Friday, March 5, 2010

Coping with Academic Rejection

It's early March, and for thousands of graduate school applicants, it's rejection season. Between the impersonal letters to the apologetic emails, AdComs have a thousand ways to let you know that this year, you just weren't on top.

Coping with rejection can be difficult, especially when you're having recurring dreams about the committee having a good belly laugh over your credentials. Wallowing in despair might feel really great right now, but picking yourself up is essential to, you know, functioning on a daily basis. Here are a few tips, stemming from personal experience, to help you out this month:

1. Make a Plan B
This helps for a few different reasons. First, you've got a secondary plan developing, which means that your life is not, in fact, over. Second, you go back into planning mode, which is pretty comfortable after the eight months or so you spent on your applications. Third, having viable plans in the future can make you excited about something again. Word to the wise: Don't just plan. Take some real, grounded steps toward a change.

2. Fill your Calendar
You can allow yourself a day or two to wallow, drink whiskey under your bed, and read blogs about the perils of graduate school, ad nauseum. But after that, make a schedule. Whatever you have wanted to do, but thought you wouldn't be able to in graduate school, write it in to your calendar. Keep busy, and try to socialize.

3. It's Not You, It's the Economy
This year was especially competitive. With the economy collapsing just long ago enough to give the unemployed a chance to apply, plus budget cuts to many small programs and state schools, competition sky-rocketed. What may have seemed like a perfect fit, could have quadrupled in competitiveness this year, accepting half as many students, out of twice as many applicants. Find your objective side by documenting these obstacles. You may have been in the top 10%, and still gotten rejected - it's all circumstantial.

4. Revisit your application
Take an honest look at your application. Where did you rush? Which grades are subpar? Which letters of recommendation were last-minute? Make a list of the deficiencies in your application, then look at solutions to balance them out. This could be auditing another class, boosting your resume with work experience, or re-taking the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, etc.

You have another year to perfect your application process. You have time - remember, the world is not coming to an end tomorrow. And even if it is, a PhD won't help you there!

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