Do you have any advice for those of us who ended up at our "safety schools"? Classes start this week but I'm still apprehensive about whether my program is actually a good fit for me. And I'm still disappointed by the string of rejection letters I received last spring. What do I do?
Few students get into the graduate program of their dreams. Most compromise in some way and this likely is true of all people regardless of career path. Virtually all applicants receive some rejection letters. This is especially true in competitive fields where hundreds of students apply for a slot, as is common in clinical psychology PhD programs, for example. It's part of the process. Rejection letters, however, do not mean that you're a poor candidate or that you don't have the capacity to succeed in graduate school. In most cases it simply means that there were more applicants than program slots. When this happens many qualified students are turned away. Those who make the cut often do so not out of some superior and mystical qualifications, but because faculty perceive them as a better fit to the program and faculty needs.
The Importance of Fit
Admission to graduate school, especially doctoral programs, is all about fit:
- Do your interests match those of faculty?
- Do faculty see you as appropriate and able to work on their projects?
- Does your academic background fit the needs of faculty (e.g., do you have quantitative skills that fill a research faculty member's needs?)
- Do your interests match those of faculty? One faculty member must show an interest in working with you, so your research interests should match at minimum one faculty member.
- Do your career goals match the goals of the graduate program (e.g., a student who is interested in career providing therapy is not well matched to a clinical psychology doctoral program that emphasizes preparing students for research careers)?
In short, rejection letters usually do not mean that you are deficient, but rather, that your needs do not match what the program provides. It is time to let go of the disappointment of rejection - several months have passed and you are about to begin a new chapter in your life, at a place that wants you.
Keep an Open Mind
It's not uncommon for students to second guess their choice - even up to the start of the semester. Begin with an open mind. Go to classes. Talk with professors and other students. Experience graduate school. And then begin to consider whether your experiences and what it seems like you will learn matches your desires. This list, although oriented towards students who are choosing among graduate programs, may help guide your thinking as you consider if this program is right for you. I suggest that you try one full semester, be flexible and curious, before deciding that the program isn't for you. Of course, this is your choice. You are the best judge of what's right for you and only you can make this choice. Seek information and guidance, but ultimately the choice is yours alone.