Graduate School Tip of the Month: Help Dealing with Admission Decisions

With the passing of February 1st, many of you now have nothing to do but wait when it comes to your graduate school future. The applications are in, and you watch your mail and email boxes hoping to hear some word about your fate. Here are our answers to some frequently asked questions during this time.

My application has been in for a month, and I haven’t heard anything. What does that mean?

Honestly, we don’t know. Often, though, applications must go through the graduate school before they can be forwarded to the department for consideration, so this process can take time. In addition, if you had a December 1st deadline, those applications might not have even been looked at until well after the end of the fall semester. Not hearing anything could mean that a decision has not yet been made. It could mean that you are on an alternate list, and they are waiting to hear from candidates ahead of you on the accepted list, and it could mean that your application is no longer under consideration. Ultimately, you should be informed by the school no matter what their final decision.

I’ve been accepted to one school, and I have to make a decision about going there before I will hear whether I have been accepted at my first-choice school. What should I do?

Consult with your advisor. This is a difficult situation, but it is also one that happens fairly frequently. Schools make decisions at different points, and they will want a commitment from you as soon as possible after extending an admission offer. If you don’t want that offer, they want to give it to the next most qualified student before they lose that person to another school. Individual consultations with your advisor and other professionals are probably your best route with this one. 

I’ve been accepted to more than one school. How do I decide?

People obviously vary in their preferred method for making big decisions like this one. Often, though, it can be very helpful to talk with current graduate students in that program after you have been accepted. The person in charge of admissions should be able to give you the email address of at least one student, and sometimes student contacts are even listed on the department website. Another thing that can be very beneficial is visiting the programs to which you have been accepted. A happy and successful graduate school experience involves finding a good “fit” between you and a program. There are many things you simply cannot assess based simply on a website and admission materials. A school you were not very excited about on paper can turn out to be wonderful when you visit (and vice versa), so if you have the time and resources, an in-person visit is usually advisable.

I didn’t get into graduate school. What should I do?

First of all, don’t panic. We realize that’s easier said than done, but this is an extremely competitive process. Many very qualified students are not admitted each year, and it is nothing to feel embarrassed about. The best thing you can do it talk with your advisor and other professionals on campus (e.g., Career Services) so they can help you as you formulate alternative plans. Remember that many students who are not accepted one year end up with multiple acceptances in a subsequent year. Others find wonderful work or alternative educational plans. All of us, even your professors, have dealt with educational or professional disappointment at some time, and we really do want to help.