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How to Handle Rejection from Graduate School


By SMU Graduate Studies on April 4, 2019

Handling-Application-Rejection

You put a lot of hard work into your applications, but unfortunately, you didn’t get that admit letter for the Fall. It can really bring you down and make you second-guess your decision to pursue getting a doctorate.  

But in reality, there are many reasons why you may not be admitted to a program, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not ever meant to attend graduate school. Read below for some tips to help you deal with graduate school rejection and help you gain your confidence again.

If you are ready to reapply to graduate school, download our digital resource: " Choosing, Applying for, and Thriving in a Ph.D. Program" to help you!

Putting It In Perspective

What many students don’t realize is that you are often competing against hundreds — sometimes even thousands — of others all around the world for just a handful of available spots in a program. Statistically, the odds are often stacked against you if you’re applying to a very popular and prestigious program.

Programs typically admit students who they feel are a good fit for the program and whose research interests align with the faculty’s. If there isn’t someone in the department who works on topics similar to your interests, then the committee might have felt as though they couldn’t properly support you in the program.

If you get a deny letter, try not to take it personally. It is absolutely fine to be upset when you first get the news. Let your emotions run their course, but then take a step back and look objectively at what you can do to improve your application. It might be a relatively small step, like retaking the GRE or practicing your interviewing skills, or it could be something that takes more time, such as taking additional courses to fulfill some prerequisites or enhance your GPA.

Learning from a negative experience and taking a proactive approach will not only make you a stronger candidate, but the skills and resiliency you develop will serve you well in other aspects of your life and career too.

Consider Your Other Opportunities

If you’re going through graduate school rejection, seek out your advisor or a trusted faculty member and let them know. Chances are they’ve dealt with similar experiences. Not only can they provide support, but they can also help you redirect your goals and recommend some alternative programs. Perhaps they even have colleagues at other institutions who are still looking for qualified applicants to fill their spots, and they might be able to connect you to a great opportunity that you never thought about before.

You may also want to think about taking another year to focus your career goals and try entering the workforce. Sometimes, students take a job that allows them to reevaluate what their goals are for graduate school and they have a more focused approach to what they truly want to study.

For some lucky students, they might even find that their employer will help pay for their future graduate degree, which could potentially result in higher pay once they graduate. Depending on your discipline, research which companies might include education expenses as a benefit or learn what types of jobs would give you practical experience in your preferred field with the degree that you already have.

Don’t Be Afraid to Reapply

What many applicants assume is that they’re not good enough for graduate school. More likely, you just didn’t apply to the right school at the right time. To help you get a sense of where you fell short, ask for feedback. Some schools may not be able to provide that information just because of the sheer volume of applications. Some programs, though, will share their evaluation with you. It can’t hurt to ask, and it can give you insight into how people are reading your application.

If you feel strongly that the school you applied to is the place you want to be, then recalibrate your application and submit it again for the next available term, incorporating any constructive criticism you’ve received. Also consider applying to other institutions that weren’t originally on your list, which may have later deadlines or space that’s still available for the current term. You might have to go back and research those programs to create an effective application, but it always helps to have as many options as possible.



If graduate school is a serious ambition for you, then view this as one hurdle on your journey towards your degree. Although it’s never a great feeling to be rejected, take it as a new challenge and let the experience help you focus your passion and forge your new path to achieving your goal.

Learn how to perfect your next graduate school application by downloading our digital resource: A Guide to Choosing, Applying for, and Thriving in a Ph.D. Program!

Download the Guide Today


SMU Graduate Studies

Written by SMU Graduate Studies


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