My Friend Got In to Grad School, I Didn’t. Were They a Diversity Pick?

Apr 15, 2024

Dr. Vicki Johnson, a mid-age white American woman with straight brown hair and a green blouse

Dear Dr. Johnson,

A close friend and I both applied to an Ivy League Master’s in Public Policy program that we’ve been dreaming about for ages. I’m devastated because they got in and I didn’t. If I’m being totally honest, I’m surprised by this because my GPA is higher and I went to a more prestigious university for undergrad. But my friend grew up low income and now I wonder if they got preference because they are a diversity pick. I am white and grew up middle class. Do I have any chance if I’m not diverse?

– Questioning Everything

From Dr. Vicki Johnson:

I’m sorry to hear you weren’t successful in this application round. I am first going to encourage you to reapply because this story is not over!

Because I can assure you that your friend’s acceptance and your rejection were not based on your childhood income levels or other diversity factors like race, gender, religion, or age.

Here’s why.

Virtually every competitive graduate program, and particularly those at Ivy League schools, get a lot more highly qualified applicants than they have spots in the program. The 95%+ of applicants who are turned away from Ivy League schools include people with 4.0 GPAs, top test scores, incredible resumes, and a wide variety of diversity factors. Because these top schools have no shortage of top candidates, they can be highly selective based on academic factors while also creating a diverse student body.

You may still wonder how someone with a lower GPA and a less prestigious undergraduate university could be chosen over you. This happened because these are not the most important factors of selection. As I teach in the Fully Funded Course, ALL the pieces of your graduate school application are important!

Your friend may have had a more compelling application story describing their career goals and what they hope to get from the program. They may have had stronger recommendation letters or better writing samples. They may have spent more time in conversation with Admissions representatives and faculty before applying, getting their name and face in front of decision makers. Or all of these!

So, I would encourage you to support your friend’s success and see their acceptance as an opportunity to improve your application for the next round.

Your friend is now in a position to provide you insider information about the program and what they are looking for in candidates. They might also share their successful application with you so you can see where they were stronger. You now have an advantage few of the other 95%+ rejected applicants have!

I do hope you’ll drop the idea that you deserved an acceptance from this school more than your friend. You are both deserving of entrance to a top graduate program.

Get focused on putting your absolute best forward in every aspect of your application. Your goal is to inspire the selection committee to invest in you and the vision that you express in your application.

Dr. Vicki Johnson is Founder and Director of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, top Ph.D. scholar, Fulbright recipient, and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the creator of the Fully Funded Course and Mentorship Program which helps graduate school applicants enter top graduate schools with funding awards. 

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