My favorite Teaching Assistant applied to PhD programs this year and just got a letter from her favorite school.
Even if you are the world’s greatest TA or the world’s greatest GRE test-taker, getting into a PhD program is a still a gamble. Professors who were great TAs look for great TAs; professors who were great GRE-takers look for great GRE-takers. But some top schools have a 2-5% acceptance rate, and you just don’t know who’s on the admission committee.
Tons of people don’t get in to a PhD program the first time they try. But lots of people who try again, do get in. Here’s what five of them did (and where they went).
• Moved back to home town, joined Toastmasters to improve their
public speaking, and took the GRE three times to raise
their score (University of Miami)
• Worked for $10.50/hour as a research assistant and published
2 papers (Northwestern)
• Taught nights at a community college, worked days as a consulting
firm, and unsuccessfully tried to publish their masters thesis (Stanford)
• Took a job at a marketing research firm and volunteered their
weekends help a local marketing professor with his projects (University
• Learned German at the Goethe Institute, sat in on PhD classes in
Gottingen, and earned a glowing reference letter from a top scholar (Yale)
There’s at least two common denominators here. First, the didn’t give up – they didn’t take their rejection letters as bad omens. Second, they course-corrected. They changed gears in different ways to strengthen their case for the next year. The year I got rejected from seven PhD programs (including Cornell) ended up being a surprisingly fun and empowering year. But every day had an overarching purpose.
The “P” in PhD stands for perseverance. Sometimes that P has to start a year earlier than we want.
Good luck this year. Or good perseverance for next.