Application Fees and Timely Decisions

Application Fees and Timely Decisions


A prospective graduate student—call him Prospecto—has reported the following:

I applied to the Philosophy Ph.D. program at [very good university], submitting a completed application and paying the substantial application fee by the deadline. I then I heard nothing. On April 16, the day after one has to decide -– if one is lucky –- what grad school offer to accept, I wrote to the school’s grad admissions office, requesting a refund of my application fee. They refused, and also refused to bring the matter to the attention of the Dean of the Admissions Office, as I requested. On April 17 I received an automated letter of denial of admission signed, not by the Philosophy department, but by the Admissions Office.

It is a longstanding convention that April 15th is the day by which graduate admissions in philosophy are settled. There is sometimes slippage on that, as names are moved off of waitlists and contacted, but typically by the 15th graduate students can expect to be told whether they have been accepted, rejected, or waitlisted. Prospecto paid the application fee, but received no decision or information whatsoever, from neither the department nor the graduate school, by April 15th. It seems he paid for nothing.

Sometimes graduate admissions offices and departments are not on the same page, and miscommunication and mistakes happen (e.g., several years ago a few people were mistakenly admitted to a philosophy PhD program by a graduate admissions office, unbeknownst to anyone in the department, and the department did not find out until those admitted tried to contact the department to arrange visits). Prospecto’s case could be just a rare error, or it could be part of a widespread problem. It would be interesting to learn about what is normal and expected here. So, a few questions:

(1) How common is what happened to Prospecto? Has it happened to you as a prospective graduate student? Faculty, does this occur at your school?

(2) Should a prospective graduate student be entitled to a full or partial refund if no decision or information about his or her application is provided prior to the April 15th deadline?

(3) Should prospective graduate students interpret silence as rejection?

(image: detail of Lunar Calendar by Dimitre Lima)
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Joe
Joe
6 years ago

Oh, no, it’s still money well spent, since it introduces you to a feeling you can expect to feel dozens of times, should you proceed into the discipline. If you’re able to just swallow blatant institutional failure with a smile and carry on, you may be just the sort of person we are looking for.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

That happened to me when I was applying the first time (that being I never heard anything one way or the other from one program or the school). I interpreted it as a rejection.Report

Adam Omelianchuk
Adam Omelianchuk
6 years ago

I was notified by a Phil department before the 15th that I was not accepted, and then later on in June by the Admissions department. I took in a comical way that they really didn’t want me and made sure I knew.Report

PhD Candidate
PhD Candidate
6 years ago

That’s a really disrespectful way to handle the process, to be sure. That said, I don’t see why the student should be entitled to the refund. This is true if the following two assumptions are correct: 1) the application fee guarantees that the student’s application dossier will receive full (or sufficient) consideration, and 2) the department did indeed give the application dossier such consideration. I doubt that what the student took herself or himself to be paying for when s/he paid the fee was timely notification of a decision.Report

Paul Hammond
Paul Hammond
6 years ago

When I applied to grad school there was at least one department that never sent me a decision of any kind. I took it as a rejection and it never occurred to me to ask for my application fee back. It seems rude and definitely not ideal, but graduate admissions is a lot of work, and I can understand why following up with rejected applicants isn’t at the top of everyone’s to-do list.Report

Fritz Warfield
Fritz Warfield
6 years ago

April 15th is the day on which offers that have been made to students can be retracted. This is by agreement among American graduate programs.
April 15th has no other special status. It is not by “longstanding convention” the day which graduate admissions is settled. Most admissions issues at most programs are settled on or around the 15th. But that’s different. It’s certainly no violation of any agreement or “longstanding convention” for such issues to be settled only later. The inference to “he paid for nothing” from his having received no information by the 15th is absurd.

April 15th is not the final day on which offers of admission and financial aid can be made. It is also not the day by which all decisions must be communicated to applicants. There is no designated day for this. Students who have been rejected should be told so promptly. It is good practice to communicate to students on a wait list that they have this status. It is also good practice to communicate to such students when such status changes.Report

GK
GK
6 years ago

I applied to Ph.D programs, and one program, after giving no word of any kind, sent me a rejection April 20th or thereabouts. In this case, the silence ultimately culminated in rejection, and obviously, philosophy Ph.D applications are competitive enough that presuming rejection seems the counsel of prudence. But I assumed in this case not that they had decided to reject me, but that they’d somehow mishandled my application; otherwise, why not send me an initial rejection email with all the others? (Of course, they could have meant to do so; I don’t know how to decide between, on the one hand, their deciding on my application and messing up communicating their decision, and, on the other, their simply messing up somewhere in the process of deciding on my application.)Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

The first time I submitted applications to graduate programs, there was one school that just never informed me of the decision. Not sure why, never received an email or letter from either the admissions office or the department. I just assumed that I’d been rejected. In retrospect, I’m kind of glad that they didn’t accept me. I wouldn’t have flourished there, and it’s incredibly unprofessional to leave someone hanging like that.Report

Fritz Warfield
Fritz Warfield
6 years ago

“why not send me an initial rejection email with all the others?” — In my experience this would most commonly be because at that point you had not been rejected at that point. You were likely on a wait list of some kind. This does not excuse poor communication. I prefer that people are who are live candidates on wait lists be told of their status.Report

Tim O'Keefe
6 years ago

Any reason not to name the departments that left applicants hanging with no word whatsoever about the status of application by April 15? I agree with Fritz that departments need not make final decisions on every file by then, but given the common April 15 deadline for accepting assistantship offers, leaving people hanging with no information about their status really screws things up for everybody.Report

Jonathan Ichikawa
6 years ago

There are two possibilities. Both are bad, but only one would warrant a refund.
(a) The student’s file was considered with all of the others; the department decided not to issue an offer. But this was never communicated to the student, either by policy or by oversight.
(b) The student’s file was never considered. Perhaps it was lost in some disorganized paperwork, or hidden by an enemy of the student.
Possibility (a) is rude and unprofessional; possibility (b) would warrant a fee refund. I also think that (a) is overwhelmingly more likely than (b).Report

Mark Alfano
6 years ago

I experienced this from several departments back when I was applying for admission to grad programs. It was a nice contrast with UPenn’s response: they sent me 6 identical rejection letters in 8 days. When I’d finally gone a week without receiving a rejection from UPenn, I sorta started to miss it. Only sorta, though.Report

MA student
MA student
6 years ago

This happens all the time with MA programs. I applied to 8 places and only ever heard back from 4Report

gradschoolapplicant
gradschoolapplicant
6 years ago

About half of the schools I applied to gave no reply. If you give them $100 for the application fee, you certainly are due a response, positive or negative. Schools routinely do not reply to rejected candidates which means roughly 90% of applicants will get no reply. Is it being naive to expect philosophy departments with the only ethics department in the university to notify applicants of their status?Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

You would think that $100 buys you the courtesy of a response at some point, particularly in the age of e-mail; I can understand that around April 15 there’s some shuffling going around in terms of admitted candidates , and a constantly shifting admitted list as some admitted candidates turn down offers and others move on, but I think that if you’re not completely out of the running a “Hey, we haven’t completely filled our next entering class yet, we have you on our waitlist” is appropriate. I hope it’s just not an “I just hate delivering bad news” thing, because that’s really indefensible (especially since you can always take the easy way out and have the university’s graduate admissions office send the rejections out).

I had the weirdest experience with one of my (non-philosophy) PhD applications; I could never reach the director of admissions either by email or phone with my application questions, and only one of the professors I reached out to see if they were accepting new students actually responded. So I just put in an application and got accepted, but then could never reach them to find out about whether I had any funding or not. It was surreal — just weeks and weeks of no response. Finally I got into my first choice school with funding so didn’t have to worry anymore about it, but to this day I have never heard back from that first program.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

I kid not: one university sent me a rejection notice in September, after having had zero communication with them and after I presumed that I had already been rejected in the Spring. By the time I got this rejection, I had already enrolled and started classes in another grad program.Report

Anon-applicant
Anon-applicant
6 years ago

Departments: one of the consequences of not getting back to your applicants on due time is delaying the admissions process for everyone. A person admitted at university X will delay her acceptance until the same April 15th if she hasn’t heard back from university Y were she also applied. Probably one of the students admitted by Y is not accepting either because is waiting for university’s Z response. I believe this is the reason behind not hearing back from students ’till the 15th for a significant number of them. Then, there’s a lot of movement within a very limited period of time. I believe this results in less choices for everyone, and puts undue pressure on those further down the list, to do a rushed decision around the April 15th deadline. So, please: let applicants know, either way. It is good for everybody.Report

recent applicant
recent applicant
6 years ago

I agree with some comments above in that only if the student’s application was never considered does it warrant a refund, but I understand the student’s frustration. I think this problem should be treated, like many others problems, as an indicator of climate issues (broadly construed as to include collegiality and professionality). One school I was admitted to this year sent me a generic email with funding package and that was it — no personallized contact at all. They also announced their visiting days only 4 days in advance. Of course I’m sure there’re many good reasons for these, but I can’t pretend this experience didn’t count against the school in my decision process. In the case of a no response (which I didn’t experience with any of the school I applied to), I’d imagine that I’d have second thoughts on any future collaboration I might have with anyone from that school. I know this sounds unfair to those who’re not involved with the admission committee, but this is how reputation works.Report

Former Applicant
Former Applicant
6 years ago

This is a little bit off topic, but the forum to discuss graduate school application fees is very rare so I figure I will take this opportunity. It costs easily over $1,000 to apply to graduate school in philosophy. Any serious applicant needs to apply to 10+ schools. Most application fees seem to hover around $80, and while some dip as low as $65 (and MAs more like $50), some programs cost over $100 dollars to apply. Plus, applicants have to pay something like $20 per school to send their GRE score report (this was when I applied out; it may have gone up since then), and most applicants have to pay additional fees to submit their transcripts.

If we as a discipline really care at all about diversity in philosophy, this practice of pricing underrepresented groups out of applying has to stop. Very few recent college graduates (philosophy majors too, mind you) have over $1,000 dollars sitting around to blow on application fees. Certainly members of underrepresented groups are even less likely to have that much cash to blow. But even if we set concerns about underrepresented groups aside, it seems preposterous that we are asking 22 year old kids (for the most part) to front that kind of money.

So what can be done? I have some ideas:

Do not require an official GRE score report unless an applicant is being seriously considered. There is no reason to ask every applicant to pay the fee since the vast majority will be rejected. Wait until a smaller batch of serious contenders is established, and then request official score reports to confirm self reported scores. Make clear to applicants that any discrepancies between self reported scores and the official score report may result in automatic rejection. The same might be done for academic transcripts, with the same threat of automatic termination of the application should any falsified self reporting be revealed by the official reports later on.

Make application fees lower, or else do more to offer fee waivers to disadvantaged students. It may be that some departments use high application fees to dissuade some applicants from applying. This seems to disadvantage poor applicants, and is not even the most effective way to cull the stack, as it were. I think that programs need to be more forthcoming about the fact that given the immensely competitive nature of philosophy admissions, especially at the “top”, students are incredibly unlikely to be admitted unless they have a strong philosophy background from a well regarded school, or an MA from a top MA program. Many of us know students from state schools and SLACs that were not aware of how competitive it is, paid their pound of flesh, and were universally rejected. More can be done to keep them from applying in the first place, and direct such students towards MAs.

Finally, schools can do more to get back with applicants earlier. No doubt about that. It makes the process easier on everyone, since so many folks are on wait lists and waitlisted for fellowships and the like. If an applicant has no chance of admission, they ought to be rejected as promptly as possible so that they can make the best decisions for their careers, academic or otherwise.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
6 years ago

Every year some students in our MA program never hear from programs to which they have applied. So far on this thread there has been a stunning silence from PHD program admissions people. I would love to know why this happens and what admissions committee think they are doing.Report

Luke
Luke
6 years ago

As someone who has been rejected many times, I am happy to report that at least they have always told me. I couldn’t imagine the dagger of being left hanging.Report

ABD
ABD
6 years ago

Isn’t communication a two-way street?

Each time I applied to graduate school, I called several philosophy departments in early April. Every single one of them told me I was waitlisted, and gave me helpful information in determining my odds of being accepted. I can’t imagine spending ~$100 to apply to a program and then not follow up before making an April 15 decision.Report

Fritz Warfield
Fritz Warfield
6 years ago

Apparently “stunning silence” is compatible with people who have been on PhD Program admissions committees a great many times responding.Report

dgs
dgs
6 years ago

Here is how the process went this year in my department. We began making offers in late January. When applicants were placed on a wait list, they were notified of that status, and wait-listed applicants were periodically updated. It was late on April 15th when we heard back from the last of those to whom we had offered admission. At that point, everyone remaining on the wait list was notified that he or she hadn’t been admitted. On April 16, the office staff entered final decisions (not admitted) into an Admissions Office data base for the remaining applicants. (The office staff had gone home by the time things were settled on the 15th.) A day or two later, the Admissions Office sent messages to the applicants not offered admission, notifying them of this decision. (It takes the Admissions Office a day or two to process the information.)

Throughout the process, we were contacted by many of the applicants asking for updates, which we gladly provided.

In light of the discussion here, I think next year we might send at least some of the rejection notices earlier (when we are sure early on that the applicant won’t be offered admission), and we might send them from the department rather than having the Admissions Office send them. In my view, these changes would be supererogatory, but I see reason to make them.

As noted in earlier comments, it is silly to infer that one’s application didn’t receive full and careful consideration from the fact that one didn’t get a response until April 17. I can assure readers that every application we received was carefully considered, and in many cases the deliberation was lengthy and difficult.Report

Yvan Ung
6 years ago

That agreement is called the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) Resolution; most schools with good programs are CGS members.Report