Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Turn your rejection letter into a useful learning experience
Bummed: I was not accepted into the grad program I had applied to. While I understand that only 12 people were accepted, I can't shake the feeling of being a complete failure. I know I'm still young (24) and have plenty of time to get where I want to be. I just feel like I'm wasting time.
Also, I'm stuck at an entry-level job with no hope of moving up in a field that doesn't interest me. I've applied for other jobs online in a more interesting field, with no success.
What do I do? I'm trying to look on the bright side but am having trouble finding it.
Carolyn: First, I'm sorry you didn't get into the program you wanted.
Second, I'm sorry to all the other people who didn't get into that grad program, because only 12 of you did, which means a certain school just dispensed a whole lot more bad news than good.
Third, welcome, Bummed and everyone else, to the biggest club in the world: Rejects! Everybody becomes one at some point. You know the It's a Wonderful Life conceit, that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings? Well, every time you hear a "ding," an applicant just got smoked.
Since you've crossed over to the other side, here's the welcome packet (a fat envelope!), with the basic steps for ding recovery:
(1) Grieve. Have your ding dinner with your friends, or go get a massage, or go to the gym every day for the next two weeks, or whatever cheers you up.
(2) Get over your narrow self. Whatever it was you wanted — be it a job or a date or a program — there are others to be had. Other jobs, other people, other programs. If you applied only to this program, then widen your sights.
(3) Realize there's no such thing as wasted time, unless you choose to treat it as such. Even if you're just boxing up widgets to feed, clothe and shelter yourself, that's not wasting time — that's surviving. Give yourself credit for that much. And then, build on it: You don't want just to survive, you want to (blank).
Whatever you can do toward (blank) is your main concern now, and keeps this time from being wasted, as you continue boxing widgets.
Anonymous: For Bummed: A lot of grad programs really look toward work experience when deciding who to accept, so try to switch over to the field you're interested in. This will give you a better glimpse at the industry, too, before you drop all that cash (and time) on grad school.
Carolyn: I.e., passive job-hunting won't cut it. Thanks.
Anonymous: To Bummed: This is the perfect situation for some informational interviews. Research a company that has your dream job. Ask your friends if anyone has a contact there, or find a connection from his/her online bio (you can always open with "I read your article on blah blah . . . "). E-mail that contact and ask for an informational interview so you can learn about the skill and education requirements.
Carolyn: Excellent. One more thing: Given "Bummed's" age and the current job famine, "entry-level" isn't a personal slight.