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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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