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Rejected becaused overqualified: A myth?


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18 replies to this topic

#1 HyacinthMacaw

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 10:01 PM

Hello everyone,

Just wondering if there are any folks out there who can speak to the veracity/falsity of the idea that someone can be rejected because he or she is too strong of an applicant. Ostensibly the logic is that these applicants will inevitably decline an offer of admission and accept one from a "better" program, but somehow I don't buy it. Maybe it happens to candidates to professional schools (medicine, law, business), but I'm not sure it happens to Ph.D. applicants.

What are your thoughts? Thanks!

P.S.: Just want to make clear that I myself don't think I'm overqualified--I've been rejected because I'm underqualified, plain and simple.
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#2 hello! :)

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 10:25 PM

It's not just about the qualifications, but it's about the match between research interests (including past experiences) and to what the program has to offer (in terms of how many professors study in that area and how the program as a whole can equip the student). So my opinion on this topic is that there's no such thing as an "overqualified" applicant. If the Committee thinks that the fit is great and that the SOP shows genuine interest, they will likely extend an invitation. If there's any doubt, they might give the applicant a call first to make sure that he/she is truly interested, but I really don't think that they would just reject on the grounds of being "overqualified." Just my 2 cents, though!
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#3 socialpsych

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 10:27 PM

[font=arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif][size=2]It's not just about the qualifications, but it's about the match between research interests (including past experiences) and to what the program has to offer (in terms of how many professors study in that area and how the program as a whole can equip the student).


With this caveat (that it has to do with fit rather than just qualifications), yes, I know for a fact that this happens.
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#4 space-cat

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 10:45 PM

This absolutely happens for med school - a good friend of mine actually received a rejection because she was overqualified, and they assumed she wouldn't accept. But, med school admissions are rolling, so it (maybe) makes sense in that context: you don't want to admit a bunch of people who are going to wait until the last second to tell you they're not coming, then go back and fight for more applicants who will come after everyone has already made up their minds.

For PhD programs, I have heard of schools rejecting a student because their research interests were too focused and/or well developed: the student is already on a very clear and narrow path, and the school either can't provide the resources they want or isn't interested in a student they can't "mold" or develop. One of my LOR writers actually suggested that I broaden the focus of my SOP specifically to avoid this. While the student might read this as a rejection for being overqualified, I agree with socialpsych that it's really more of a fit issue. That said, anyone who tosses out "Oh, Idiot University rejected me because I'm OVERQUALIFIED" is probably just bitter Posted Image
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#5 Golden Monkey

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Posted 09 February 2011 - 12:02 AM

Well, great. A whole new insecurity for me! I had never heard of this before, but it doesn't sound far-fetched.
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#6 YA_RLY

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Posted 09 February 2011 - 12:35 AM

anyone who tosses out "Oh, Idiot University rejected me because I'm OVERQUALIFIED" is probably just bitter Posted Image



and using techniques to resolve cognitive dissonance :P
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#7 kotov

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Posted 09 February 2011 - 01:05 AM

Well there's one potential hang-up I don't have to worry about. I'm just hoping not to get laughed out of the committee at the mid-level programs I applied to. :3
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#8 Tiglath-Pileser III

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 12:49 AM

Nobody gets rejected for being overqualified unless it is a low-tiered school, where they are thinking that if they extend an offer, the applicant will probably get a better offer somewhere else. However, very few schools think this way. Even crumby schools pick the best candidates for their program but compensate by extending more offers; most departments generally know how many student will accept based upon past trends.
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#9 Amalia222

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 01:03 AM

Hello everyone,

Just wondering if there are any folks out there who can speak to the veracity/falsity of the idea that someone can be rejected because he or she is too strong of an applicant. Ostensibly the logic is that these applicants will inevitably decline an offer of admission and accept one from a "better" program, but somehow I don't buy it. Maybe it happens to candidates to professional schools (medicine, law, business), but I'm not sure it happens to Ph.D. applicants.

What are your thoughts? Thanks!

P.S.: Just want to make clear that I myself don't think I'm overqualified--I've been rejected because I'm underqualified, plain and simple.



I say Myth. I don't think any adcomm says, "oooh this person looks too smart for us!" hehe. So many factors are involved, such as who your POI would be, what your specialization will be, the department, funding, etc. I honestly believe schools just try to get the best people possible, and you might have a perfect GPA and perfect GREs, but if you don't fit the department, they'll send you on your way.
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#10 Langoustine

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 01:05 AM

Hahaha, "overqualified" is definitely not a word they probably used when looking at my application!
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#11 Amalia222

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 01:10 AM

Hahaha, "overqualified" is definitely not a word they probably used when looking at my application!



LOL excellent. Mine either.
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#12 psi456

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 01:53 AM

ha. I hope so. But I don't think so, I'll pretend it was a fit issue.

Note the one reject in my signature.
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#13 eklavya

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 02:03 AM

also, funding situation. if you apply to a mediocre or backup school, the funding sources might not be able to provide you competitive stipend, compared to others. they would definitely want you there, if you are qualified (or overqualified). but they might have to let you go if they think you will get better offer somewhere and you will end up in a better place with more money and not there. this is similar to the med school example given above.

but then i think, why do schools develop inferiority complex?
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#14 LJK

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 04:19 AM

This absolutely happens for med school - a good friend of mine actually received a rejection because she was overqualified, and they assumed she wouldn't accept. But, med school admissions are rolling, so it (maybe) makes sense in that context: you don't want to admit a bunch of people who are going to wait until the last second to tell you they're not coming, then go back and fight for more applicants who will come after everyone has already made up their minds.


I have heard a young professor who was accepting his first students last year reason about these same issues. There was one student who was overqualified - if he got into the other school he had just interviewed at he would go there pretty much not question. If this professor offered him a spot, and the student chose to sit on the offer into April, the professor would be scrounging around looking for a good student out of those who haven't accepted an offer yet. Did the professor offer him a spot? I'm not sure but I don't think so. The faculty decided to only offer acceptances to the number of students that they could guarantee 5 years of funding, creating a situation where each individual spot had its own rolling admissions. If the professor had offered the spot to the overqualified student he probably would not have ended up with his 2nd or 3rd choice but more like 10th or further down his list. This is a small program where most faculty have one or two graduate students so getting a crappy one means that unless they get a big grant that can fund another student or two independent of the department, that is who they are stuck with for the next 5 years.

I see what people are saying about it being the low ranked programs (which I will extend to new, unproven profs in lab-based fields) that could make that decision, but seriously those are the only ones that people can be 'overqualified' for. If you are super qualified and applying to a top program or lab, the program/lab has every reason to think that they will be the applicant's top choice.

Edited by LJK, 10 February 2011 - 04:20 AM.

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#15 chubb

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 04:32 AM

Not a myth. This isn't strictly grad school related, but last summer I was rejected from a very prestigious undergraduate internship at Harvard (of all places) because I was overqualified. I shit you not. Here's the email I got:

Dear XXXXXX,
Thank you for application for our summer internship program. We were quite impressed with your background and experiences, and actually considered you to be over-qualified for this particular kind of administrative internship. I am writing to let you know that your application, though exceptionally strong, will not be considered moving forward.
....
We are very excited about the synergies between your work and ours, including your work with Dr. XXX, and we know that there will be a fantastic opportunity to link them together.
...
We hope that you will continue to stay in touch with us, and that you feel equally eager to find a way to engage together. Again, thank you for everything - your availability, your flexibility, your imagination, and your desire to be part of the XXXXX. We look forward to more in the future."

I'm sure you all can imagine how much I freaked out when I read this....I mean, WHAT. Makes zero sense. Zero. Did they think they were doing me a favor? I guess I'll never know.
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#16 eklavya

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 04:40 AM

Not a myth. This isn't strictly grad school related, but last summer I was rejected from a very prestigious undergraduate internship at Harvard (of all places) because I was overqualified. I shit you not. Here's the email I got:

Dear XXXXXX,
Thank you for application for our summer internship program. We were quite impressed with your background and experiences, and actually considered you to be over-qualified for this particular kind of administrative internship. I am writing to let you know that your application, though exceptionally strong, will not be considered moving forward.
....
We are very excited about the synergies between your work and ours, including your work with Dr. XXX, and we know that there will be a fantastic opportunity to link them together.
...
We hope that you will continue to stay in touch with us, and that you feel equally eager to find a way to engage together. Again, thank you for everything - your availability, your flexibility, your imagination, and your desire to be part of the XXXXX. We look forward to more in the future."

I'm sure you all can imagine how much I freaked out when I read this....I mean, WHAT. Makes zero sense. Zero. Did they think they were doing me a favor? I guess I'll never know.

dude, this is f'ed up! seriously you guys!
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#17 greengrass2

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 04:44 AM

Not sure if this is true... but I guess you should be happy in such a case since they're the ones lowering their standards (so YOU don't have to)!
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#18 space-cat

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 03:27 PM

I see what people are saying about it being the low ranked programs (which I will extend to new, unproven profs in lab-based fields) that could make that decision, but seriously those are the only ones that people can be 'overqualified' for. If you are super qualified and applying to a top program or lab, the program/lab has every reason to think that they will be the applicant's top choice.


Interesting example about the new professor!

On a related note, I'm guessing this whole thread started because people on the results board were whining that their Ivy League "safety school" rejected them, or they're clearly overqualified for MIT, or whatever...
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#19 TMP

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Posted 10 February 2011 - 05:45 PM

Nothing annoys me more than these "overqualified" statements because, well, these "overqualified" applicants (grad school or job) NEED to go somewhere.

Of course a fit is an issue but... at the end, people do need to get to somewhere. Can't just leave them hanging for their lives because they can't find their place.
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