Navigating the April 15th Deadline
What is the April 15th deadline?
Most universities in North America agree to set April 15th deadline as a common acceptance deadline for offers of admission to a graduate program. This means that any institution that has signed this agreement agrees not to set any date before April 15th as an acceptance deadline.
The universal deadline was adopted to ensure that students have all possible information about their options for graduate school before making a decision. For more information on the deadline see the
The page above contains two important resources: a frequently asked questions page and a list of institutions that are signatories to this agreement. Also see the statement on the April 15th Resolution from the University of Utah graduate school.
How the April 15 Deadline Informs our Admissions Process
The April 15th deadline has substantial consequences for the way that our department approaches PhD recruitment. Our three main goals in admissions are
- Recruit strong students whose background and research interests fit our department.
- Try to admit as many students as the department needs, without admitting more than it can financially support.
- Maintain some equity in recruiting for the department’s different research groups.
Of course we recognize that many students to whom we make offers will ultimately choose to join other departments. Consequently we make more offers than the number that we are trying to recruit. This strategy opens our department to the risk that we recruit more students than we intended. Having many excellent students is great scientifically but is hard to manage financially. So we try very hard to make sure that we get just the right number of acceptances. Our usual approach is this:
Our department’s deadline for funded PhD positions is January 1st of each year. Based on that the initial steps usually proceed as follows:
Review applications throughout January.
Send out an initial round of offers in late January or early February. Typically the number of offers we send out is 2.5 or 3 times as many students that we hope to recruit.
Shortly after, we send out notifications to applicants that we won’t be admitting to the program. Usually this is because the applicant’s background or research interests are simply not a good fit for our department.
Shortly after that, we let remaining students know that they have been placed on a waitlist. This results in many students writing back to us to let us know of their continued interest in our program, or that they have already decided to choose another school. This is a good thing! It helps our department to manage admissions, and lets us know where we should concentrate our future offers.
The Waiting Game
From mid-February to mid-March our recruiting process typically pauses.
After the initial offers we spend significant time communicating with those students with offers. We set up online meetings between prospectives and faculty or current graduate students.
Usually we invite our initial offers, at least the ones that are currently at US universities, to visit our department sometime in March.
We communicate frequently with students on the waitlist to let them know where we stand and how the process usually unfolds. Typically, however, there are very few responses to our initial offers during this period, and so there is very little movement off of the waitlist.
Last Minute Offers
Generally the third week of March until April 15th sees a lot of activity.
Students who are on the waitlist write to let us know of their continued interest, or to inform us that they have accepted an offer from another institution.
Students with initial offers also begin to send in their decisions. For those who are joining our program we begin the technical process of admitting them into the university.
As our department begins to see which offers are going to be accepted and which are going to be declined we have freedom to make more offers. Only at this point are we able to begin making offers to students on the waitlist.
The process of last minute offers can happen very suddenly, depending on when our department begins to receives decisions about initial offers. Sometimes we are sending out new offers with less than a week to go before the April 15th deadline.
In summary, the universal April 15th deadline leads a somewhat peculiar process. It begins with a rush to review applications and get out initial offers, then is followed by a long pause in which very little happens, and ends with another rush of last minute offers. Clearly this makes some inefficiencies in the system. But it is better than asking to students to make decisions on short timelines and with incomplete information.
Advice for Students
The universal deadline is a necessary and important right for students to have. At the same time it brings in some additional complexities in how to navigate the system. Here are some pieces of advice that may be helpful, based on years of accumulated experience.
- Communicating with the places you applied to usually speeds up the process
- Always communicate final decisions directly to the recruitment director
- Being on a waitlist is not a reflection of you or your application
- Sitting on a large number of offers is bad for the system as a whole
- Don’t allow a department to break the April 15 resolution
Communicate with the departments you applied to
Our department prefers that applicants communicate with us directly about the status of their application. The preferred method is via e-mail to the chair of the graduate recruitment committee.
If you haven’t heard from a department by mid-to-late February it is OK to send an e-mail asking about your application status. Probably it means that you are on a waitlist but there was a miscommunication in sending this out.
If you are on a waitlist and remain interested in attending that particular school send an e-mail to let them know. Generally it makes the recruitment director’s job easier.
If you are on a waitlist it is not too forward to ask for the details of a potential offer, before you actually receive one. Especially if this might help to speed up your decision making process.
If you decide to choose another offer do communicate this to the schools that you are waitlisted at. A brief e-mail is sufficient. Some application systems allow you to do this with the click of a button.
You are welcome to send an e-mail to a current graduate student to get more information. They often provide more useful information and accurate perspective than faculty members can. But keep in mind that they likely won’t know many details about the current status of the recruiting process.
Always communicate final decisions to the recruitment director
It may be that you have little direct communication with the faculty member in charge of recruitment. Instead you may end up communicating with a faculty member who is closer to your research interests, or with a graduate student. But when it comes time to make your final decision, always make sure to communicate it to the faculty member in charge of recruitment. This leads to the smallest number of miscommunications.
Don’t be discouraged if you’re on a waitlist
It can feel very discouraging if your dream school puts your application on a waitlist. Even more so if you end up on the waitlist of several schools. However, you should not take this personally. There are a lot of factors that go into these decisions, many of which have nothing to do with the application itself. Decisions are influenced by budget considerations, by faculty availability for PhD mentoring, by teaching needs within the department, and other factors. Try to stay positive, and do communicate your continued interest to the schools in question.
Trim your offers
For individual students who do receive offers early in the process, there can be little personal incentive to respond to offers before the April 15th deadline. It is useful to keep this in mind: the best reason to trim your offices is to help your fellow students.
If you have offers from school A and school B, and you are sure that you would always choose school A over B, then do let school B know right away. This allows school B to proceed with an offer to a student on their waitlist.
Given the above there should be very little reason to hold more than two offers at a time. Among three schools it should be possible to determine which of the three is your least preferable. Try to make that decision early, communicate it to that last school, and free up more space in the overall system.
If you have competing offers and need more information to decide between them, send an e-mail to get that information. Departments should be happy to provide whatever information you need to finalize your decisions.
What to do if a school sets a deadline before April 15th
Occasionally a department will set a deadline before April 15th. In this case the department may pressure the student to decide as their earlier deadline approaches. Typically this happens for one of these reasons:
The department’s university is not a signatory to the April 15th Resolution. This is rare for institutions in North America. See the Council of Graduate Schools April 15th Resolution for a list of signatory institutions.
The offer does not contain any financial support. Technically an offer of admission that does not provide any finanical support is not subject to the April 15th resolution. Again, this is usually rare when dealing with PhD admissions.
Most commonly, the department issuing the offer is simply unaware that their university is a signatory to the resolution. In this case setting the earlier deadline is usually an oversight. One way to check if this is the case is to review your offer letter. Offers coming from signatory institutions are supposed to contain either a copy of the resolution or a link to the URL of the resolution. If neither appears in your offer (and the offer is for a scholarship, fellowship, traineeship, or assistanship) then likely the department is simply unaware of their obligations.
The simplest way to address a pre-April 15th deadline is to send a polite e-mail to the recruitment director inquiring about the reason for the earlier deadline. The term “recruitment director” typically means “whoever sent you the initial offer letter”. Include a link to the April 15th resolution in your e-mail. This is an easy way to remind the chair of their obligations under the resolution.
If that doesn’t work, an e-mail to the university’s graduate school is also appropriate. Typically the April 15th resolution is agreed to and administered by the graduate school, and they can remind their departments that it needs to be adhered to.