Refresh. My empty inbox stares back at me, almost mockingly. Refresh. Sluggishly, a new email appears at the top of the screen. "We regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you admission…" Another one added to the list. For a second, I am almost tempted to print the emails and assemble a self-pity collage of fridge magnets and rejection letters. Some rejections are harder than others and it feels like nothing can soften the initial impact, but reframing the process of graduate school admissions, especially this year, might help in the long term.
Getting admitted to graduate school is never straightforward — it is a combination of GPA, research or work experience, interview performance, classes and unfortunately, the fickle element of luck
. As a result, not all qualified applicants can get admitted. Admission rates for Ph.D. and JD programs are even lower than those for undergraduate programs; it doesn’t necessarily get easier to get into a prestigious university as one progresses from one stage of study to the next. This was already the case during "normal" admissions cycles, but has become even more true in the past two years. Overall, applicant numbers for graduate schools in the U.S. have increased during the pandemic.
This surge has been attributed to [uncertainty in the job market] (https://www.wusa9.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/covid-sparks-grad-school-application-surge/65-2ddf0f1f-1d00-434d-ba9d-84b59e0438f4), especially in the U.S. and Europe. With more applicants than in previous years and no significant increase in available spots, even more qualified candidates are left without an admissions offer. If this unfortunate statistic applies to you this application cycle, there are several things to keep in mind that might help (or at least put things in perspective).
First of all, a gap year. While perhaps not a part of your initial plan, a gap year can help increase your chances
of getting into graduate school in the next application cycle. Whether through getting a job, an internship, a volunteering opportunity or working on a relevant personal project, you can spend time building your portfolio. Alternatively, a gap year spent finding out more about yourself, what you want to do and taking time for yourself is no worse of an option. Sometimes we think that everything has to move quickly — from undergrad to graduate school and straight into a job, but this isn’t a set requirement. Taking some time is not equivalent to "falling behind" or being indecisive. Sometimes, it can even be essential in choosing the right path and recuperating after four years of intensive study.
Secondly, especially considering the increase in applicants
in high-ranking universities, remembering the element of chance in the application process can help. Especially at top universities, it is likely that if admissions decisions were lost suddenly and all of this year’s applications were reevaluated, the outcome would not have been the same. Going through your application and trying to attribute blame to some minuscule errors or miscalculations will only make you feel worse.
Lastly, the redirection that comes from an unexpected change of plans has the potential to bring about positive outcomes in the future. This could come in the form of, on the one hand, gaining more skills and experience in your field or figuring out that you want to change directions and maybe pursue a different field instead. Especially after four years of rigorous courses, late nights and library weekends, taking a breath to think about what you really want to pursue isn’t the worst idea. Rejection will sting at first and it is valid to allow yourself to be upset about or disappointed by it. There is no set timeline for when you must feel better or "get over it." However, a few months or years from now, maybe looking back at these moments won’t bring about pain or regret.
Running the risk of sharing tired clichés, I must say that sometimes, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first, rejection of some sort just opens doors for even better opportunities. After all, it was an academic rejection that led me to find NYU Abu Dhabi and encouraged me to apply. Four years later, I can confidently say that I am thankful for that initial rejection and all that it has brought me.
Morgane Motlik is Senior Columns Editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.