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Impacts of Academic
Rejection & How to Handle It

Written By:

Brianna H. Vanderstelt

Publishing Date: 

June 2, 2023

Rejection stings. Whether social, romantic, or career-related - in all contexts, being rejected can be hurtful and sometimes lasting. Unfortunately, academic rejection is no different. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned throughout my schooling is that I won’t always get what I want. In other words, there’s a genuine possibility of rejection with any risk I take. While all rejection can be upsetting, academic rejection often left me questioning my passion, career path, and who and what I wanted to be. It might also bring about emotions of inadequacy, confusion, anger, or jealousy. Halasyamani and Tolman (2018), members of the review board for articles submitted to the scientific journal Inorganic Chemistry, compare the feelings of rejection to the five stages of grief. Due to the impact academic rejection has on one’s self-esteem, confidence, and mental health, it’s worthwhile to share some of the difficult but essential lessons learned from facing rejection in the academic space.

Academic success nor failure is correlated with your worth. Although rejection can often feel like a personal attack, it’s crucial to recognize that it never truly is. Numerous factors go into these decisions, some having nothing to do with the applicant. Sometimes, it can be as simple and petty as a committee member having a bad day.

Rejection is an issue of fit. Related to the above point, rejection is not about you not being “good enough”; instead, it’s more about not being a good match for whatever it is you are applying for. Pre-established rules, values, missions, and even culture can tie into the decision-making process. Will you fit in with those around you? Do you fit in with the university's values, scholarship, team, etc.?

Reframe the way you think about rejection. If rejection doesn’t define you and it’s an issue of fit, then it would make sense to not perceive rejection as failure. Instead, I advocate thinking of rejection as an opportunity. For instance, consider how you can now spend that time and effort you would’ve dedicated to whatever you tried out for. Perhaps you’ll be able to pay it elsewhere, gaining new experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise.

It’s okay to sit with your feelings, but don’t dwell. As with all things in life, you’ll likely have a visceral reaction to academic rejection, especially if it was for something you wanted. As discussed by Nemours Kids Health Medical Experts (n.d.), you should acknowledge and take note of your feelings. Don’t ignore them, but don’t obsess over them, either. Finding coping mechanisms that work for you when those feelings come about will be beneficial.

Be aware of your thoughts and correct or challenge the overly negative ones. Also explained by Nemours Kids Health Medical Experts (n.d.), you should consider how you think about rejection. Self-blaming or putting yourself down will only make you feel worse and prolong these negative emotions. For instance, instead of telling yourself, “I got rejected because I’m incompetent,” say, “I got rejected because it just wasn’t the right fit for me,” or “it wasn’t my time.”

Everyone faces rejection. One of the adverse side effects of being in a space that praises and prides itself on success, such as academia, is that the misses and failures aren’t talked about. However, everyone faces academic rejection. When there are only so many opportunities or spots and numerous applicants, rejection is a guarantee in everyone’s academic career.

While not an exhaustive list, these are some hard-earned lessons when faced with academic rejection. In the end, you may not be able to control rejection, but you can manage your response. Most importantly, don’t let the fear of rejection prevent you from trying. Avoiding academic rejection and not putting yourself out there may save your feelings, but it won’t bring success.


Halasyamani, P. S., & Tolman, W. B. (2018). The five stages of rejection. Inorganic Chemistry, 57(9), 4789–4790.

Nemours Kids Health Medical Experts (Ed). (n.d.). Rejection and how to handle it (for teens). KidsHealth.

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