April 15th is an important day in graduate school admissions. It is the widely accepted first day that universities require commitments from candidates admitted with financial aid. This is not widely known by candidates, but is codified by an resolution coordinated by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and signed by over 400 universities. In addition, many schools honor the resolution even though the institution may not have signed it.
Graduate program admissions committees can be found in all parts of a university, and often have little interaction with the school’s graduate admissions officers, beyond the minimum possible amount. Add this to high turnover among faculty on some committees and it can be easy to understand the potential for a disconnect between the graduate school and the department or individual program. As a former admissions dean and director with over 10 years graduate admissions experience, I have seen this gap first hand. Many program directors or even admissions officers don’t realize this CGS resolution even exists. Others might know their university is a signor, but still choose to ignore it and require responses before April 15th.
What to do when a grad school pressures you to decide early…
Bluntly, it is lousy when a program director, admissions director, or faculty member of a school on the CGS resolution asks an admitted student to commit earlier than April 15th. It puts the student in an uncomfortable position of dealing with conflicting timelines and forces a game of chance. What are the chances I get admitted to the other schools I haven’t heard back from? What are the chances the financial support is high enough to make that a better choice?
If a school indicates they will give you a deadline earlier than April 15th, beware. At that early time, it is ok to ask them candidly if their school honors the April 15th Council of Graduate Schools resolution. Chances are high that the program representative hasn’t even heard of the resolution. As a student, you don’t want to embarrass the program official, but you need to look out for yourself and this is important.
Often times, the school will grant additional time to respond, but it is not guaranteed. It also is risky to ask for more time to respond because it signals to the university that their program is not your first choice. That isn’t a signal you want to send.
If you feel bold, you can ask directly that you have a deadline of April 15, in accordance with the CGS resolution. If you are one of their top candidates, you might get the extension. This suggestion is not for the timid and not appropriate for marginally admitted candidates. Asking is a delicate action and you don’t want to piss off your faculty supervisor, advisor, or program director before you ever get there.
The bottom line is that they have no right to push you for an earlier deadline and you should have until April 15th at schools on the CGS resolution. You just don’t have much bargaining power and don’t want to put yourself in an unfavorable perspective with the faculty.
You could always ask slower processing schools for an earlier decision- but that is the topic for another post about leveraging one admission to move along another.