Rejection hurts, especially if it’s from a school that you really had hoped to attend. Competition is always tough at good schools, and space is limited. Not everyone who is qualified can get in.
You can still achieve your dreams by taking this threefold approach: (1) Reassess your qualifications, and based on that, revise your list of target schools for applications or reapplications next year; (2) strengthen your qualifications by enrolling in additional courses, getting internships, networking, and taking other steps that demonstrate your increased commitment to your chosen field; and (3) if you are in an overrepresented applicant pool, rethink your application strategy so that your distinctive qualities and assets will shine through.
Remember that rejection is not a tragedy. It’s not a judgment of your (very considerable) worth as a person. It’s a disappointment. It’s also an opportunity for professional and personal growth.
A school rejection might delay or modify your career dream, but it doesn’t demolish your dreams. You will still become that physician/lawyer/consultant/engineer/fill-in-the-blank; you’ll just take a detour on the road, one that could actually open up new opportunities for you.
So, what’s a proper response?
Give yourself a little time to feel the sting of disappointment, but then move on quickly. Your career goals have not necessarily been derailed!
Think about what your primary goal is. Was going to grad school really the only path to achieving your dreams? Did grad school need to happen now?
If grad school truly weren’t an option anymore, what would you do? Long-term plans are important, but what is also important is growing every day in some way. Avoid staking your entire future on one major event (in this case, getting into a specific graduate school).
Focus on some short-term goals that you want to achieve at work and in your personal life – related to your job, fitness, family, friends, hobbies, or spirituality. This is a great time to go beyond just giving lip service to these ideas. Think about them and make a plan to grow in one of these areas. You never know how growth in one part of your life might connect with growth in another – including professionally.
If you were rejected but ALSO have acceptances, then a bird in the hand is usually worth two in the bush. If you applied to these schools, then you should be happy to attend, so accept one of the invitations and stop worrying about the rejections.
However, if you are dealing exclusively with rejections, then you need to get to work analyzing what went wrong and what you want to do about it.
The three categories of rejection
There are three reasons that can explain why you were rejected, and yes, they can be combined:
- You weren’t competitive/qualified at the schools you applied to.
You simply aimed too high.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
Here, you’ve got two choices. You can either spend time to improve your qualifications and reapply to the same schools in a later application cycle, or you can lower the bar and apply to less-competitive programs.
More and more applicants these days are reapplicants – people who didn’t give up. And guess what? Reapplicants do well. Why? Usually because reapplicants represent a more dedicated, focused, “serious” group. They know why they want to attend a particular school, and they (usually) know what it takes and have worked hard to achieve it.
Think about which programs you really want to focus on next time, and start building an application that will turn a disappointing “no” into a triumphant “yes.”
Also, be willing to cast a wider net if you didn’t get at least some positive results (e.g., interviews).
- 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 technically had what it takes to get in – but for some reason, you didn’t tell your story well enough in your application or you made other application error(s). 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), you convey a more compelling impression of yourself, your professional achievements and goals, and how your educational and professional past connects with your desired future.
- 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 major applying to law school, and so on. Being in an overrepresented group 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?
This is a bit tricky because if you’re a victim of sheer numbers, then a “good enough” application will never get you in. You need to do a slam-dunk, smash-hit, out-of-this-world job on your application. Because of intense competition with people whose background is similar to yours, and because schools value diversity, you must change the way you tell your distinct story. Expand your list of target schools this year or apply to the same ones next year, making sure that your application shows the adcom why and how you’re not just one in a crowd and that you are distinct, different, and special – a necessary asset to their next class – and that you know how to communicate.
Watch: Four Reasons for Rejection
For more insight into why some applicants are rejected, check out Linda Abraham’s video “Four Reasons for Rejection.”
Rejection is not the end of the world!
Getting rejected from grad school is the pits. But we promise, it is NOT the worst thing in the world! Through this experience, you’ll learn loads about yourself: you’ll re-prioritize your goals, adjust your timeline, gain more experience on the job, take additional classes, network with more people, and overall, enrich your life so that when you apply next year or decide to head out on a different career path, you’ll be better prepared and more successful. Believe it or not, many reapplicants end up being glad they didn’t get in the first time because the rejection forced them to seek opportunities that they wouldn’t have pursued otherwise.
Regardless of the cause or category of your rejection, one thing is true for everyone: you need to get over the disappointment and respond constructively to the situation. This might be scant comfort now, but you’ll end up stronger because of this healthy response – and hopefully win that much-deserved acceptance letter in the near future.
To maximize your chances of success, team up with an Accepted consultant who will review your application, help you figure out why you were rejected, and tell you what you can do to GET ACCEPTED next time. Check out our services here for more information.For 25 years, Accepted has helped applicants gain acceptance to top undergraduate and graduate programs. Our expert team of admissions consultants features former admissions directors, PhDs, and professional writers who have advised clients to acceptance at top programs worldwide including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge, INSEAD, MIT, Caltech, UC Berkeley, and Northwestern. Want an admissions expert to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!