General Education

Rejected From Your Safety Grad School? Here’s What to Do.

Rejected From Your Safety Grad School? Here’s What to Do.
Around 75 percent of graduate candidates who interview for grad school will receive a rejection notice from the admissions committee. Here's what to do next. Image from Unsplash
Lizzie Perrin profile
Lizzie Perrin October 7, 2019

With setback comes options, like reapplying to your prospective program at a later date or considering others that might be a better fit. Or, who knows? Maybe you'll decide that grad school isn't in the cards after all—and start America's next big thing in ice cream.

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After careful planning and consideration, you decide to apply to graduate school. You spend a couple of months repeatedly clicking "refresh" on graduate school admissions websites, and your excitement circulates when you finally receive an update. But that excitement quickly transforms into defeat. The problem? It was a rejection letter from your safety school.

Even though this is a setback, it's crucial to try and maintain a positive outlook. Keep in mind that the graduate school admissions is enormously complex, and rejection doesn't necessarily carry specific implications.

What Is a Safety School?

Generally, a safety school is one in which the factors of your application, such as GRE and GMAT scores and undergraduate GPA, are higher than the average accepted student. If your essay, letters of recommendation, and interview (if required) are excellent, you will likely hear news of acceptance. But sometimes, the unpredictable can happen.

In some cases, your school may have received many more qualified applicants than usual. It's also possible that you were missing something essential to your intended program, like leadership skills, certification, or training in your field. Or maybe you made a critical mistake in your application without thinking or applied too late. If you feel comfortable, call the program's admissions office. They'll be able to provide insight around your rejection.

After going through such a lengthy process, it's normal to feel devastated, embarrassed, or anxious when the results of your application aren't what you anticipated. You've worked very hard to get where you are today, so any disappointment is difficult to process, let alone a safety school rejection. You can, however, take comfort in knowing you're not alone.

Grad School Rejection Is Common.

As many as 75 percent of graduate candidates who interview for grad school will receive a rejection notice from the admissions committee. Also, note that some of the best and the brightest still face rejection from grad school admissions offices. Here are just a few examples:

  • At the news of rejection from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sergey Brin attended graduate school at Stanford University, where he met Larry Page. The pair went on to create the most powerful search engine in the world. Seriously, Google it.
  • After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska, American super-businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett landed an interview with the Business School at Harvard University and quickly rejected. The news redirected him to the Business School at Columbia University, where he completed a Master of Science in Economics.
  • As a graduate of Vassar College with a B.A. in Literature, future Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction novelist Jane Smiley applied to writing programs at the University of Iowa and the University of Virginia (Main Campus). Just a few years later, she reapplied to the University of Iowa, where she went on to receive her M.A., M.F.A., Ph.D.
  • Jerry Greenfield attempted medical school for two years after graduating from Oberlin College and turned down by every graduate program he applied to. So, he decided to get into the ice cream business with his friend, Ben Cohen. The rest is Cherry Garcia history.

10 Things Prospective Grad Students Can Do After a Safety School Rejection

1. Revisit your qualifications.

What was your undergraduate GPA in comparison to the level of those accepted? What about your GRE and GMAT score? If they were not up to par, it's possible other candidates took higher priority. But even if your GPA and test scores were above average, there are other things to consider in terms of your qualifications. Grad schools are, by nature, more specialized than undergraduate programs.

If your undergraduate coursework didn't lay a sufficient foundation for your prospective graduate program, this could be a reason for rejection. Consider retaking courses or exams to increase any necessary test scores. You can also take additional courses to better align your profile.

2. Reevaluate your application.

Did you give this application the same attention as applications to other programs? Did you carefully read through the instructions to ensure you didn't leave any factors out? Submitting an incomplete application or being late on deadlines can result in an automatic rejection. In the future, even if you are confident of acceptance, respectfully give the application the attention it deserves. Spend enough time on your essays, provide up-to-date recommendations, and submit all of your required transcripts and essays on time.

3. Think critically about your needs and interests.

Did the program coincide with your educational and professional goals? If not, the admissions committee may have noticed this, and it could be the reason for your rejection. For example, if you're applying for a Master's in Early Childhood Education, but in your essay, describe your goals to impact the lives of troubled teens, this shows as a red flag. It's also possible that you didn't meet specific program requirements like work experience or a type of certification.

4. Consider cohort size.

Graduate cohorts are smaller than most undergraduate classes, so getting admitted is inherently more exclusive. It's possible you weren't accepted because they didn't have enough space in the program. When a program has 25 slots available and 40 well-qualified candidates, admissions officers have to make decisions based on what may seem like arbitrary reasons when you're not looking at the whole picture.

5. Know that grad school admissions are, as mentioned, complex.

Universities post the baseline requirements for admissions, but the process itself is challenging to make sense of. Admissions officers often take into consideration the likelihood that you'll attend the program. It's possible that something in your application or interview hinted that this school wasn't one of your top choices. They could have passed on you thinking that more interested students would be more likely to enroll after acceptance. Other times, programs will recruit students even though they have no intention of accepting them to get their application numbers up.

6. Seek feedback from the admissions office.

If you sincerely want to find out why you weren't admitted, call the admissions office to speak with an officer or counselor. If you went through the interview process, you might even be able to get in touch with the person who met with you. This conversation is not a time to be defensive. Express your disappointment and clarify your intentions for calling. Ask for feedback concerning your graduate school plans to ensure you're on the right track. Be respectful and humble.

7. Check in with your undergraduate counselor or advisor.

Try getting back in touch with your undergraduate counselor or advisor to see if they have any recommendations for you. Some universities also offer alumni resources for students who wish to attend grad school. If rejection came from your undergraduate alma mater, you might be able to gain even more insight into why you weren't accepted.

8. Look for the program's next round of admissions.

If the graduate program offers admissions at a later date, check the regulations for the deadlines on reapplying. After receiving the necessary feedback and conducting a thorough self-evaluation, it might help to consider other graduate programs to apply to in this timeframe as well, especially if you come across one that seems like a better fit.

9. Consider taking a chance on other programs.

Just because you're facing rejection from safety school doesn't necessarily mean you'll be rejected by other colleges and universities. If you don't hear good news from any of the programs you applied, know that each application cycle brings new possibilities. And who knows? Being turned down from one program might help you realize you are better suited for something—or somewhere—else.

10. Remember that rejection is not the end.

Making the best of disappointing news is a sign of strength and flexibility. If you need additional work experience, consider volunteer work as part of your efforts to improve your candidacy. You can also take the time to tackle a passion project, which may help process the experience. Who knows where you may end up! It's uncommon to hear about people not pursuing great things because they didn't get into a specific grad school at a particular time. You do, however, hear about innovative and persistent individuals who reach colossal achievements in spite of rejection.

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