Not being accepted to grad school changed my perspective of failure


I have known since second year that I wanted to go to graduate school, get my master’s degree and earn my PhD. So, from the summer between second and third year to the October of my final year, I did lots of research.

I looked into different schools in Canada and abroad, as well as their respective reputations. I contacted professors and program administrators to ask about their areas of research and the master’s programs. I even took a “victory lap” year in order to complete a second bachelor of arts degree to improve my chances to getting into the program I wanted.

By November, I contacted three previous professors who agreed to be references for me. One is a professor and director of a prestigious institute, another is an associate professor and was my thesis supervisor the previous year. The last is only a full-time lecturer but has been published numerous times and has spoken at many conferences.

By December, I finished all of the applications and necessary supplementary applications to the six schools I applied to. Based on my grades (which met all of the minimum requirements), my multitude of involvement on campus and (what I assumed were) great letters of reference, I thought I stood a very good chance of being accepted.

In mid-February, I got my first letter. It read (more or less):

Dear Danielle,

We regret to inform you that since we had so many applicants for few many spots we could not accept you this year. Good luck in your future endeavours.

From, Graduate Coordinator

Or, more simply put: Dear Danielle, you’re not good enough for us. Love, School.

Within the next few days, I got two other similar letters, and in the next month I was declined from the remaining three schools.

To say the least, I was devastated. I worked my ass off for three years, but to no avail. This also meant that all subsequent plans would not be materializing for the upcoming autumn. To make it worse, another person I knew who applied to the same program, but with less education than me, was accepted. Simultaneously, many of my friends and acquaintances who applied for teacher’s college were accepted.

Thoughts of FAILURE kept running through my head.

Since I had nothing to lose, I decided I might as well email the directors of some of the programs to find out exactly why I wasn’t accepted. One program only accepted nine students and had 57 applicants. Two others explained my area of interest was too far outside the department. One suggested I should have applied for a sociology master’s, which I found incredibly surprising considering I have never taken any sociology courses.

After all of that the research, the time and the money spent I still did not get what I wanted. But that’s not to say that I never will. I suppose despite the losses, I still gained perspective on my future.

I think the most important thing I’ve come to accept is even though I’m not going to be attending grad school this September, it doesn’t mean I will never go. If I choose to do so, I can re-apply for next September. Or I can apply in a few years after doing a post-graduate program in college or working for a few years.

Having come to terms with the fact that I need to change my direction for the short-term, at this point all I need to do is figure out what path to start on.

Photo credit: Danielle Lorenz