Hearing “no” is the worst, isn’t it? Believe me, I’ve been there: as a high school student, I got denied for my first-choice college, and again, when I was applying for graduate school, I got my fair share of deny decisions. Even as an adult, there have been a few denials: rental apartments that go to someone else, job interviews I never heard back from. As hard as it is, it bears repeating: getting denied is a part of life. Even the most successful, intelligent, well-spoken, beautiful, wonderful person you know has heard “no” at least once in their life (and probably much more!).
Still. It hurts. It feels bad. Again, I get it. So what should you do if you’ve been denied? And what should you not do? As someone who’s been on both ends of the admissions process (and thus been the one both giving the no and hearing the no), this is my advice.
DO: Take time to be sad. Being upset, or disappointed, or frustrating is entirely normal. Maybe you had your heart really set on this program and have spent the last few months (or even years) daydreaming about what your life at this program would be like. That’s a loss, and it’s okay to feel it. If you’re feeling upset, take some time for yourself to call a friend, write in your journal, watch a bad movie, take a long walk… whatever is going to make you feel better and regroup.
DON’T: Wallow. “But I thought you just said that I should take time for myself?” That’s true, I did, and you should! But the purpose of taking time for yourself is to regroup. We all have dream schools and programs, but the fact of the matter is, there are HUNDREDS of graduate schools in the US to apply to, and THOUSANDS of graduate programs in the world. Maybe this one school didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean that others won’t. In addition, many students go through many rounds of applying for graduate programs before they’re accepted into the right program for them. The purpose of taking this time off is to renew your dedication, not stay in a slump forever.
DO: Put things into perspective. Being denied doesn’t mean you’re not smart, talented, capable, articulate, etc. The fact of the matter is, many schools are bound by real constraints of how many students their programs can handle, lest they be trying to cram one hundred students into a twenty-person classroom. This year, because many schools eased up on their requirements for application (such as waiving test scores) and because of the economic downturn, many graduate schools received more applications than they would have normally, making admission even more competitive this year. Moreover, it may just be that your research isn’t the right fit with the faculty: that’s not a reflection on you, just an indication that this program wouldn’t be the best fit.
DON’T: Lash out. Sometimes, when we’re upset or angry, the temptation to lash out is there. But now’s not the time to write your admissions contact a long letter demanding to know why you weren’t let in, or to email your recommenders a diatribe saying that they obviously didn’t say enough good things about you. Sit on it for a week; trust me, it’ll keep, and you’ll probably find that you’re a lot calmer with some time and space from it.
DO: Prepare for next year. As I said before, many students go several cycles before being admitted into the right program for them. If you really have your heart set on a particular program, there’s usually no reason you can’t try again the next year. To close, this is the advice that I normally give to students who have been denied who are interested in reapplying in the next cycle:
- Update your Resume/CV with any experience (s) that you have gained within the past year. Did you get a new position? If yes, tell us what some of your responsibilities are.
- Update/rewrite your personal statement – Your personal statement is critical. In your personal statement, I encourage you to talk about your specific interest(s) and also identify which faculty member(s) are currently doing similar work. Your statement has to be engaging and has to paint a picture for the committee on why you want to pursue a degree at Heller. Questions to cover: Why a graduate degree? Why now? Why Heller?
- Letters of Recommendations – Identify strong candidates (individuals whom you have a great working relationship with and can speak thoroughly on your behalf) to write your recommendations. You do not want individuals who aren’t able to speak on your professional background or character to write your recommendation letter.
- Retaking the GRE exam (if applicable!) – If you feel you could have done better on the GRE exam, you should take it again.
I hope that helps, and remember: whatever emotions you are feeling right now are okay. The question is, how are you going to channel those emotions? I would encourage you to try not to stay stuck in a negative feeling for too long. As someone who has received denials myself, I know that the thing you least want to hear right now is also the truest thing I could tell you: It will be okay.