April 15* is the traditional deadline for paying the previous year's taxes in the US, and is also the deadline by which applicants to graduate schools typically need to give their response (accept or decline) to offers of admission. There is a Council of Graduate Schools "resolution" proclaiming April 15 to be the decision date, although I don't know how many graduate institutions adhere to this deadline. Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that April 15 or thereabouts is a significant date in the graduate admissions process.
[* or, this year, April 18 for taxes]
Here is what I want to know:
How many of you grad applicants (this year or in previous years) accepted or declined your offers..
- well in advance of the deadline
- long after you got the offer but within a few weeks of the deadline; or
- at the very last minute: within days of, or on, the deadline
If you waited until the last minute: Is this because you really had not decided which offer to accept? Or did you know your decision before the deadline, but waited until the last minute for some reason?
And: Did you do all your accepting and declining at the same time, or did you accept an offer and delay the declinations? If you staggered your accepting and declining: why?
I have written before about how it's unfortunate that some applicants delay sending in their rejections, even when they know they are not going to accept particular offers. This delay ties up the process for admitting highly qualified applicants who are on the waiting list. If someone really doesn't know their decision until the last minute, that's fine; but if a decision is made before the deadline, it would be nice to inform the to-be-rejected programs of this.
This year, I almost asked the admissions committee to consider reaching further down the on-hold list and make a few more offers because I started to doubt that an ideal number of first-admits for my group would accept their offers, and there were some great applicants on hold. I am very glad I did not make this request, however, because it turns out that I was just feeling impatient. Eventually, more than enough acceptances came in. I feel bad that some great applicants on the waiting list didn't get offers, but it wouldn't have been doing anyone any favors to accept more students than can reasonably be given a guarantee of financial support.
Explanatory note: In my field of the physical sciences, there are no 'rotations' in which new students cycle through various labs before acquiring an advisor, and, unlike some engineering departments, we do not admit a group of new students and then work out who will advise them. Although students can later switch advisors, at the admissions stage, there has to be at least one professor who expresses interest in being an applicant's advisor in order for that applicant to receive an offer of admission to the graduate program.
Of course there is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety for applicants throughout the admissions process, but advisors also have their own kind of uncertainty. Trying to construct a group that is the optimal size relative to funding levels and research opportunities and that is composed of a good balance of senior, intermediate, and beginning grad students is challenging. Not knowing who will accept and who will decline their offers until it is too late to pursue other options (i.e., make offers to other students) adds an element of uncertainty to the process for graduate programs and advisors.
This probably can't be helped, though. Different programs have different application deadlines and make offers at different times, but it makes sense to have a universal final-decision deadline so that students have time to weigh their all their options, compare offers in terms of financial support and research opportunities, and work out whatever needs to be worked out in their personal lives.
So, unless someone wants to propose a graduate equivalent of the "early decision" option offered by some undergraduate institutions, allowing graduate programs to lock in a core number of new students, we advisors just have to deal with the uncertainty and try to make things work out in terms of numbers of students, grants, and projects.
6 months ago