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Getting into graduate school | How many and which schools I applied to | Dealing with rejection

Applying to graduate schools is an exercise in several things: paying tons of application fees, playing the waiting game, and dealing with rejection.

For who knows what reason, schools will reject you but the great thing is you only need to get into one!

I share the story of my grad school applications in this post.

Special hot chocholate
When you get rejected, there is always hot chocolate ๐Ÿ’› When will extra whipped cream come in handy?  

I applied to graduate school in the United States as an international student going to a domestic undergraduate school.

(I went to college at N.C. State University) 

Domestic undergrad or not, I was still international and my applications always ended up in the "international pile." 

How do I know? Because I was told so when I contacted school administrators including at my own undergrad where I also applied for grad school.

All my domestic applicant friends started hearing back from schools in early January. 

By the end of January, most of my friends had multiple graduate school offers.

I didn't hear anything in early Jan. I didn't hear anything in mid-Jan. I didn't hear anything at the end of Jan.

I breathed very little that January. 

I didn't even hear from N.C. State, my own undergrad!! 

They told me that they don't get to the "international pile" until they had given out offers to the domestics and heard back from some of them.

I had applied to 11 schools. 

I had spent well over a thousand dollars on grad school applications.

Application fees were sometimes higher for international students.

And of course, the GRE exams and sending GRE scores cost everyone unreasonable amounts of money. 

Below are the schools I applied to and how much it cost in application fees:

⚫ NC State - $75
⚫ Ohio State - $5 (I knoooow, so nice!)
⚫ Georgia Tech - $50
⚫ Duke University - $75
⚫ University of Chicago - $55
⚫ Boston University - $70
⚫ MIT - $75
⚫ Harvard - $105 
⚫ University of Pennsylvania - $70
⚫ Yale - $75
⚫ Cornell -  $95

In the month of February, I started hearing back. 

They were all rejections.

U Chicago, my friends, was the first to reject me.

They made me log into a system to see this beautiful automated message of rejection while I was in between classes.

Didn't say anything about why. They never tell you why you didn't make the cut.

Some places just don't even get back to you.

I still haven't heard back from UPenn. Can I have my $70 back?

By the middle of February, I was feeling like I was in a long, never-ending nightmare of either not hearing back or getting rejected mercilessly.

When domestic students don't get into graduate school, they can get a job.

I couldn't even do that!

I was on a student visa. I HAD to get into grad school.

Except no one cared and everyone was rejecting me.

Then, one day during class, when I shouldn't have been on my phone checking my email, I got an email from Ohio State.

I ran out and into the nearest bathroom.

I needed to be alone at this moment. 

The moment I was finally and for the first time, accepted into a graduate school.

The weeks of rejection prior to this moment had taught me to see the larger picture.

I will forever be grateful for the conversations and rants with my friends and family during those weeks.

Their support meant everything ๐Ÿ’—

My DREAM had come true! My dream of pursuing research, in physics, as an international student in the United States of America.

Ohio State didn't invite me to their prospective grad student open house because, again, I was in the "international pile."

International students don't get flown in from their international locations.

But I was in America! And, had learned a thing or two about chasing the American dream.

I wrote to them inviting myself, and they agreed.

After that, I got into a couple other schools: Georgia Tech and NC State (finally!)

I visited Georgia Tech - a lovely visit except one professor made a sexist comment. 

NC State is where I went for undergrad and the recommendation is usually to go someplace other than your undergrad.

Ohio State was my best offer and the best visit experience.

It was also the school with the biggest physics department and the most options for me.

So, that is where I decided to go. 

The schools that rejected me also spared me the shenanigans associated with those schools.

For that, I am thankful.

I have heard that some grad programs are weed out programs.

They don't care whether you will succeed or not and they accept more students than they can handle on purpose.

Relatively, Ohio State seemed and did turn out to be great.

Got questions on grad school applications?

Share them below!

I'd love to hear any comments or questions so please make sure to post them here :) and I will get back to you!

You can also find more posts on grad school applications if you click on the "grad school applications" label on the right sidebar here --> 

And remember, you need to get into only ONE school to go to grad school.

No school is perfect. 

Opportunities are what you make of them.

So, leave those rejections in the past where they belong. 

Their loss!

P.S. It seems I was asked to submit a separate research experience section at one of the schools and I submitted the below. 

Again, post below if you have any questions regarding your research statement or SOP!

Sombers Lab – Analytical Chemistry and Neuroscience (January 2010 - May 2013)

I work on an independent project called "Quantification of Fenton Chemistry", which is partly funded by an Undergraduate Research Award. My goal in this project has been to quantify the Fenton reaction by using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry and carbon fiber microelectrodes. The motivation behind this research is that this reaction may be responsible for the death of dopamine neurons in iron-rich parts of the brain like the substantia niagra, leading to Parkinson’s disease. I perform experiments in an in vitro simulation of the brain and collect cyclic voltammograms of the individual as well as mixtures of components of the Fenton reaction. I analyze my data, typically on MATLAB, using Principal Component Analysis. So far, I have shown that it is possible to quantify rapidly changing Fenton chemistry in an in vitro preparation and my results can be applied to future investigations in discrete brain locations to understand the role of Fenton chemistry in the onset of neuronal pathogenesis. I have presented updated versions of my work at national and regional conferences, as well as at university research symposiums.

Frล‘hlich Lab – Nuclear Astrophysics (January 2012 - May 2013)

I work with Dr. Carla Frล‘hlich of the Physics department at N.C. State University. I received an Undergraduate Research Award to continue this project through my senior year. We are interested in learning how and where the light neutron-capture elements (copper to barium) were formed. My research project uses two complementary approaches. One approach is to analyze observational data in the literature and find constraints for the process and location of formation of the elements that we are investigating. The other approach is to perform nucleosynthesis calculations using a nuclear reaction network simulating temperature-evolving, proton-rich conditions as found in core-collapse supernovae. I have taken graduate courses in Astrophysics and Computational Physics which have helped me with this project. I have learned that theory and computation are as important and powerful in Physics as doing experiments, and I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience. This project has given me exposure to many aspects of Astrophysics and Nuclear Physics. I have presented my work from this project at two university symposiums and plan on presenting my updated work at the April Meeting of the American Physical Society. We also plan on publishing our results in a journal before I graduate in May.

Daniels Nonlinear Lab – Thin Film Dynamics (May 2011 - August 2011)

I worked in Daniels Nonlinear Lab under Dr. Karen Daniels of the Physics department at N.C. State University on an independent research project called "Instabilities of Spreading Droplets". I studied droplets of silicon oil, water, and glycerin under rotation, using imaging with camera lenses and a laser. We were investigating how these droplets spread under rotation. Do they spread evenly, do they form a thin film or do they break and become more like a doughnut? I built several experimental setups and spent the majority of the summer trying to determine a suitable regime for my experiments. In the process, I became a trained user of shared Physics facilities such as the Clean Room, and other lab equipment such as the dry box, vacuum desiccator, and spin-coater. I trained in the machine shop and shop drawing. I learned about experiments, data storage, lab techniques and the subject of Thin Films from Dr. Karen Daniels and her graduate students. I was successful in narrowing down the possible experimental regime for studying these droplets and presented my work at the end of the summer at our university summer research symposium. My adviser Dr. Daniels then went on sabbatical, and this project could not continue beyond the summer. Although a relatively shorter research project, it has been extremely valuable. I thoroughly enjoyed this hands-on Physics research project.


  1. Awesome blog, loved it ma'am...
    There's just a question that Have you seen anyone from your undergrad school of your batch getting into the Harvard, Princeton, Yale or Cornell ? If yes, then how their profile differs than yours ?

    1. Yes of course - all very awesome folks, so tough to say. All unique and amazing!!
      My undergrad friends were all domestic students tho mostly.

      It's going to be difficult to compare and figure this out!

      Thanks for the question and comment!

  2. Very pristine & candid. Loved it.Thanks Oindree.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting!! ๐Ÿ‘Š๐Ÿ™


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