I Know I Will Be Rejected and It’s OK with Me: The Road to Graduate School

At the McNair Senior Retreat held last weekend in the Wisconsin Dells, graduate school admissions guru Don Asher asked the students in the audience to turn to their neighbors and practice saying “I know I will be rejected and it’s OK with me”.  Being rejected happens on the road to the PhD program of your dreams, and it is nothing to fear!  Indeed, being rejected by several graduate school programs is a sign that you are doing things right, because you will have applied to 8 to 12 programs nationwide and you will not have self-selected out by not applying to Ivy League and other top programs.  Don Asher encouraged the graduate school hopefuls to get out there and be rejected by Berkeley!  Be rejected by Harvard!  Apply to a range of programs, from “safety” schools all the way to “reach” programs to find where you fit.

NMU McNair Scholars Keara Kangas and Katie Biang traveled to Wisconsin with McNair Coordinator Jennifer Broadway to attend the weekend workshop.  On Friday evening there was a graduate student panel which included NMU McNair alum Quentin Sprengelmeyer, now a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin.  The graduate students shared their experiences in getting into grad school and what it is like now that they are there.

From nine to five on Saturday, Don Asher presented information about getting into graduate school and getting funded, writing the statement of purpose, and other application considerations and words of wisdom.  A very engaging presenter, Mr. Asher made a rather daunting topic fun and interesting.  He pointed out that the unemployment rate among PhDs is 3%, and that research shows that people with PhDs tend to enjoy autonomy in their work and be happy in their careers.

“It’s been swell.  Bye!”  We turned to our neighbors to practice this line in anticipation of needing to break up with our undergraduate significant other as we move on to post-graduate education.  “If they love you, they will support you.  If they don’t, they won’t”, Don Asher said.

The completion rates for PhDs is 57%, the same as for bachelor’s degrees.  Mr. Asher argued that DRIVE is the most important factor in completing the degree, the willingness to keep getting up after setbacks.  He talked about the “imposter syndrome”, the universal feeling that you don’t really belong in a doctoral program, or that you don’t really deserve that PhD, and he suggested that people shouldn’t think of graduate work as an intelligence test but rather as a training program.  His advice was to work hard and you will build up confidence over time.

“Fit and match trump grades and scores.”  This is Don Asher’s mantra.  He talked about how to select the grad programs to which you will apply as well as calendar considerations to keep in mind during the application cycle.  He talked about the different kinds of funding packages that might be offered and how to correspond and negotiate with faculty.  He encouraged visiting programs in person if you can, especially during fall preview weekends and spring meet and greets, as this is often when funding decisions are made.

Don Asher talked about other application considerations, like how to write your Statement of Purpose, and how to get accepted even without great undergraduate grades or high scores on standardized tests, as well as strategies for your letters of recommendation.  Once you’re in, he discussed things to consider in selecting your PhD committee, and jobs you can get with a doctorate in addition to those in academia.

Don Asher is the author of numerous books on these topics, and they are available to borrow from the McNair Scholars offices.  Anyone considering graduate school can learn a lot from this expert in the field!



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