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For those who haven't made it in

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Iíve been away from writing long posts for a few weeks since classes picked up and, surprise, a PhD program is very difficult. But I wanted to write today now that itís officially April 16. What does this mean for you? Well for some of you it means that you made your decision about where you are going yesterday. And there is plenty of praise and excitement to go around with that. Iím not here to talk to you, though, at least not today. Today Iím here to talk to those who applied this year and had no offers to accept.

First of all, I want to tell you to not get down on yourself. You are not the first person that this has happened to, and you wonít be the last. Go through this board. Youíll see a handful of accounts of students just like you, and if you follow their posts, youíll notice that a lot of them finally ended up somewhere. I canít stress enough that this does not mean youíve failed and it does not mean your life plans are over. It just means that you need to do some of the things that Iíll talk about below.

Second, while you shouldnít get down on yourself, itís a perfectly legitimate response to feel upset. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that you feel. If you need to go into a corn field or whatever your stateís equivalent of a corn field is and scream the F word at the top of your lungs, do it. Allow yourself the opportunity to deal with the emotions that you have. But donít dwell on them.

Third, now that youíve accepted that you didnít get in to the schools you applied to, youíve had a chance to grieve, and havenít beaten yourself up, itís time to take a serious look at your application package. The first stop on this trip is to look at what schools you applied to. If you applied exclusively to schools that are Ivy League and the like, this is a great place for you to consider why you didnít get into these schools. The acceptance rates at the top schools are somewhere around 1% plus or minus 1. The sheer application volume they get in each year makes it a complete crapshoot even if you have a perfect GPA and some research experience. So if you went top 10 or bust this year, you should start thinking about what other schools would meet your research interests. There are plenty of schools and while it might sound great to say you are Dr. X from HBS, itís perfectly fine to say you are just Dr. X. All AACSB schools have merit and will give you the tools necessary to get a good job. Sure thereís an argument for the higher the better, but thatís not for this thread.

On this journey of self-reflection, you need to make a quick stop at GPA junction. This is probably the easiest thing to fix. If your GPA was less than stellar enroll in some classes now. Seriously, leave this page and get enrolled in some college courses that will be of value to you right this second. Get Aís in them. Done.

The next stop on the life-choices express should be your GMAT. Did you get that 90/90 percentile split? If not then go out and get some books and start studying. Score that sweet 750 and give schools no excuse not to look at your application. This is another easy fix.

Continuing on with this train metaphor, you should hear the conductor calling out the next stop as research experience central station. This is more difficult to deal with than the GPA or GMAT which can be fixed without much additional work. If your application was solid, but you were missing some research experience, you have a few options. First of all by research experience we do not mean that you have multiple A level publications. Definitely not. What we mean is that you have worked with a professor doing some form of research, that you have an idea what the research process is like from experimental design to data collection to analysis. You should know the word statistical package (although arguably not much more than that). You should be able to point to a specific project youíve worked on and be able to talk about research in a confident, albeit naÔve, manner.

If you didnít have research experience get it. Go to your local university and camp outside of a professors office. Offer to work for them for free and perhaps consider offering them your first child as payment for research experience. A lot of professors are awesome and will be more than willing to have someone come on doing data input for them.

If this isnít possible, consider getting a masterís degree. A lot of us have them. This will help with your GPA concerns as well as give you a chance to work on research. Iíd suggest choosing a masterís outside of, but adjacent to your field of interest. For marketing CB people, psych is a great choice. No matter what, and weíve said this time and time again, from day 1 get started on research. Every word out of your mouth should be research.

The next stop on the rails should be a quick check in with us. This is not a necessary stop, but if truly have no idea what went wrong, weíre here to help. Remember all of us (all of us) were rejected by at least one school (or I think we all were). We have plenty of experience with rejection and we might be able to give you a fresh perspective on what you can do to better your application. Unfortunately our advice is rarely a GPA issue. Weíll normally suggest that you get research experience and spread your applications wider.

The final stop is applicationville. Thatís right, get back on the horse. After youíve made the requisite changes reapply. That may not be for another 2 years while you do your masterís, or it may be again this fall. No matter what donít let this experience ruin the PhD experience for you.

Weíre all here to help. I hope weíve been a supportive community throughout this season. Believe me I do understand that this is a particularly difficult time for you. Donít allow people to minimize that. Feel what you feel, but get back out there.
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