Moving Forward After Grad School Rejections

As an undergrad, I heard it’d be hard to get into grad school—that my GPA would be incredibly important, and one “B” could keep me from my dreams of becoming an SLP. Suddenly, it was my senior year and time to apply to grad programs. My GPA was a 3.6 and I had a couple Bs. I was nervous.

I hopped onto ASHA EdFind and found a list of schools I hoped I had a chance with. I felt defeated and unmotivated, but there was no other option than to apply. I used almost all of my savings to apply to 9 schools in 3 states. After months of anticipation and constantly refreshing my email, I ended up on 2 waitlists and 7 rejections. Ultimately, I wasn’t accepted.

I watched everyone else posting online about their acceptance letters. I wondered what my start date would have been and what my first semester of classes would have looked like if I’d been accepted too. I didn’t know how to reply to family members who asked why I didn’t get accepted. I didn’t have an answer beyond, “It’s just so competitive.” As the first member of my family to continue with higher education, I felt completely alone and defeated.

Getting “Back on the Horse”

After my mourning period, I got motivated. This was just an initial setback … it wouldn’t be the end result. I immersed myself in the world of speech-language pathology as best I could.

I supported myself financially, so finding time to volunteer was hard. Luckily, my full-time job at Starbucks allowed me to work from 3:30 am to noon, which left plenty of time to volunteer during “normal” hours. I started volunteering 4 hours a week at The Help Group—a non-profit specializing in children and adolescents with autism—where I was exposed to different materials, observed sessions and, most importantly, picked my supervisor’s brain about the profession.

I also volunteered at Justine Sherman & Associates, where I learned how to track data, became more familiar with therapy materials for pediatric clients, and collaborated with multiple SLPs. Even spending just a couple hours each week there, I was able to network, ask for advice, and discover my interests.

I didn’t stop there. After some research, I found a camp hosted by The Aphasia Network in Portland, Oregon. They partnered with Pacific University’s grad students to create a non-traditional weekend for adults with aphasia. What an amazing opportunity! Regardless of not knowing anyone, I bought the $250 plane ticket and volunteered.

Then, I volunteered at the 2017 ASHA Convention in Los Angeles. And I went with a plan to make myself heard. I networked at the Graduate School Fair and talked to directors, deans, and professors about how my GPA didn’t define me. I explained how my life’s hardships shaped me into the person I am today, how working full-time while being a student is far more difficult than it sounds, and how tough it is when you can’t ask anyone around you to review your personal statement because you are the person everyone in your family looks up to.

Hard Work and Perseverance Really Does Pay Off

A couple of years passed, and although I hadn’t been a student during that time, I gathered all of this volunteer experience and attacked my second round of grad school applications.

I applied to schools that I’d been waitlisted at, years before. But this time, I had more to offer. In my essays, I shared how I didn’t let my circumstances hold me back from my dream. Instead, I immersed myself in the field and created volunteer opportunities. I showed just how determined I was to become an SLP, and how I used the waitlist experience to grow—as a person, as a student, and as a future SLP.

It paid off—I was accepted into Pacific University! During my interview, I learned about their holistic approach to reviewing applications. They didn’t just value my GPA, but my experiences, hardships, and story as well. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a part of their program. Fast forward a couple more years, and I just graduated from Pacific University (Class of 2020, woot woot!).

5 Tips on Moving Forward If You Didn’t Get Accepted into Grad School

Applying to grad school is more than hard—it raises anxiety you didn’t know was there, increases self-doubt, and creates unnecessary competitiveness amongst each other. It’s heartbreaking if, after all of your hard work, you don’t get accepted.

But use all of that negative energy and turn it into positives. It may not feel like it, but you can change your destiny. Before moving forward with a second round of grad school applications, I suggest:

  1. Volunteering: Find as many CSD-related volunteer experiences as you can during your “gap year.” If you can find experiences across different settings, even better! You’ll be able to use these experiences to find your passion and show grad programs how you’ve continued to learn and grow.
  2. Being Picky with Program Selections: You may feel desperate but apply to schools that align with your values and goals. Pacific University has a holistic review process, which really resonated with me when I was applying. I fundamentally believed in their approach.
  3. Tailoring Your Resume: When drafting your resume, be specific and tailor your resume to each program! Don’t just say you shadowed an SLP . . . explain how the experience impacted you as a future SLP.
  4. Having Your Resume Reviewed: Be selective when choosing your application reviewers. You don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen … it may leave you more confused than when you started. Pick someone who’s been through the process before, or a previous professor or supervisor.
  5. Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: Practice introducing yourself, smiling, and interviewing. We’re not perfect, but don’t forget that soft skills matter!

You Will Persevere

Everyone’s experience through the grad application process is different. It may take some—like me—a little longer to get that acceptance letter. If you didn’t receive an acceptance letter this spring, don’t be discouraged. Pick yourself up and keep moving forward!

Seek out opportunities in areas that interest you or that you’re curious about. These opportunities will help you better shape your resume and application submission. It may be a little harder now due to COVID-19, but opportunities are still out there—get creative and find them!

When you go through the application process again, choose programs that have curriculum that lines up with your beliefs, values, and dreams. Tailor your resume and application to each program and don’t be afraid to talk about your perseverance through hardships.

At the end of the day … be proactive and persistent. You’re the only one stopping you from accomplishing your dreams.

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