I know I don’t have to say this, but I will anyway.
It sucks in all areas of life, and getting rejected from a grad program you really wanted to get into is no different. You may be heartbroken because you worked so hard to prepare your application and it didn’t turn out the way you had hoped. You may feel ashamed because you think that you let everyone who was rooting for you down.
I want to let you know that it’s okay to be sad about not getting into your “dream” program. It’s okay to be sad about not having the application cycle you envisioned. You have worked so hard to get to where you are and unfortunately, rejection is just part of the process.
I have faced my fair share of rejections from not getting into undergrad and PhD programs to having my first ever manuscript be rejected from five journals. I’m much better at dealing with rejection now than I was a few years ago because I realized that whatever is for me will ALWAYS come my way and whatever is not for me, won’t. There are better opportunities on the horizon even though it may not seem that way at the time. Here are some of my tips for dealing with rejection:
TIP #1: Grieve what could’ve been. It is completely natural to feel sad or frustrated when experiencing rejection. In order to move past it, allow yourself to feel these emotions wholeheartedly. If you need to cry, do it! If you need to scream, do it! If you need to eat ice cream and watch Netflix to help you cope, do it! I’ve done the latter several times and it helps.
TIP #2: Try not to take the rejection personally. This is tough! There have been several instances where I have gotten a rejection and took comments that I received to heart. It is really easy to internalize rejection as there being something wrong with us, but that’s usually not the case. A rejection is not a reflection of you or your abilities! Let me say this again. A rejection is not a reflection of you or your abilities. It can be really hard to do so, especially when your work is so intertwined with who you are as a person and/or scholar. Once I started taking rejections less personally, they became a bit easier to deal with. As for grad programs, there are a slew of reasons why applicants get rejected that are outside of your control (e.g., lack of funding in your prospective lab). As a personal example: I did not get accepted into one of the PhD programs I interviewed for simply because the professor that I would have had the best “fit” with was switching universities. My rejection had nothing to do with my application or my interview, just bad timing.
TIP #3: Fail now and fail often! Don’t let failure or rejection discourage you from applying to as many opportunities as you can. Whether it be awards and fellowships or even conferences, continue to put yourself out there because you never know what could happen.
TIP #4: Create a CV of failures. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the CV of failures, but I first came across it a while ago and even made my own! There are several examples online but one of the more well-known ones was created by Stockholm University professor Dr. Johannes Haushofer (I will include it as a downloadable attachment at the end of this post). It is basically a CV that includes any rejections you have experienced in your academic journey so far. It might sting a little to reminisce on your failures but it will make all your accomplishments even sweeter and show you how far you’ve come!
Applying for grad school as a first-gen student can be very challenging, but yet you did it! You applied! Even though things may have not worked out, I am so proud of you. I know that you will reach your goal soon enough. Here are some words of affirmation (in case anyone needs them):
You are not a failure. You are not a fool. You are not a disappointment.
You are brave. You are courageous. You are worthy.
I believe in you ❤.
NOTE: Check out Dr. Casey Fiesler’s great video all about dealing with rejection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI9we__mtSc