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An abstract illustration, featuring blue hands reaching toward a grad school degree and an open green door simultaneously.
Illustration by Marian Blair

As you wait to hear back from graduate schools about the status of your applications, it’s important to have a backup plan in mind. This plan B will come in handy if you find yourself unable to implement plan A (going to grad school) for any reason, such as lack of funding, being waitlisted, being denied admission, or changing your priorities.

While it may seem daunting to plan for something you don’t want to happen, it’s a good idea to have some idea of what you will do if you cannot attend grad school. That way, should your original plan and timeline change, you can still move forward in your career with little impetus.

Reflect on your personal goals

Your plan B could be strictly career-related, but it’s a good idea to take stock of your personal goals in addition to your professional plans. If you’re not headed to grad school, you might consider traveling, volunteering, or working overseas for several months.

These experiences can often provide clarity on what steps you want to take in the next stage of your career; but more than that, they’re fun! Devoting more time to a personal passion outside of your regular routine can help you clear your mind, especially if you’re disappointed about not attending grad school on your original timeline.

Reevaluate your professional plans 

A critical component of forming your plan B is remembering that even if you can’t go to grad school right at this moment, you can still pursue your career goals—this may require exploring alternative ways to get there.

For example, grad school may have been one way you planned to advance in your current field; if that’s the case, consider seeking another form of professional experience. Auditing courses, enrolling in a certificate program, or attending school full-time as a post-baccalaureate student may end up being the educational boost you need, or a useful way to transition to graduate school in the future. 

Alternatively, you might have seen grad school as a means out of your current position. If that’s the case, it might be time to take a leap and look for a different full-time role, an internship to gain skills in a new field, or another relevant opportunity should you apply to grad school again in the future.

Pro tip: Consider whether a national service program may be just the experience you need to continue your social-impact journey.

Consider reapplying to grad school

If the reason you won’t be attending grad school this fall is because you weren’t admitted, then your plan B can involve strengthening your application for next time. To do so, consider whether you can add additional professional experience, earn better standardized test scores, or apply to other programs that are a better fit for your academic and career goals.

Some programs offer applicants the opportunity to follow up with the admissions committee about their decisions. If you’re able, be sure to ask questions about the weaker points of your application or reasons you weren’t admitted into this year’s cohort.

Keep your head up

Whatever your plan B may be (and the options are not limited to our list above), it’s important to remember that they are not inferior to attending grad school. Instead, think of them as an valuable opportunity to make sure grad school is truly the right fit for where you are in your career.  

Specifically, we recommend you craft your plan B to implement the three F’s, no matter which direction you go in:

  • Feasible. In order for your plan B to be effective, it’s critical that it’s easy to implement and remains doable. 
  • Fabulous. This is especially important if you had your heart set on grad school. Make sure that your plan B excites and inspires you as an alternative! 
  • Forward-looking. Just because your next immediate step isn’t grad school doesn’t mean you won’t be able to move forward. Make sure your next chapter pushes you and offers you opportunities to grow and challenge yourself. 

Get inventive, think about what you need, and consider what will help you take full advantage of your future as you construct your plan B. Who knows, you may develop a plan B so appealing that it makes you think twice about investing in school right now!


Weighing the pros and cons of pursuing school full-time, or working while you take night classes? Take our quiz to find out which option is right for you: Take Our Quiz | Should You Pursue a Full-time or Part-time Grad Degree Program?

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Angel Eduardo

Angel uses his skills as a storyteller to support and inspire job seekers and aspiring social-impact professionals.