7 Really Famous People Who Were Rejected by Graduate School
If you’re one of the 3 million or so people expected to enroll in graduate or professional school this year, you may find yourself flashing back to your high school days and remembering the emotional workout you (and maybe your parents) got when you applied to college the first time around.
Just as probably happened back then, you may enjoy some acceptances… and endure some rejections.
Fortunately you are older now, and doubtless much wiser. And for what it’s worth, if you're turned down by some of the graduate or professional schools on your list, you’ll be in very good company.
As a follow-up to our recent post on 7 Really Famous People Who Were Rejected by Their Dream Colleges, here are seven different, but equally accomplished, people who were once rebuffed by grad schools, law schools, or med schools.
The Google co-founder and future bazillionaire Sergey Brin graduated from the University of Maryland, then applied to grad school at MIT, where he was rejected. Fortunately, Stanford University took him, and there, perhaps even more fortunately, he met Larry Page, another Stanford grad student (undergrad: University of Michigan). The two would become partners in creating the search engine colossus. For further details, just Google it.
Few graduate school rejections are more legendary than the one involving the Harvard Business School and American’s favorite really rich guy, Warren Buffett.
Then 19 and soon to graduate from the University of Nebraska (after two earlier years at the University of Pennsylvania), Buffett interviewed with a Harvard alumnus in Chicago and was turned down in the spot. Though shaken at the time, he would later put the incident in perspective, recalling himself as “a scrawny 19-year-old who looked 16 and had the social poise of a 12-year-old,” according to biographer Carol J. Loomis.
Instead, Buffett rushed out an application to Columbia University Business School, where he went on to study with the men who would become his mentors, Benjamin Graham and David Dodd. Loomis adds that Buffett now considers it the luckiest thing that ever happened to him.
George W. Bush
Future 43rd President George W. Bush attended Yale, alma mater of both his father and grandfather before him, graduating in 1968. In 1970, after working in his dad’s unsuccessful Senate campaign, he applied to the University of Texas Law School, which rejected him. After another interval, he applied to the Harvard Business School, which accepted him (unlike Warren Buffett) and from which he graduated with an M.B.A. in 1975.
A 1973 Oberlin pre-med grad, Jerry Greenfield tried for two years to get into medical school but was rejected by every one he applied to. So he decided instead to go into business with an old friend, Ben Cohen. (Cohen had started college at Colgate and taken some courses at Skidmore but never graduated.)
The two considered fondue, crepes, kebobs, and bagels before settling on ice cream, as they tell the tale in their joint autobiography, Ben & Jerry’s Double-Dip. To learn the business, they took a $5 correspondence course in ice-cream making from Penn State, after which they opened their first store in the college town of Burlington, Vt.
Though he’d go on to become one of the most famous physicians of our time as the inventor of an artificial heart, Robert Jarvik almost didn’t get into medical school at all. A pre-med at Syracuse University, he was rejected by at least 15 of them before landing, several years later, at the University of Utah, from which he graduated in 1976.
Jarvik’s wife, incidentally, is Marilyn vos Savant, the longtime Parade magazine answer columnist and reported possessor of the world’s highest measured IQ (228). In case you're wondering, she attended a community college and Washington University in St. Louis, but without graduating.
After graduating from Vassar in 1971, the future Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist applied to graduate writing programs at the University of Iowa and the University of Virginia, while her then-husband applied to the same schools for graduate work in history. He got into both schools, Smiley told The Paris Review in 2015, and she got into neither. But off to Iowa they went, where Smiley took a job in a teddy bear factory before reapplying to the university, ultimately earning both an M.F.A. and a Ph.D.
Future Nobel Prize-winner James Watson, credited, with Francis Crick, for discovering the structure of DNA, studied zoology at the University of Chicago as an undergrad. As he tells it in his memoir, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science, Watson applied to graduate school at Caltech (his first choice), Harvard (“for no good reason except that Harvard was Harvard”), and the University of Indiana. Caltech rejected him, Harvard accepted him but without the financial aid he was hoping for. So he packed up for Indiana, where he received his Ph.D. in zoology in 1950. Three years later he and Crick made their famous discovery.