by the Científico Latino Team
You applied to graduate schools but come April you did not receive any offers or did not get into the top schools of your choice. During this difficult time, you may be thinking, Did I prepare enough for graduate school? Should I apply to Master’s programs instead? What is the next step I should take? What are my options?
"First of all, do not take graduate school rejections personally or see it as a reflection on your skills as a scientist. Before you decide to reapply again the next cycle, think about how you can improve your application."
As graduate students who were also not accepted the first time we applied, we want to share options that are available to you:
1) Work as a Lab Technician — You can work as a lab tech for a year or two to build up your research experience and possibly even get a paper out your work. Choose the right lab wisely; work with an HHMI professor, Nobel laureate, or a PI who is well known in the field of study you want to go into. The letter of recommendation from this PI will definitely help you to get an interview.
One of the advantages of going this route is that, depending on the school where you have a lab tech position, you can take graduate school classes. These are sometimes even reimbursed or discounted by your employer, which can help when graduate school applications come around again.
Being a lab technician is a great opportunity to work on research full-time, help you develop your scientific abilities, and confirm that graduate school is really the right fit for you. You can read more here.
2) Do a Post-Baccalaureate — You can take part in a post-baccalaureate program in which you receive a stipend to do research for 1-2 years, take graduate school classes, and take the time to prepare and focus on the GREs and application essays. Most importantly, post-baccalaureates give you the opportunity to devote your time to a research project. Through your project, you can gain perspective as to what completing a research thesis requires, explore your fields of interest, and broaden your skill set and knowledge in science. Remember that post-baccalaureates are becoming an increasingly common step to take before applying to graduate school. Having experience doing research full-time will make you a more serious candidate.
Experience as a lab technician or a post-baccalaureate can also give you the opportunity to network with grad students and postdocs and reach out to faculty who could help you prepare for applications and interviews, as well as write letters of recommendation. Moreover, after post-baccalaureate experience, you will have a better idea of what you are looking for in a research thesis lab and a graduate program. If you end up staying the same institution for graduate school, you will also be able to easily identify professors you want to rotate with to decide on your thesis lab.
You can learn more about what this program entails here.
You can also check out our list of post-baccalaureate programs.
3) Do a Master’s — While this can be a more expensive option, if you have large gaps in your relevant science coursework, this could be a good way to get you on an even track for graduate programs. Certain PhD programs even allow you to apply to the Master’s program with the same application, so you can be admitted directly to the Master’s program in the event that you aren’t accepted into the PhD program. Some institutions also allow you to transition from the Master’s program into the PhD program, allowing you to get coursework out of the way, and saving time before graduating with your doctorate.
4) Improve GRE Scores — Many graduate school or department websites have information about basic requirements for acceptance. Some schools have a cutoff minimum score as a baseline applicant filter, while others consider the GRE score as one piece of the whole application. One has the option to report the most recent score or all scores, so an improvement can replace a previous low score. If your transcripts are low in a particular area, it might also be worth considering taking a subject GRE test to indicate your proficiency.
Whatever you decide, it is best to get started at the end of March so you can have something lined up by the summer. All of these experiences will shape you into a better scientist, give you more research experience, a strong letter of recommendation, and a more competitive application.