Careers Future Student-made

Dealing with Academic Rejection

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The path to your dream career is rarely straightforward. For many people, attending university and attaining a degree is the first in many steps in qualifying themselves to achieving their life goals. If you are like me and have your life planned out, when things go wrong it can feel like the end of the world.

Upon looking at the masters’ programmes available at the University of Manchester, I knew that forensic psychology was something that I wished to pursue. I had done well in the module during my second year achieving an 80 in the essay and close to a first in the group project. I thought I stood a good chance of getting onto a course I felt really passionate about. It wasn’t until I looked closely at the entry requirements for the course that I started to doubt myself.

The course required a 2:1 in every research methods and statistics module throughout my degree. I was 2% off this criterion in an exam done in first year. After emailing the forensic psychology masters’ director, it was confirmed that I would not be able to study on this course. Not only that, but it became clear that I would not be able to study any psychology masters in the city that I had grown to love over the past couple years. This felt like the worst-case scenario. I started to doubt my ability to achieve my career goals.

After a couple days of anxiety, I decided I should do something. I contacted my academic advisor to arrange a meeting the following week. While my supervisor was sympathetic to the stress I was under, she managed to put my mind at ease. She suggested that I should consider nearby universities’ masters courses. As the contact hours for masters’ courses tend to be lesser than undergraduate courses, I would be able to commute from Manchester to universities like Sheffield and Liverpool relatively inexpensively (if I got a rail card).  

Immediately, I was filled with a massive sense of relief. With these new avenues, studying what I wanted while living where I wanted started to feel like an attainable goal again. This relief was short lived, however, when I was faced with similar road blocks at local universities. The same entry requirements were in place in all of the masters’ programmes I was interested in. I was devastated.

It is really easy for your mental health to take hits when you are faced with so many obstacles. Failing to meet the mark when it comes to what to do after your undergraduate degree can feel like personal failure after personal failure. Alongside coursework deadlines and exam stress, the deadline for applying for masters crept closer and closer and I honestly felt like giving up on searching for a Plan C – mostly because accepting Plan C felt like giving up on myself completely.

When faced with obstacles in achieving your dreams, it is easy to settle for an easier option. When you meet so many holes in your plan you can do one of two things: 1) Readjust your plan or 2) Re-evaluate your dreams. I decided to do the latter.

I decided to go back to the email I had received from the forensics masters director for the University of Manchester course. She told me in that email that the reason the policy is so strict is because typically students who don’t achieve a 2:1 in statistics and research methods throughout their degree typically struggle in the masters. This made me realise that perhaps doing the course of my dreams would have perhaps not been the best course for me. These guidelines are there for a reason. It was then up to me to evaluate my own strengths, both personal and academic. If my original Plan A wasn’t going to allow me to thrive, then what would?

Eventually I discovered the course that was right for me. It isn’t a Plan C, rather a new Plan A. This is the mentality that will help you through rejection in your academic career.

It is easy for rejection to feel like the end of the world and your future plans. For those that are going through what I went through, I encourage you to do the following:

  • Talk to your academic advisor or a careers advisor. Chances are, if you want to work in the field of your undergraduate, your academic advisor will be extremely valuable. These people want to help you – let them! They may be able to show you doors you never even thought about opening.
  • Search for an alternative course or university. This step depends on your priority. If staying at the University of Manchester is the most important thing, try looking for a new ‘next step’. If the course you want to study is more important, look elsewhere. Universities typically have different entry requirements (I just got unlucky).
  • Re-evaluate your route. Just because you got rejection trying to achieve your dreams on your Plan A path does not mean you cannot achieve your dream. Work experience, internships, masters’ courses, apprenticeships and many other routes exist and may be used to get that dream job.
  • Re-evaluate your strengths. If you can’t study what you want to study at all, take a step back and consider where you think you could make the most difference in your dream field. Think about where you have thrived on your course and in life and see if there’s anything in your dream field that would allow you to utilise your best skills. This area is likely to be the one that you can both excel in and find personally rewarding.
  • Do not doubt your ability. Just because you are not suited to one path, it does not mean you are less intelligent or less able than you first thought. You are the only person that has lived the experiences you have had and the only person that has your exact skill set. There is a place for you in this world that only you can fill.
  • Look after yourself. Above all, do not let this eat you up. If these rejections motivate you to work harder, do so. If you need time to process your feelings, do so!

If you are reading this after facing a rejection from your dream work placement or postgraduate study position, then I wish you the best of luck in your journey going forward. Hopefully these steps will allow you to keep calm and find your own path. If you haven’t faced rejection yet, expect it! It is rare for the path you envision for yourself to be the exact one you take. Just remember, there are ways around any roadblock you face – use what the university has to offer to help you.

The University of Manchester’s Careers Service (0161 275 2829)

The University’s Student Support website