Responding to Being Denied

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Road Map for Graduate Study: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students

by Dr. Donald C. Martin

After helping thousands of students through the application maze at a number of prestigious schools, most recently Teachers College at Columbia University, Dr. Donald Martin shares great insider advice for those exploring the idea of going to graduate school. His new book, Road Map For Graduate Study, is structured to help you determine if you should attend graduate school, what schools may be right for you, and how best to navigate through the maze of the application process.

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Rejected from grad school program may be very disappointing especially if it was a program you really hoped to get into. After months of researching, preparing for standardized testing, writing essays, gathering recommendation letters, and careful financial planning, rejection may be a devastating outcome.

DON’T  panic – DON’T make any irrational phone calls, – DON’T compose a strongly worded letter to the admissions committee. Take some time to wrap your head around the rejection and then think about your next move. You may want to take one or more of the following actions:

(1) Accept the decision. At this point you cannot change it.

(2) Remember, this is a temporary disappointment, not a final blow. You WILL succeed, even though the path right now may not be as you planned. This is a practice opportunity for patience and professionalism. If you decide to respond in some way to being denied, please remember this: If you want to send a positive message to the admissions committee, it is now. A mature, thoughtful attitude makes a huge and positive impression, believe me!

(3) Demonstrate your maturity and professionalism by composing a thank you note your contacts at the school that helped you through the application process. Chances are they put a great deal of time into answering your questions and organizing your application materials for the selection committee, let them know their time was appreciated. You might also consider sending the person who signed your notification letter a quick note thanking them for their consideration of your application. It is never a bad idea to be polite even when faced with great disappointment.

(4) Contact the admissions office to verify they received all of the information you sent in your application packet. Ensure your most recent standardized test score and transcripts were included in your materials. Discuss any discrepancies (if they exist), and your options for correcting them.

(5) Double check to make sure your rejection was not an oversight on the part of the admissions committee. While this is a rare occurrence, it can happen and it does not hurt to ask.

(6) Request feedback use the information to strengthen your application for another program or when you reapply.

(7) Ask if you can provide any supplemental information to fill in gaps in your application.  Try to find out if providing more information will convince the admissions committee to give your materials a second look.

(8) Contact admissions administrators to learn about the re-application process.

If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. Keep hope alive as you wait for the decisions from other schools to which you applied, think about ways you can improve your application in the future.

Perhaps you might consider taking some pre-requisite programs, or take a test prep course to improve your scores. Explore volunteer opportunities in your chosen discipline and explore other graduate school program options. One (or more) rejections should not deter your from pursuing your dreams, you may just need to come up with a new plan to get you there.

Dr. Donald C. Martin is an expert in the fields of enrollment management, student affairs and higher education administration. From 1980 to 2008 he managed divisions including admissions, financial aid, student development, registration/advising, and career, disabled and international services.

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