After the sweat, tears, and blood poured into the application process, nothing can be more soul-crushing than a series of rejection letters from school after school. The more in-demand the grad school program, the more strenuous the application process, and the greater the chances of receiving rejections. For instance, according to the latest Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) data, only 41.93% of medical school applicants in the US actually matriculated. That means over 50% of applicants went through all the trouble and expense of applying to med school and then got rejected anyway!

The mental toll this takes on students can often discourage them from re-applying and following through on their dreams. However, failure isn’t always the end of the road. In fact, it can be a stepping stone to success, IF you can maintain a positive attitude, learn from your mistakes, and keep your dream alive. A lot of students who do not get admission to their dream college, or the program of their choice, take some time to work on themselves, apply again, and find success a second time. How? Let’s find out.

Swap the “failure” mindset for an “improvement” mindset

Understandably, admissions season rejections cause stress, anxiety, and depression among students. It’s easy to get into a highly self-critical mode and dwell on your “failure” as a final and absolute fact of life. It’s important to process these feelings so you can move on from the “failure” mindset to an “improvement” mindset. That’s when you see the opportunity that has opened up for you to gain new perspectives and enhance your list of achievements before you try again next year.

Start by carefully reevaluating your application so you can assess your areas for improvement. Then, take the time to work on yourself so you can put your best foot forward. Many students take a gap year and use that time to work on various admissions requirements such as their GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and so on. For instance, med school applicants often use the gap year to re-take the MCAT so they can get a good MCAT score.

Revise your application strategy

While hard work and self-improvement is important, you also have to be strategic about the application process. Take the time after you’ve been rejected to not only consider your own areas for improvement, but to also evaluate the specific prerequisites of the schools you’re applying to. What’s the point of applying to schools you know won’t even consider you based on your GPA, coursework, test scores, or extracurriculars? But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on those schools. You can consider completing a special masters’ program or a postbac program to help you meet the coursework and/or GPA requirements of your dream school. If you’re struggling with improving your test scores, consider taking the help of a tutor. For the more difficult entrance exams such as the LSAT or MCAT, prep courses providing intensive classroom coaching are also available. If there’s any one component you’re finding extremely challenging, whether it’s prerequisite coursework or entrance tests, you can also focus on prioritizing applications to schools that don’t consider that component at all – for instance, there are always med schools that don’t require the MCAT but ask for strong GPAs, or grad schools that don’t specify any prerequisite courses but focus on applicants’ extracurricular experiences. You can maximize your chances of success by prioritizing schools where you’re an ideal candidate.

Re-define your narrative

You can’t control how an admissions committee thinks or how they will judge you. What is in your control? Putting your best foot forward by making sure each and every aspect of your application is as close to perfect as possible. A crucial aspect of any application is the personal statement, and other required essays. These written materials are geared towards showcasing your best qualities and suitability for the program and you might want to re-define your written narrative to ensure you’re standing out from the crowd. A good personal statement or essay can help admissions committees pick between two otherwise equal candidates. So, take a really introspective look at yourself, and spin a tale out of your experiences that is worth listening to!


It’s not easy to pick yourself back up after you’ve fallen down and keep working with determination towards your goals. If you can find the courage to do just that, you’ll find the success that you seek. Remember, if you can show significant improvement since your last application and a strong growth mindset, admissions committees will be impressed by your perseverance and determination and may just decide to give you that long-awaited “yes”!