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Things you should know:

  • It was not a dream school.
  • It was considered "safe/moderate" i.e. the kind of students who get in have more or less similar profiles like mine.
  • From graduate school student discussion forums , seems like no one else got rejected.
  • This really hurts. If this school rejects me, what hope do I have with others?
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You should analyse your application; if the factors that are easy to compare like grades, subjects, etc. leave you wondering then maybe your cover letter or your letters of recommendation were not compelling enough? –  superuser0 Feb 2 '14 at 13:44
    
@T.F. Could it be because I specified a very specific interest area which I thought the grad school was into. Is it possible that they rejected because it doesn't fit into what they do? –  pjamu Feb 2 '14 at 13:48
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Do you care to share the degree you sought after and possibly the school. Perhaps the studies were highly competitive fields and the application was submitted late in the review process and the spots were filled? –  Phlume Feb 2 '14 at 13:48
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seems like no one else got rejected — Rest assured, either many many others were rejected, or you should be happy they let you go. –  JeffE Feb 3 '14 at 7:45
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This is phrased like a question, but it's not the kind of question SE does well with, which would be a question that has a definite answer. This is more like a request for emotional support. –  Ben Crowell Feb 21 at 20:08

3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Speaking from purely personal experience, I wouldn't necessarily worry about it. Of course it's possible that your application was weak and that generally the other schools will feel the same way. On the other hand, it's also possible that something you wrote just didn't appeal to someone working on the applications at this particular school and you were looked over. In my own experience applying to graduate school I actually got rejected from some of my 'backup' schools but was accepted (and was given extra incentive to come to) one of my 'dream' schools.

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It can all depend on the mood of the person(s) on the day they happened to review your application. –  Ramrod Feb 21 at 6:23

Graduate admissions are very different than undergraduate admissions. In undergraduate admissions, you can generally predict where you'll be accepted and where you won't. But graduate admissions - particularly PhD programs - are significantly more complicated. Because of quotas and financial obligations, they have to try to pick, on the first round, students that they actually think will attend. The reason for this is because, once they make a financial offer, they know you can hold on to it until April 15 or something, and during that time, they can't allocate that money for anyone else.

So, if they see someone who is easily qualified for the school, but they suspect will get other, better offers, they'll likely just pass on that person in the first place, since they don't want to commit money to someone who won't end up attending. If they are mistaken about this, they may end up with a small and/or weak incoming cohort.

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(I would have merely posted this as a comment in response to gammapoint but my lowly reputation will not permit me.)

I was accepted by every program I applied to except my safety school.

My experience when applying to undergrad schools was pretty much the opposite: I only got in to one non-safety school.

My guess as to why something like this might happen is that sample sizes are a lot smaller (fewer applicants to a given grad program in a given year than to the undergraduate school), so your results are more likely to differ from what you expect.

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