February is often a time that last semester seniors are constantly stressing during. It is not about the upcoming mid-terms or the outfit they want to wear to graduation. It is patiently and nervously waiting to hear back from the grad schools they have applied to.
It is a constant worry in the back of their mind as they try to make it through the few classes they have left to complete before they can walk across the stage. Constantly checking emails, mailboxes in hopes to catch the letter when it first arrives. Knowing their future rides on this one piece of paper.
Then you get it, a rejection letter.
It is daunting and heartbreaking, especially if you only applied to a few schools instead of many. Some may get a rejection letter in the first round, or some make it past the interview stage and then get rejected. I am not going to sugar coat it, a rejection letter from your top school choice sucks. A rejection letter to any school you applied to sucks.
Let yourself feel the emotions you need to feel.
If you need to cry, cry, if you need to throw something, throw something (non-breakable items like a pillow). Do not try to pretend it is absolutely nothing. You put hours into making your Curriculum Vitae (CV) and resume look in tip-top shape. You poured your heart into your Statement of Purpose (SoP) and let the admission committee know why you are passionate about continuing your education at their school. You put so many hours into applying to grad schools, it is okay to feel upset or angry, but do not be angry at yourself. Do not be upset with yourself. You put your heart and soul into it, you did more than many about to be graduates who are deciding to not do further education. Afterward, do something you enjoy to take your mind off of it. Watch a movie, try a new recipe, have a spa day, do something that will help to calm you down and relax.
Then, look into other options. Even if you are still waiting to hear back from some schools, start early. An amazing option is looking into a Post-baccalaureate program in your field. These are generally 1-2 year programs that allow you to grow in your field. It can teach you skills that you might otherwise not get elsewhere. Many also help to better prepare you for getting into grad school in the future and make you a stronger candidate. Or you can jump into the workforce for a little bit that relates to what you want to accomplish in grad school. This gives you an edge on other applications by having experience in the real world that relates to what you are doing. It is a longer road than you may have planned, but it can bring you some amazing opportunity in the future.
Also look into why you may not have gotten the acceptance letter you wanted. Look at your GRE scores and compare them to past accepted students at that school. If they are below are right at others, study again and retake it. Bring your SoP and CV to a trusted professor or even one that is on the admissions committee at your school to review and give you pointers to make it stronger. Volunteer or shadow those in the field you want to enter. Gain some research experience. There are so many small details that can make and break your application in the eyes of the committee.
Use these pointers to become a stronger candidate when you apply again.
Do not let a rejection letter to break you down. Let the rejection letter to bring you up and make you a stronger candidate and a stronger person. It is not the end of the world if you get rejected, there are still so many options for you. Continue to chase your dreams of a Master's degree or a Doctorate, that rejection letter does not define you. You are more than a rejection letter.