If My Grad School Rejections Were Breakups


Madison Choi

Being rejected from grad school was like being broken up with over and over again.

Rejection. Six rejections to be exact. Sent in the form of emails that read like a bad breakup spiel, beginning with pleasantries, delivering the fatal blow, and ending with a nice sentiment that only heightened the desire to clear my browser history and end it all.

Each was a variation of: “Thank you for your interest in the ___________ PhD program at ___________ University. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer you admission. We received hundreds of applicants and could only accept a few. Our ultimate decision is not a reflection of any specific weakness of your application.”

Being rejected from every graduate program I applied to has been the greatest disappointment of my life. Dramatic? Maybe. My truth? Completely. Mourning the death of my dream of attending grad school in the fall has been like grieving the end of a relationship, and I can only begin to describe my emotions in the context of a great romance.

Below, I compare each of my grad school rejections (listed in the order I received them) to every breakup women in their 20s know all too well.

University of Southern California – I received my first rejection from the infamous USC dude on January 17. His was a terse email with no easily identifiable sender, only with “Important Notification” in the subject line. Unfazed by the seemingly inconspicuous message, my eyes skimmed the short email without urgency or importance. That is, until I clicked on the attached Word document that informed me of my rejection. The sheer confusion left by the casual Word document dissolved any feeling of devastation that would have been present had the news been relayed differently.

USC is the immature man-boy who breaks up with you via text. Your feelings are of minute value to this fraternity bro, and he can’t muster up the courage to deliver the bad news to your face. So he decides to craft a two-sentence text message that he hopes will infuriate you enough that you’ll never speak to him again, meaning he’s off the hook for the adult conversation he should’ve had with you in the first place.

Washington University in St. Louis – I went on my breakup date with WashU on February 6. I opened my email to find one from him saying “The review of your application is now complete and can be viewed on your application portal.” Presuming I had had a decent shot at getting in, I figured I’d been accepted and had to log into my portal to review a bunch of documents explaining my funding package and next steps. To my surprise, it wasn’t an acceptance at all. Just a short rejection letter. Why I couldn’t have been notified in the body of that email, I don’t know.

WashU is the cute midwestern guy who wears flannel shirts and sports a beard regardless of if it’s pumpkin spice latte season. You’ve been dating for a considerable amount of time and it seems like everything is perfect, you have the same hobbies, you both love dogs, and he watches “The Real Housewives” with you free of complaint. So when he decides to take you on an extravagant date that ends with him making a drawn-out speech about how it’s him and not you, you’re heartbroken and taken totally by surprise.

Brown University – As delusional as it sounds, Brown was my top choice for grad school. Knowing full well that Brown, an Ivy League, is obscenely competitive, I knew that if I could just get in I would convince my program I was the right choice. So reading Brown’s rejection first thing in the morning on February 15 felt like a punch in the gut. I will never be good enough for Brown.

Brown is perfect. He is unattainable in the most irresistible way. Unless you’re someone important like Kate Middleton’s hairdresser or inventor of Snapchat, you’ve got no shot at winning his affections. But you try anyway. Even though you and Brown never actually date, you still find yourself crying off your mascara when he tells you he’s not interested.

University of Oregon – On March 5 I received my rejection email from UO. There was no Word document attached or instructions to log into my application portal. The fine print was simply in the body of the email. Only I was being rejected from the English Department’s masters program, which I did not apply to. Fifty-nine minutes later, I got another email, the first few words being “My apologies, due to a system error…” For a second of elation, I think the rejection was the mistake. But no. I was still rejected, just from the correct program. I didn’t have a burning desire to go to UO, but it was one of my safety schools. With the options dwindling, this double blow felt worse than it should have.

UO is the guy who works at a marijuana dispensary, always has a thick layer of dirt caked underneath his fingernails from weekends spent in the woods, and looks like he hasn’t showered in days. He’s not your ideal man, but you know he’ll always be there when you need him. Until he sends you a breakup text that he meant to send to his friend for review before sending it to you. But quickly realizing his mistake sends a following apology text that he’s sorry it had to be this way, but it’s for the best. It’s not like you wanted to marry the guy, but you were counting on him to be your date through wedding season.

Madison Choi
The correction email from University of Oregon, notifying me that I was still rejected.

University of California, Berkeley – When March 7 came along and I received an email from Berkeley, I knew the news wouldn’t be good. The program I applied to is reputable, but I recognized it wasn’t a great fit. Sure enough, I was rejected. Now that Berkeley was officially crossed off the list, only one school remained. Despite my anxiety, I was convinced I’d get into my final school. With all the hard work I put into the last four years, all of the opportunities I seized, and all the recognition I received, I had to get in somewhere. There would surely be a last-minute pull through.

Similar to Brown, Berkeley is the guy who acts like he’s too good for you. You’ll never be able to keep up with his record collection, stay up-to-date on the hottest underground artists, or accompany him to protests where violence is guaranteed to ensue. The breakup with Berkeley was never a question of if, just when.

University of California, Riverside – On March 15 came my final rejection from UCR. It was the shortest email I received and the one that hurt the most. Even through months of hearing one no after another, I never fully gave up hope that my dream of attending grad school would be realized. So to finally have all the answers, none in my favor, my heart was broken. Self-doubt and disappointment have been my constant companions throughout this process, emotions I have never experienced so strongly in such a short amount of time. Now I am left with the question “what happens next?”

The breakup with UCR is the one that ruins you completely. It’s the devastating blow that makes you question the existence of love and if life has any meaning without him. It’s the kind of breakup that sends you into an emotional downward spiral. You start to avoid friends and family just to dodge the subject. You stay in bed all weekend binge-watching rom coms, imagining what your future would have been like if you stayed with him. Your relationship with UCR is the one that you placed so much hope in and wanted so badly to work out, only to end in rejection and leave you feeling like you weren’t good enough.

For the last 17 years, I have been a student, and throughout that time have never had to consider the big, glaring question “what next?” As an obsessive planner, my life has always been mapped out in a straight line, no detours in sight. Not anymore.

“No,” they said. No to my plan. No to the future I saw for myself.

But maybe no to grad school means yes to something else, something better. Maybe those rejections, like all confusing and painful breakups, are leading to that one satisfying and long-awaited yes. To the love of my life too perfect to be planned for.