Rejection: 3 Lessons From My Graduate Application Process

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Rejection: 3 Lessons From My Graduate Application Process

In the last few months, I have experienced one of the largest upsets in my plan for building the skills needed to make a difference in this world.

But before we can get to that it is important that you know what keeps me up at night.

I want to study decision sciences. Developing a stronger empirical understanding of how people make choices and using that information to structure decision environments is my thing. I think we can take advantage of human psychology because a stronger foundation based on what we actually are- human- can only strengthen the systems we use to assisting those in need.

I am enamored by it all. So after graduating undergraduate, I ventured into the land of Graduate studies; GRE, application essays, references, research programs, etc. I wanted to find a new home, one that would provide even better opportunities to meet with top performers in their fields; I wanted safety from the uncertainty that was inevitable now that my time had run out at Shippensburg University.

For Fall 2018 I applied to 6 graduate schools, all of which were Ph.D. programs in psychology.

But I failed.

I was rejected from every single school on the merits of a large and exemplary application pool.
I was not the one.

Though all was not lost. I find that the experience still ended up being a powerful tool for my future as a growing expert in psychology and continues to be a reference for what I need to remember in becoming my greatest self.

Here are the 3 lessons from my graduate application process. My hopes are that you will heed these lessons for any of your long-term plans.


I had confidence.

I had just finished undergrad in three years, jamming the experience with clubs, conferences, and research. I ended finishing school Summa Cum Laude, and highly recommend by professors for a career in academics.

While this is great and all, I allowed these allocations to blind me from the likelihood of failure. So, I applied to only the best schools, schools I thought deserved me, someone, that I knew could do anything because of my work ethic and enthusiasm.

But I was wrong.

I saw myself as a statically anomaly when in reality I was just another person with the same 3-9% chance of acceptance.

Overconfidence took over. 

Yet without the rejection, I’m not so sure if I would have been able to see that with the same respect that I do now. It’s only through reevaluating my own significance was I able to see that I was overshooting it. I was betting against the math.

I now know to warrant my risks with some type of security. It would have been easy to apply to master’s programs around in my field of study, but I only saw what I wanted as a potential reality and closed off the idea that anything else was even an option.


Plans are nothing; planning is everything. - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Building on top of my overconfidence, I proceeded to think about only futures that included graduate studies as the next plan. But when I got the news, I was served with a big bowl of uncertainty with a side of 'you-screwed-yourself'—or at least these were my initial thoughts.

We all need a plan.

Yet nothing about a plan states that it ought to go according to its outline. Its only after having my big plan fall apart was I able to embrace planning for very different futures and not just slight variations on the same thing.

Plans for the future now look nothing alike. I need to be fluid. Fit and able to move into any future so long as I remember my ultimate vision. When we become more accepting of a plans ability to fail, it’s easier to then build hundreds of outlines for what is to come. These models for addressing plan permanence detach us from any set expectations while ensuring we are always moving towards our individual higher purpose.


I was scared.

I was afraid of what a future looked like, so attaching to yet another institution was my way of numbing the sensations that I felt about the unknown. But as that plan quickly started to go sour, it became inevitable that I would have to face uncertainty. Yet instead of allowing the void to consume me for the worse, I fell forward and accepted all that the unknown had to offer.

You gotta let go and let it happen.

As I pack for my 2-month backpacking excursion to India in a few days, I’ll continue to build my presence as a digital influencer and prepare for another round of applications. Maybe I’ll get my Ph.D., maybe I’ll work for the peace corps, or maybe I’ll move to California. It makes no difference. No longer am I going to attach to any specific outcome, because I know how things can change. What’s most important is that my aim to live a life full of purpose—one that shares what I have learned about the world with others—is steadfast.

This experience has taught me the profound benefits of the inevitable life rejection. Rejection is no indicator of our capabilities to grow, it’s a messenger who is helping guide us to find what we’re missing. Just as I learned the 3-powerful lesson above only because of the rejection, I hope that your intentional life is full of rejections that inspire you to change for growth.

My Motto: Today is the best day of my life

I treat every day as the best day of my life because no matter the praise, disappointment, obstacles, or success I know that I am doing everything that is in my control to live to the standards of my greatest self.

How? It all starts with my 5 habits. Find out more here.