Graduate School Acceptance and Rejection

Introduction: It’s that time of year when graduate schools begin to send out acceptance or rejection letters to potential students. It’s a very stressful time for many of us wanting to continue our education. We all know that the graduate application process and waiting for an answer is daunting. All of our team members have gone through the graduate school application process. We have all been at some point accepted, accepted with funding, accepted without funding, waivered, and rejected. In this post we present some of our experiences, feelings, and general knowledge concerning the acceptance and rejection period.

Kiri: When applying to PhD programs, I decided to apply for six different schools to spread myself as much as I could without completely breaking the bank. Of those six schools, one school accepted me. I always knew that PhD programs were competitive, but the rejections of five different institutions felt like it solidified the feelings of imposter syndrome that began creeping up throughout my MA program. The one silver lining was that I received my acceptance for FSU first, and though I wouldn’t hear about funding until much later (which is a tale of anxiety for another time), this did help to soften the blows from the other schools. Having even just the one school gave me something to focus on and helped me to mitigate the emotional fallout from the other rejections. Though it’s taken me awhile to realize it, acceptances and rejections do not define my worth as a scholar, nor do they mean that I cannot pursue my dreams. It also took me a while to feel proud about my acceptance amidst all the rejections. When speaking of my acceptance, I always prefaced it with “only.” I “only” got accepted into FSU. I “only” made it into one of the six schools I applied to. I’ve now realized that receiving my acceptance from FSU is something to be proud of though— getting into FSU was an accomplishment in and of itself. I’ve stopped needlessly prefacing the “only” in my acceptance, and learned that my worth as an historian, an academic, and a person is not tied to the number of acceptances I receive. My one acceptance turned out to be the best thing for me, and I could not be happier with where it landed me. 

Dragana: Getting a rejection letter from a university (or all of them) you had your heart set on can be crushing. Besides not being able to attend the university and program I wanted, the emotional impact it took on me was great. I began to question myself. Was I even good enough to pursue a PhD? Did I choose the wrong area of focus? Were my school choices wrong? Is my research interest not good? It became difficult to focus on anything else besides my failure. As my friends were celebrating their acceptances, I was closing in on myself and refusing to talk about how I was feeling. There came a point where any time my friends were talking about their future schools, I would quietly go back to my office and be disappointed in myself. The more I tried to not think about it, the more I actually thought about it and the worse I felt. It wasn’t until I broke down in front of my friends in my office that I started to feel a little better. It took me a while to come to terms that although it didn’t work out this time, it didn’t mean that I had to give up. Understanding that just because I didn’t get accepted doesn’t mean that me and my work were not good enough. It’s okay to take a moment and feel disappointed, but you have to push forward and focus on what comes next. It was difficult for me to accept my failure, but that’s what made me work harder on making a stronger application for the next cycle and it paid off.

Chelsi: I applied to eight schools and got into two of them. I had heard all of the normal platitudes: “Academia is akin to a lottery, where most of it is luck. It doesn’t mean you’re not smart, but that luck wasn’t on your side. Sometimes these things just happen.” In a lot of ways, I was lucky, because the first letter I got back (from FSU) was an acceptance, which lessened the sting of the later rejections a bit. What surprisingly hurt me the most was an acceptance to another master’s program—when I had applied to the PhD. It seemed like a backhanded compliment, like the school saying that I had the potential, but that I obviously needed training only that they could provide. It made the master’s that I was still in the process of working on seem pointless and made me feel stupid for going to such a low level school in comparison to the one I was applying to.

In the end it was still technically an acceptance though, with no funding. Obviously, I didn’t accept their offer, but before I received it, I didn’t know that such a thing was common. It took me by surprise and bruised my pride quite a bit. I had to weigh the prestige of a better school against the idea of starting grad school from square one all over again. My other acceptances won me over, but this one gave me the most to think about.

Clayton: Applying to any college program, undergrad or graduate, can be a daunting task. Generally, when it comes to picking the programs that you are going to apply to, it is best to have few in mind. This allows you to focus on your favorite school or program, while still having other options available to you. This is something that I learned only through experience. While I did apply to multiple schools for graduate programs, I only applied to one school for my undergrad. While this did work out for me in the long run since I was accepted into my first-choice school, looking back on this it was definitely risky! If something would have happened with that application, I did not have a backup option. 

Luckily, I didn’t take this chance when looking at graduate programs. I applied to a few programs for graduate school, and in the end was accepted into two of the programs. While this was exciting, a major issue was funding. Although I had applied to be a graduate assistant in each program, I was told all GA positions were filled for the upcoming year. This was very stressful, since graduate school is not cheap, and the GA positions would have helped greatly. I still decided to accept the USF program; being accepted into any graduate program is a major accomplishment and I wanted to take full advantage of my opportunity. Figuring how to apply to a college or program can be almost as stressful as the actual courses. Planning out your applications and knowing what your bottom lines are when it comes to funding doesn’t make it easy, but it can make it less stressful in the long run.  

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