Rejection stings. Hearing a graduate school application has been denied can be a tough pill to swallow after hours of studying for an admissions test, fine tuning a personal statement and hounding people for letters of recommendation. This news, however, shouldn't be the end of your journey.
"Students should never view an initial rejection as anything that's permanent," says Liesl Riddle, associate dean for MBA programs at the George Washington University School of Business. "It's just for that particular moment and with that particular class there wasn't a fit."
For determined candidates, reapplying is often the next step, but where do you start?
Several admissions directors and deans at various schools weighed in on whether prospective students should first ask why they were rejected.
"I think that it's probably a good idea, and in some cases they will get feedback from the admissions staff about things they can do to improve their chances of admissions," says Amy Hillman, dean of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
"And if they do get some coaching then I think it's really important to show the admissions team that they listened and tried to bring those new elements to the application next year."
[Avoid these errors when reapplying to medical school.]
Certain schools, such as Pennsylvania State University's Smeal College of Business, even have a policy for denied prospective students that grants applicants one-on-one feedback about their application between admission cycles.
But students should be mindful of approaching the admissions committee in a way that is respectful.
"If they write a professional letter that is sincere and asks for feedback, with a respect for the fact that the committee has made their decision and it is final, and they seek it in the spirit of wanting to truly improve, I would imagine many admissions people would read that as a positive thing," says Stacey Peeler, MBA admissions director at Smeal.
[Follow these steps if you are an accepted, wait-listed or denied MBA applicant.]
Sometimes the volume of applicants is just too high to allow the admissions committee to give feedback. At Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, for example, about 7,000 applicants apply for 166 seats, according to Donald Quest, assistant dean of students. Candidates should "pick the places they have a good chance of getting into," he says.
If a student is unable to get direct feedback, use these tips for strengthening your chances of future admittance.
-- Research the faculty: Show enthusiasm by inquiring about a professor's work, David Andrews, dean of the education school at Johns Hopkins University says.
"Find faculty members who are doing work that you're interested in. Pose a question to them via the Internet or another vehicle," he says.
Mentioning a faculty member whose work you admire in your application may also raise your chances of admittance, Andrews says. "If someone has mentioned my name in their letter of interest, that application will find its way to me one way or another, even if I'm not reviewing the applicants," he says.
-- Don't assume getting a master's in a different field will compensate for a low undergraduate GPA: "What you want is that extra [course work] to show that whatever your undergraduate GPA was, you've enrolled in a rigorous, tough additional degree program," says Nancy Rapoport, interim dean of the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada.
-- Get to know the school: "Attending any kind of information session" is one way prospective students can learn more about what a school is looking for, says Paula Wilson, director of MBA admissions at Georgia Tech's Scheller College of Business. If you can't attend an in-person information session, find out if the school's admissions committee hosts webinars.
-- Emphasize your interest in the field you wish to study: "Have you had activities that reflect a continued interest in medicine?" is one question Charles Mouton, dean of the school of medicine at Meharry Medical College, suggests aspiring physicians ask themselves when reapplying. He suggests doing volunteer work to strengthen an application.
"Those things speak to you as a future physician as well as an individual that will be successful at a particular medical school," Mouton says.
-- Hone your interviewing skills: Applicants should be able to discuss anything mentioned in their application, as well as current events that impact their field, such as health care reform, says Dimple Patel, director at the Office of Admissions for the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
"[They] don't need to know the ins and outs of health care reform," she says. "But I think having general knowledge of what's happening regarding health care reform or having an opinion about it is very important."
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