To be or not to be (accepted): What to expect when the grad school letter comes in

Meagan Malesic, Asst. Features Editor

     For seniors in high school, few things are more excruciating than waiting to hear back from colleges about their acceptance decisions.  Four years later, it’s a process that few people would want to go through all over again – but unfortunately, many are.  Graduate school acceptance season is upon us, and for many, it feels like high school all over again.  With the universal decision date of April 15th quickly approaching, schools are beginning to send out their acceptance (or rejection) letters to anxious college students eager to hear back from their top-choice graduate programs.  But once you get that letter, what happens next?  There are four possible scenarios that can be expected following a graduate school letter, and each comes with decisions about what to do moving forward.

     The best-case scenario is of course that a graduate program will accept you with funding.  There are two types of funding that a school may offer you:  a fellowship or an assistantship.  A fellowship is the best-of-both-worlds type of funding, as it means that the school is paying you money in exchange just for you to attend their program, so you’re literally being paid to learn (pretty sweet, right?).  On the other hand, an assistantship means that the school is willing to give you money in exchange for additional work.  Some programs offer research assistantships, which would pay you in exchange for work as a research assistant, while other programs offer teaching assistantships.  In either of these scenarios, it’s important to keep in mind the amount of work and time that would be expected of you, and to ensure that you’re comfortable and capable of completing your graduate degree simultaneously.  

     Another still desirable choice is that a graduate program accepts you without funding.  This is still a great outcome and something to be excited about!  Also, just because a school doesn’t offer you money upfront doesn’t mean that they won’t offer you money eventually.  Sometimes, programs will offer money closer to the April 15th deadline as more prospective students make their decisions.  Additionally, its possible that schools may not offer any funding to first year graduate students, but will offer funding following the completion of this first year “trial period”.  In the meantime, looking up fellowship and scholarship applications online and applying to any possible assistantship programs through the school is a smart idea.  It’s always possible to find opportunities for funding that are not directly offered upfront to you by the program itself.  

     A third possible outcome is that a graduate program places you on a waiting list.  This absolutely does not mean that you should panic.  Being placed on a wait list is not a rejection.  Oftentimes, schools receive way more applications than they can possibly accept, meaning that you might be wait-listed behind students that are only slightly more qualified than you.  Additionally, it is extremely unlikely that every student that the school offers an acceptance to is going to choose to attend that school.  As the originally accepted students begin to confirm offers to other schools closer to the April 15th deadline, the graduate program that wait-listed you will begin to contact students like you in order to offer their second round of acceptances.  Keep in mind that this very well may happen after the April 15th deadline.  Waiting is definitely the most nerve-wracking part of this process, and it isn’t ideal to have to wait longer than everyone else, but a wait-list decision certainly isn’t a denial and there definitely are good odds that the program will eventually decide to offer you an acceptance.

     Finally, it is of course possible that a school can reject you.  This of course is understandably disheartening, especially if it is coming from your top-choice school.  However, use this opportunity as a time to self-reflect and better your chances in the future.  Try to figure out what went wrong.  Did you apply to too few schools?  Were all of the schools that you applied to too competitive and selective?  Take the time to review your applications and proofread them for possible weaknesses, from your statement of purpose to your recommendations to your academic record.  Is there any way to improve upon any of these areas?  Take this time to work on your resume.  Perhaps applying for an internship or a specific type of employment will help your chances of being accepted into a graduate program in the future.  Even though rejection letters can be brutal, it is important to not give up and realize that it is possible to strengthen your application and better yourself moving forward.

     Another final factor to keep in mind as you’re going through the acceptance process is finally selecting a program.  Keep in mind that the deadline is April 15th.  This gives you time to sit on acceptances and wait for as many potential offers to come your way as possible.  Eagerly accepting the first offer that a program sends your way, even if it is from your top choice school, is not necessarily the wisest idea.  Other schools may send you tempting offers with fellowships or other forms of funding, which may sway your decision one way or another.  Confirming an acceptance at a school is a fairly set-in-stone action, so taking your time to make the best final decision is crucial.

     Graduate acceptance season is both exciting and terrifying, as well as full of decisions about the future.  Being prepared for what to possibly expect from a graduate school letter can help you make the best decisions that you can make and help you pave the way to a successful future.  No matter what, regardless of the type of letter a graduate program sends you, it is important to stay positive and focused towards reaching your goals.  Best of luck on this next exciting chapter of your life.