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Rejection and Reapplication: How to Respond [Show summary]
Admissions guru Linda Abraham highlights four reasons that could cause a rejection and offers concrete, practical suggestions for moving forward.
Rejection and Reapplication: How to Respond [Show notes]
Some of you unfortunately are facing a fistful of dings. Some of you haven’t heard definitively. You are either in waitlist limbo or haven’t heard anything, but you know that rejection at this point in time for the previous application cycle is a distinct and increasingly likely possibility. How can you respond to rejection? How should you respond to rejection? How can you reapply successfully if that’s what you choose to do?
One of the challenges of admissions is showing that you both fit in at your target schools and are a standout in the applicant pool. Accepted’s free download, Fitting In and Standing Out, The Paradox at the Heart of Admissions, will show you how to do exactly that, and both of them. Master this paradox and you will be well on your way to acceptance.
I’m going to do a solo show today as I addressed the questions I raised a minute ago. It’s going to be one where I both give a little high-level encouragement and then get down to brass tacks advice on what you should do if you decide to reapply.
Rejection reality [1:42]
First of all, let’s face it, rejection is disappointing. It’s frustrating. It’s painful. It’s maybe even a little embarrassing. Acknowledge your negative feelings. It’s okay. You put a lot of effort into this year’s applications. You spent money and time on them. You invested emotionally in this whole project, and some of you may feel that this is the end of the road for your particular career dream. Maybe you’ve applied before. Maybe you find rejection to be a terrible blow.
Realize that rejection is disappointing. It is a setback. It is not a tragedy. No one has died, no blood has been spilled. You haven’t lost your livelihood.
What about my dreams and goals [2:23]
You may say, “But what about my dreams, my goals?” Well, I have two thoughts for you.
- You may not need to give up your dreams and goals. You may decide to reapply and we’ll get to how you should do that more effectively in a few minutes. You may apply to different schools that are easier to get into and that still support your goals. You may decide to achieve your goals in another way that doesn’t require a graduate degree or perhaps would benefit from a different graduate degree.
- You may need to modify your dreams and goals and replace them with new dreams. In other words, to re-dream instead of reapply.
I can tell you that there have been many times when my husband and I seemingly hit a dead end on a dream and had to re-dream, and things frankly worked out better than we had ever hoped.
For an example of someone who had to dream differently, please check out episode 234 for the story of Andrea Benedict, who had to abandon her dream of becoming a physician, became a PA instead, and absolutely loves her work and her career.
Handling the stress of reapplying [3:23]
If you are faced with a rejection, give yourself an hour or two, and if it’s the final rejection, maybe even a day or two to be a little down and then move on. In fact, pat yourself on the back for your effort and initiative in applying in the first place. You tried to improve your skills and education. You tried to move forward. You tried to grow and improve. That effort deserves to be acknowledged and praised. I, for one, salute you. And again, if nobody else is going to do it, take it from me or give yourself a pat on the back.
Now, some of you may believe that you just can’t handle the stress of another application process, and there are some for whom that is true either because of age, finances, or simply your personality, and if so, again, I’d encourage you to re-dream. Change your dreams so that you don’t need to reapply, but I would encourage most of you to learn how to deal with the stress so that it doesn’t stop you from striving to achieve awesome goals.
Most people apply to graduate school, especially professional schools, because they’re aiming at roles that are leadership positions. Leadership by definition requires an assumption of responsibility, so you’re aiming for positions of responsibility. Anyone assuming a position of responsibility or a leadership role is going to have stress. It simply goes with being a leader, with being a person of consequence.
There seems to be this drumbeat right now in society that we have to do anything and everything to eliminate stress. Well, you know, folks? We can’t eliminate it. We can learn to deal with it and in a limited sense, choose when to have it. If you are a skilled skier who thrills at black diamond runs, you have learned to deal with the stress of wondering whether you will arrive at the bottom in one piece. I personally hate the stress of wondering if I will arrive in time to catch a plane or train. I deal with that stress by arriving early.
So whether you use meditation or music, running or art, painting or prayer, socializing or solitude, mindfulness or yoga, learn how to deal with stress. It is a part of life. Everyone has it, and it is vital that you learn how to deal with it if you aim to be a leader and a person of consequence. Those who strive for positions of responsibility and impact have more stress than others because you are not doing what’s easy, but everyone has stress at different points in their life. Some of you choose to have it, some of you don’t. But if you’re going to have it, you might as well have it doing something you love.
Also, remember that any graduate education is a means to an end. If you have been rejected more than once, is there another way for you to achieve your professional goals, which is the end goal of a graduate education, assuming that the professional goals that motivate your applications still are your goals?
Four reasons for rejection
If there isn’t an alternative, do you want to reapply? Now, you might have an easier time responding to that last question at the end of this podcast, so let’s examine the four reasons for rejection, what you can do to change the outcome, and how you can address those causes of rejection. So let’s go over the four reasons for rejection.
Reason 1: Not being competitive at your target programs [6:32]
In other words, grades and test scores weren’t in range or were below average. You do not have the experience that programs look for, whether it’s professional, full-time work experience, which is extremely important in MBA applicants, clinical exposure and community service for those in healthcare fields, or some legally relevant experience for many, many law schools, research for PhD candidates. Those are all forms of experience. They’re basically requirements for those kinds of degrees. This is a very quick summary of them.So that’s the academic requirements and the experiential requirements. We’ll get to that a little bit later.
Reason 2: You failed to present your qualifications [7:11]
Well, what do I mean by that? You presumably were competitive. You had the stats and you had the experience that programs seek, but you didn’t present them well and effectively in your application. Maybe you wrote a resume in prose for your personal statement or statement of purpose. Maybe you did not provide examples to support assertions and declarative statements in your essay or essays. Maybe you provided examples and no indication of why they are important, so your essay read like a series of disconnected anecdotes. Maybe you failed to show fit with the program’s values, mission and strength, which is really, really important.
So even though on paper you were competitive, they didn’t see any passion or interest in their specific program or maybe even the career choices you were voicing. If there were multiple essays in the application, perhaps you focused all those essays or all those responses to different questions on one particular event in your life as opposed to highlighting different experiences in different essays.
Perhaps your writing was sloppy. It was not what it should have been. You hadn’t proofread effectively. Maybe you focused on the negative in your life or you spent the bulk of your essay criticizing and blaming others. That is not a very attractive approach to an application.
That’s the second reason, you failed to present your qualifications effectively. So again, number one, you didn’t show that you were qualified either academically or experientially. Two, you didn’t present your qualifications effectively.
Reason 3: Intense Competition [8:42]
The third reason for rejection is you are a victim of intense competition in the field and at the schools you applied to. This is particularly true for medical school and healthcare where competition is even more fierce than for a law school and business school, and acceptance rates of under 5% are not uncommon.
I’d caution you not to assume that competition is the sole factor for your rejection because it is the one factor you have zero control over. You cannot affect how many people apply to the schools that you are most interested in, so focus on the elements that you have more control over, but realize that competition is real and therefore choose your schools wisely and strategically.
Reason 4: Combination of factors [9:29]
The fourth reason of possible rejection — again, one is you weren’t qualified, two is you didn’t present your qualifications well, and three is the intense competition for the schools that you were applying to — is a combination of the above. It is possible that two or three of the factors I mentioned initially caused your rejection. Now, if you focus exclusively on stats, you may still not get in because you presented your qualifications poorly, or even if you raised your test score or improved your competitiveness, and so on paper you look competitive, but you still didn’t quite do it. You might have to address multiple issues.
How should the reasons for your rejection dictate your response? [10:08]
Let’s get to work and discuss what you need to do, and here I’m going to issue a caveat: There’s one thing you can do that is highly unlikely to change the outcome of your application if you’re reapplying, and that is reapplying with the same application. It didn’t work before, especially if you apply to the same schools, and there is no reason to think it will work well this time around. I think the definition of insanity is repeating the same activity over and over and expecting a different outcome. But worse than the definition of insanity, frankly, I think that when you reapply, and I’ve talked to many admissions directors about this, and you don’t change the essays and you don’t change the activity descriptions or the resume at all, it conveys a certain laziness and for sure a lack of growth. Even if you think that the written portion of your application was absolutely fantastic and your rejection was solely due to other elements, don’t just copy and paste last year’s written elements of the application.
First of all, there are very few writers who can’t improve their writing when they look at it a year later. Second of all, you are basically telling the schools if you do that, that you haven’t done anything particularly noteworthy or valuable in the last year. And again, you might just be conveying laziness if you do that, so don’t do it. Look at your essays and your activity descriptions, et cetera with a critical eye, or secondary applications if you have those. Now, your reasons for rejection, when you look at those four reasons and you say, “Okay, I could work on this. I need to improve my application or my interview skills, whatever it is, and maybe I should apply at a few schools where I’m more competitive.” Let’s see what you can do to change the outcome.
The number one cause was you weren’t competitive at your target programs. Let’s say you feel that your grades were below average. Can you take courses and show that today in your field of interest you can do well? For many fields, extension courses, online courses, graded accredited courses will do wonders for you. In the healthcare field, a postbac program can be highly effective and helpful. Maybe a relevant master’s degree, a specialized master’s if you’re talking about medical school. In other words, show the schools that you really can perform academically.
No graduate program wants to admit somebody who’s going to flunk out because they simply can’t hack it. Sometimes relevant certificates can be really helpful. For example, a CFA or CPA in business school can be really, really helpful. Again, a postbac program for healthcare.
What if low test scores were the cause? Well, one option is aiming for schools that don’t require a test score or have test waivers.If you’re applying to a school that has test waivers, realize that your academic transcript has to show you can do the work. If you are required to take a test, as is true in most healthcare fields, can you improve your test prep? Can you invest more time? Can you change from self-study to a course, from a course to a tutor? Can you do something to get that score up so it is more competitive?
If lack of experience is a problem, can you get the experience that your target schools would like to see? Clinical exposure is critical in applying to healthcare fields. Shadowing is really liked by many professionals. Not tons of shadowing, but at least some, so that you can say, “I followed a doctor around all day. I’ve talked to him about his or her day. I can really see that this is something I would love to do because….”
And then of course, the last thing, if you feel that you weren’t competitive, is to change the schools you’re applying to. Would you be competitive with current stats at other programs that support your goals? Well, apply to them. If you’re applying to medical school, consider a DO program maybe in addition to or instead of MD programs, again, depending upon where you fall in terms of your stats and your goals, et cetera. I do want to mention at this point that accepted.com offers rejection review for med school applicants, for law school applicants, for business school applicants, for various different graduate programs, and you can find that accept.com/services.
What if your presentation of your qualifications was weak or flawed? What if that second factor contributed to your rejection? Maybe your writing was sloppy or unclear. Maybe you didn’t really address the essay prompt. You wrote an answer to the last essay you were working on as opposed to the essay on this particular application. Maybe your resume and activity descriptions focused on tasks and responsibilities as opposed to achievements and contributions – which is what they should focus on – or a place and the times when you went above and beyond the norm.
Maybe you failed to show fit with the specific school you were applying to. That is critical. Certainly at any competitive program, whether it’s law school, med school, business school, any graduate program to speak of, you have to show that their program is going to, given what you’ve done in the past, is going to help you move towards your specific goal and that your interests matched the focus of the school and the professors, et cetera, especially in research-oriented programs.
Any and all of these application errors mean that you did not do a great job of presenting yourself to the school. If others did a better job and were otherwise qualified, even if your numbers were good, they got in and you didn’t.
The final presentation factor which we haven’t gone into is maybe you interviewed poorly, and yes, some schools have videos. Maybe your video wasn’t great. Okay, but that would come into the other stuff. Maybe you interviewed poorly. For those programs that interview, many publish their acceptance rates of interviewed applicants. If it’s one out of three and you had three interviews and failed to get an acceptance from any of the three schools that interviewed you, I strongly recommend interview prep if invited to interview this application cycle. And again, that is a service that Accepted provides. You’re so close when you’re invited to interview, the cost of interview prep, a mock interview is a relatively small investment at that point compared to the cost of another year of delayed application or another rejection and delayed increase in salary and the cost of a reapplication if you were to reapply again. You can access Accepted’s services if you need to improve your presentation.
The third reason is being a victim of intense competition in your field at the schools you applied to. This is the one factor you cannot change, and I suggest you focus least on it. It frequently plays a role when combined with one and two. Is it a factor though, and if you feel that it played a role but you were competitive, improve your presentation. The implication would be that you choose to apply to programs where you are more competitive, and I would say, obviously, depending upon the particulars, you don’t want to have to reapply a third time or fourth time or whatever would be this time plus one. I would suggest that you don’t just aim for the ones that are a stretch, that you aim for some programs where you’re fairly confident of acceptance, assuming that you make improvements. Be realistic. Again, you’re applying strategically. That’s the idea here.
How to choose between various next steps? [17:35]
What if it’s a combination? You weren’t quite qualified, you didn’t present yourself effectively, and there’s intense competition for the schools that you were aiming for. It’s a combo. That was the fourth factor, if you recall. You have your work cut out for you. You might want to consider waiting a year and reapplying not in this cycle for matriculation 2024, but applying in 2025. That would allow you to perhaps take some courses, really prep again for the test, whatever test it is, get that score up, and maybe get the experience you need. Again, I don’t know whether it’s full-time work experience, clinical exposure, some exposure to the legal process. Whatever it is. In your field it may be research, if you’re aiming for a research-oriented master’s or PhD program. Whatever it is, it might be wiser to take additional time, really get your ducks lined up and be ready to apply, than rush it and get another rejection. It’s just frustrating, expensive, time-consuming, painful, and you don’t need to do that.
If you’re really dealing with all four or the fourth element, which is a combo of the first three, I would strongly encourage you to consider, again, the particular matter. Obviously I don’t know the particulars of your specific situation, whether it’s wise to wait a year or not. Accepted does offer free consultations to potential clients, and you’re welcome to take advantage of that.
If you are rejected this cycle, recognize that you have options. Acknowledge but don’t focus on that disappointment. That is so normal and so natural. Focus on your destination. Focus on your determination to reach that destination. First, decide if you want to continue pursuing the goal that motivated you to apply or if you want to re-dream. Perfectly legitimate.
If you choose to continue down this path and pursuing this particular goal, this particular why that motivated you, think about various ways to achieve your goal. If you decide that graduate education is the best or the only route forward for you, consider the ways that you can improve your application and the outcome of that application. But whether you choose to re-dream or reapply, congratulate yourself on your effort and keep looking forward.
Good luck with your redreaming or reapplying. Again, if you’d like assistance with this task, we have rejection reviews, we have interview prep, and of course we have comprehensive advising services for applicants.
- Accepted’s Medical School Rejection Review Services
- Accepted’s Business School Rejection Review Services
- Accepted’s Healthcare Rejection Review Services
- Accepted’s Law School Rejection Review Services
- The Reapplicant’s Guide to Medical School Acceptance, an on-demand webinar
- How to Reapply Successfully to Top MBA Programs, a short video
- Reapplying to Business School: How to Do It Right the Second Time Around
- What to Do if You’re Rejected from Grad School
- Two Admissions Experts on the Latest in Law School Admissions
- Is a Postbac Program Right for You?
- Apply at Your Best: Advice from a Med School Admissions Expert
- An Admissions Expert’s Top Tips for Business School Applicants
- How to Prepare for a Successful Round 1 MBA Application