What You Can Do Right Now

NOTE: This post is for scholars currently in the “grad app” process.

What can you do if you’ve submitted all of your applications and you’re now in the waiting stage? First, we should acknowledge that this just might very well be the worst part! It absolutely sucks knowing that you’ve done pretty much all you can and that it’s now out of your hands. In our collective experience working with scholars over the past ten years, decisions can start coming anytime after the New Year right up until April 15.


Go ahead and have a cup of joe while you’re waiting :)

We also need to talk about this April 15th date too and how it plays into the process.

I’m going to suggest that there are still ways to be “staying in contact with” and/or slightly nudging the key people you have connected with during the application process. We’re going to do this in the most respectful and professional way possible, but I think you can do a couple of things in this scenario and at this stage in the game. And remember, in the long run it really is a game (one that you play hard at but ultimately have no control over).

So this is what you can do in the following scenarios:

(it’s a given at this point you’ve confirmed that your application package is complete – by speaking with a human being that is)

  1. You have excellent connectivity with at least one faculty member as well as the departmental secretary either through a campus visit or substantive email exchange. Two things – you can give the secretary a call and just “touch base” with them regarding the department’s timeline for making decisions. Chances are you’ll get some idea of how much longer you have to wait. You can also send a short/friendly/professional email to your primary faculty contact just to reiterate how their program is your top-choice program and to perhaps update them on something of note – like – a) you’ve been accepted to present at an upcoming conference, b) you made significant progress with your current research project or c) that you’ve received several attractive offers of admission from other schools, but that you are waiting to hear from them before moving forward with a decision. Make it short and sweet – the point here is to get your name in front of them one more time but without being annoying.
  2. You’ve had decent connectivity either through a visit or email correspondence, but you feel like you’ve connected well enough (and not too long ago) so much so that sending another email would seem forced. BUT, your mentor knows someone in the department! They’ve written you an awesome letter of recommendation, but you could ask them to “put in a call” to their colleague and mention what a great candidate you are for their program (read: put in a good word for you). This can often “seal the deal” so to speak and happens all the time (read: it’s part of the game).
  3. You’ve applied to their program, but you really haven’t done any personal outreach whatsoever despite being sincerely interested in the program. This isn’t ideal, but you could still contact the graduate coordinator (the faculty member in charge of dealing with incoming and prospective graduate students – most departments have one – sometimes called a “director” – contact the secretary if you don’t know who this person is). Just send a “short and sweet” email introducing yourself, indicate your interest in their program and ask whether they have a certain timeframe for making decisions for their incoming graduate cohort and when you could expect to receive an answer. Another question you can pose is whether they will be hosting an open house event or inviting applicants in for an interviewing process. NOTE: make sure answers to these questions aren’t plainly displayed on their front page!

Any way you slice it, it’s a bit of waiting game here. While decisions that come in January are considered “early birds,” it’s important to note that decisions can really come at any time in the next four months. April 15th is the magic date, if you will, that *most* graduate schools adhere to in this way…and it mostly relates to offers of admission that come with a funding package…

Here’s the skinny:

A graduate program can offer you admission and funding, but can’t require you to accept or decline that offer prior to April 15. So, in essence, you can technically wait to respond to an offer until you receive other offers and are able to weigh the pros and cons of each. This doesn’t mean that a program won’t ask you to respond beforehand, or even put pressure on you to respond by a certain date. Just know, that they aren’t really supposed to do that. If you know that you really want to go to that school, however, you should go ahead and accept the offer so as not to put yourself in any sort of jeopardy.

Say, then, you receive a funded offer from a really good school and you go ahead and accept it – sometime in February. Then, all of a sudden your top-top-choice school comes through with an even better deal! Wowsa! What to do? What to do? Well, according to “April 15th protocol” you would need to get a written release from having accepted that first offer before you go on ahead an accept that secondary, but more attractive offer.

It can get complicated.

Once offers start rolling in (and they will), you can also use this as an opportunity to contact a department coordinator (as mentioned above) to let them know that you have an offer (or two) on the table, but that you are really waiting to hear from them. It could “spur some action” on their part, especially if they are interested in you. It could also lead to them offering a more “attractive” stipend, again, especially if they really really want you. Our scholars have had this kind of scenario happen firsthand.

The other part of the deal related to the April 15th date is that graduate schools really try to extend all of their admission offers, especially those with funding, by this date. Because there is so much “movement” and decisions being made on and around this date, you can really expect to still be hearing “something” all the way until April.

This is particularly relevant if you were placed on a waiting list earlier in the spring and happen to be toward the top of that list. Since students are still accepting and declining offers around April 15, you could very well receive an offer after someone has declined an offer. This happened to several of our scholars who ended up getting full-rides into their Ph.D. programs! So all hope should NOT be lost until this magical date has passed.

You should note that if you are really certain about your top-choice school and you get an awesome funding offer from them – go ahead and accept and then promptly decline any forthcoming offers out of respect and courtesy toward those students hoping hoping hoping for that one acceptance to come their way.

Just remember that things are going to shake out as they may. You know that if you’ve really put forward a good faith effort, the best scenario for you will surface. It might have looked different in your mind’s eye, but in the end, you know that the “best fit” and “right opportunity” is bound to come your way.

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