications – that is, you had what it takes to get in – but for some reason, you didn’t tell your story well in your application or made some other application error. You didn’t apply effectively.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? If the problem is that you failed to tell your story well, then you need to make sure that when you reapply (either to these schools or to others), that you tell a more compelling story. You still have a chance to get into competitive programs this year, but you’ll need to make sure your application is 100% awesome.
3. You were a victim of sheer numbers. This can happen if you’re in an overrepresented group – bio major applying to med school, Indian IT guy applying to b-school, Political science majors applying to law school, etc. Being in such a category makes it harder to distinguish yourself, and harder to get in, even if you’re super qualified, and even if you’ve done a good job on your application.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? The thing here, is that if you’re a victim of sheer numbers, then you can’t just do a “good” job on your application; you need to do a slam-dunk, smash-hit, out-of-this-world job on your application. This is probably the most frustrating result. Because of intense competition with people of your background, and the fact that schools value diversity, you’re stuck. You can’t change who you are, but you can change the way you tell your distinct story. Apply to more schools this year or to the same ones next year, and make sure that your application shows the adcom why you’re different – and special – and a necessary asset to their next class.
And yes it is possible that you fit into more than one of these categories and have to address more than one of these issues.
One aspect of your response has to be the same regardless of the cause or category: You need to get over the disappointment and respond constructively to the situation. This may be scant comfort now, but you’ll end up stronger because of this healthy response…and hopefully with that much-deserved acceptance letter in the near future.