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 three-fold approach: Reassess your qualifications, and based on that, revise your target schools for applications or reapplications next year; strengthen your qualifications through taking additional courses, getting internships, networking, and other steps that demonstrate increased commitment to the field; and 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 an opportunity for professional and personal growth.
A school rejection may 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 will open 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 been derailed!
Think about what your 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 wasn’t an option anymore, what would you do? Long-term plans are important, but it’s also important to grow every day in some way. Avoid staking your entire future on one major event (i.e. getting into graduate school).
Focus on some short-term goals that you want to achieve at work and in your personal life – job-related, fitness, family, friends, hobbies, or spirituality. This is a great time to go beyond just giving lip service to these things. Think about them and make a plan to grow in one of these areas. You never know how growth in one area of your life may connect with growth in another area of life–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. Accept one of these 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.
The 3 categories of rejection
There are 3 categories that can explain your cause for rejection:
- 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.
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 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 about yourself, your professional achievements and goals, and how where you have been so far educationally and professionally connects with where you want to go. You still have a chance to get into competitive programs this year, but you’ll need to make sure your application is 100% awesome. COVID-19 has upended many people’s plans and has also led many more people to apply to graduate school. This has also added to the competition.
- 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. 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. This is probably the most frustrating result. 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?
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 of your background, and the fact that 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, but you are distinct, different, and special – a necessary asset to their next class.
Watch: Four Reasons for Rejection
For more insight into why applicants get rejected, check out Linda Abraham’s video, “4 Reasons for Rejection.”
It’s 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 when you 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 around because it forced them to seek opportunities that they wouldn’t have sought 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 may 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 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!