So you didn’t get into your choice school this round, or perhaps you didn’t make it into any programs at all, and you’re asking yourself:
Should I reapply after a grad school rejection?
If you really want to attend graduate school, the answer is yes.
That being said, if you plan to submit the same package of materials, then don’t bother unless you’re aiming for lower ranked programs. If those materials were going to work for your target schools, they would have worked this year. It’s possible you could “get lucky” next year, but gambling on something you really want isn’t advisable.
Next year you’ll need something different. In some cases you may know your shortcomings: limited research experience or a really low GRE score. In these situations the answer is simple. Get involved in REUs and internships for the next year, learn new techniques, try to attend a national conference, and apply for funding opportunities. If the GRE was your achilles heel, sign up a GRE study class early on and do independent study for several months. Even if a GRE subject test isn’t required, it can really add oomph to an application package, so look into taking one if you have the time and it’s relevant to your field.
In other cases, the reasons for a grad school rejection might not be as obvious. If your statistics are in the same ballpark as the programs you’re applying to, the most likely culprits are a lackluster Statement of Purpose, generic Letters of Recommendation, or a mismatch of interest. In many cases all these elements happen to coincide.
We’ve seen a lot of application materials, and we can tell you that they are, by and large, awful. Really, stunningly awful. Statements of Purpose that are vague, muddled, and desperate. Disorganized, mystifying CVs that don’t highlight any achievements and leave admission committees searching for even the most basic of information. Cringeworthy personal statements filled with the same weepy, saccharine sentiments as hundreds of others.
The thing that a lot of applicants seem to forget is that your GPA and GRE are simply numbers. Sometimes they’re no more than cut off numbers, just “this is good enough for us to keep reading the rest of the application” numbers. They aren’t what get you accepted. If you make the mistake of thinking that decent statistics are enough, you don’t understand how the competitive the admissions process is.
The best reapplication advice we can offer is to go through each part of your application materials one by one and see what you can improve. The only way to avoid another grad school rejection is to figure out what went wrong this round. While some forums will placate you with the fact that the probabilities of getting in are just too low for you to have any control–this isn’t entirely accurate nor is it helpful. You do have control over what you submit and how you present yourself to the admissions committee. Wield that control in the right way and you’ll get an acceptance next year.
Statement of Purpose
Were your statements of purpose tailored to each program–really tailored, or did you send the same one to multiple schools? Can you find errors in them? Did they outline research interests in detail or comment on specific elements that drew you to that program or were they generic? If you aren’t sure what qualifies as detailed, go through our statement of purpose guide.
Are you certain that your background and interests matched your potential programs? If you aren’t sure, ask a faculty member. Tell them you aren’t sure if you picked good matches for your interests and see if they have any university suggestions. It’s very possible that your SoP outlined research that doesn’t match the programs, even if on the surface you think it does. Reevaluating this is an easy way to get a better read on what programs might offer better chances of being accepted. If you don’t want to ask a faculty member, ask on Quora. You’ll likely find some suggestions you hadn’t even heard of yet.
Letters of Recommendation
Did you choose the right recommenders? Follow our how to ask for a letter of recommendation guide? Were you involved in the letter writing process? Did you cultivate letters that added different material from your statement of purpose? If not, this is very likely what got your application thrown out. Admission committees see so many generic letters of recommendation that real ones can be your ticket to a near perfect acceptance rate. So many applicants drop the ball on their recommendations that if you take this aspect seriously, you’ll be way ahead of your competition next year. If you need to ask the same people for recommendations, be sure and follow our guide, adding the most up to date details you can.
If you didn’t get into any programs, it’s very likely one of the above elements was off base. Don’t take it personally, just reevaluate and start preparing for next round. If you have specific questions, please feel free to leave a comment.
Most Common Graduate School Application Mistakes