I Didn't Get into Grad School. Now What?

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You followed all the directions for applying to graduate school. You prepared for the GRE, obtained excellent recommendations and still received a rejection letter from the graduate program of your dreams. What gives? It's difficult to learn that you're not among a grad program’s top choices, but more applicants are rejected than accepted to grad school.

From a statistical standpoint, you have lots of company; competitive doctoral programs can receive 10 to 50 times as many graduate applicants than they can take.

That probably doesn't make you feel any better, though. It may be particularly difficult if you were invited for an interview for graduate school; however, as many as 75% of applicants invited for interviews don't get into grad school.

Why Was I Rejected?

Simply because there aren’t enough slots. Most graduate programs receive far more applications from qualified candidates than they can accept. Why were you eliminated by a particular program? There is no way to tell, but in many cases, applicants are rejected because they demonstrated poor "fit." In other words, their interests and career aspirations didn't fit the program. For example, an applicant to a research-oriented clinical psychology program who didn’t read the program materials carefully might be rejected for indicating an interest in practicing therapy. Alternatively, it's simply a numbers game. In other words, a program may have 10 slots but 40 well-qualified applicants.

In this case, decisions are often arbitrary and based on factors and whims that you can't predict. In these cases, it may simply be the luck of the draw.

Seek Support

You might find it difficult to inform family, friends, and professors of the bad news, but it is essential that you seek social support.

Allow yourself to feel upset and acknowledge your feelings, then move forward. If you are rejected to every program to which you apply, reassess your goals, but don’t necessarily give up.

Be Honest With Yourself

Ask yourself some hard questions - and try your best to answer them honestly:

  • Did you select schools carefully, paying attention to fit?
  • Did you apply to enough programs?
  • Did you complete all parts of each application?
  • Did you spend enough time on your essays?
  • Did you tailor your essays to each program?
  • Did you have research experience?
  • Did you have a field or applied experience?
  • Did you know your referees well and did they have something to write about?
  • Were most of your applications to highly competitive programs?

Your answers to these questions may help you determine whether to reapply next year, apply to a master’s program instead, or choose another career path. If you are firmly committed to attending graduate school, consider reapplying next year.

Use the next few months to improve your academic record, seek research experience, and get to know professors. Apply to a wider range of schools (including "safety" schools), select programs more carefully, and thoroughly research each program.