There’s no getting around it: rejection letters are discouraging. Especially when you’ve invested as much time and energy in something as you have in your PhD plans. What can you do when you don’t get in anywhere at all?
Take a deep breath. This isn’t the end of your plans.
Take stock. Did you make a miscalculation in your application strategy this year? Should you have applied to more programs, or programs that were a better fit for your profile? Were there weaknesses in your application that you can work on strengthening for the future? Carefully and honestly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your application.
Make a plan. If the PhD is your must-have goal, make a plan for strengthening your strategy and your candidacy for next year:
– Consider applying to more schools, or to a broader range of schools.
– Do careful research on your “fit” with the programs you’re targeting, and research potential mentors. For example, if you want to study Spanish Renaissance Literature, but the only professor in that area at your target school is headed for retirement and isn’t taking new students, you probably won’t get in, no matter how compelling your application is.
– If you have gaps in your academic record or CV, take this opportunity to fill them. Pursue additional research, take courses in areas you need to develop more, etc. If your GRE scores are low, retake the test.
– Depending on your field and your goals, enrolling for a master’s degree (or taking non-degree courses) could give you helpful experience and strengthen your candidacy when you reapply for a PhD.
Is there an alternative path? Can you achieve your career goals without a PhD? Is a master’s a viable option? Can you work as a researcher without the PhD (or work for a couple of years to build experience before reapplying)?
Hearing “no” is never easy, but rejection letters aren’t the end of the line. If you take the right steps now, you can come back stronger next year.
By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, Accepted.com editor and former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, and author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Rebecca will be happy to assist you with your grad school applications.