I Got Rejected from a Graduate Program - Now What?

Over the past year, I’ve known what I wanted to do once graduating from undergrad. I was going to do Peace Corps (to help pay back loans), go on to graduate school for International Development and then work for a nonprofit in Washington D.C. or move abroad. However, COVID-19 said no to plan A.

I quickly had to start thinking of plan B. Peace Corps is still on the table, given everything is dependent on vaccine distribution domestically and internationally. Though, I did not like the idea of waiting until 2022, maybe late 2021 at the earliest, to get onto the next chapter of my life. I then realized applying to graduate programs to get my master’s degree would be my best option.

I spent summer 2020 looking into graduate school programs, finding myself in the same position I was in for the majority of senior year of high school. I had to find out when were deadlines, how much were application fees, figuring out if I had to take my GRE or not and what were the application requirements. In a year that was filled with darkness, I was ambitious to try to bring some much needed light into 2021. And for me, that meant taking action to figure out what the next chapter of my life would be.

Fast forward to February 2021, and I am anxiously awaiting to hear back about decisions on graduate school programs. I like to remain optimistic and confident in myself. I know I don’t have the perfect GPA, but I know I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at today. I would like to think that the experiences I’ve had as a transfer student, involvement and leadership skills I’ve obtained and internships and fellowships I’ve completed can outweigh the few Cs on my transcript.

Yet, on February 7, I was rejected from the first graduate program I heard back from. To say I was crushed is a complete understatement. I was absolutely devastated. I cried about it for a couple of days and sent multiple text messages to my parents that I am a “failure" and "will never get anywhere.”

I know what you’re thinking. Wow. This girl is dramatic. You are right though. At that moment, I was being dramatic.

It’s kind of funny how sometimes our anxiety gets the best of us. I’ve gotten better at managing my anxiety, as well as recognizing when I am starting to get anxious or triggers, but it still finds a way to effect me. When I heard back from the first graduate program I had applied to, I felt like my world was over. I thought that, that rejection later, had set the tone for how I would hear back from the rest of the programs I applied to. I thought I wouldn’t get in anywhere based on ONE application decision.

Step 1 of getting over a rejection letter: cry about it.

I had to have my moment. I tried putting on a straight face, even though I had opened my application decision at work (which was the worst thing I could’ve done for myself). I cried about it just from disappointment and maybe even a bit of grief at a lost opportunity.

Step 2: come to a realization.

After letting out all my tears, I then came to realize three things.

One, the school I had applied had the second lowest acceptance rate out of the programs I had applied to. Did I realize this at the time I was applying? No.

Two, it was the first decision out of five. I still have four schools I’m anxiously waiting to hear back from. That means that there are still four chances of getting in somewhere. This one rejection letter does not mean I will be automatically denied by the others.

Three, I did not send an updated version of my transcript when grades from last semester were finalized. That one is 100% on me. Since coming to this realization, all the rest of my graduate applications have been updated.

I also am not the first person to get rejected from a graduate school. This isn’t solely something that has happened to me, even though it might feel like it is something personal. I just wasn’t a good match for that program, and that’s ok. I might be a better fit for the next one I hear back from.

Step 3: look ahead.

Throughout this process, I have come to realize that this school was not the best fit. There is one school in particular that I am leaning towards because I can legitimately see myself going there. I am more confident about this waiting period. Maybe this school is where I am meant to be?

Even though I don’t think I am fully ready to enter the workforce, there are jobs I can apply for that I am qualified for. Also, similarly to how I was using Peace Corps as a way to pay back loans, I am going into a career field where loan forgiveness is a thing thankfully. Additionally, I am hopeful that President Biden will sign an executive order that will wipe out a good portion of my student loans. Maybe that one is more wishful thinking, but I am choosing to look ahead to positive things.

This also means that graduate school, if I happen not to get in this go around, isn’t impossible for the future. It might not be my most ideal situation, but it is just another road to get to where I eventually want to be.

Honestly, I never thought I would end up at Pitt anyways, even though it was my dream school for most of high school. I didn’t want to attend the same school as my dad or be so close to home. I ended up going away to another school in order to realize that I was meant to be here at Pitt all along. Life has a weird way of working out like that.

I am meant to be somewhere, and I am still figuring it out. And that's ok. Everything ends up working out in the end, one way or another.