Sticky Situation

FeMan
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2015 10:46 pm

Sticky Situation

Postby FeMan » Sun Jan 31, 2016 5:21 pm

I've found myself in a tricky situation and would greatly appreciate any advice.

I only applied to a few graduate programs. One program offered me admission and a unique funding opportunity. This offer came from someone I know well and came off as a friendly offer. The unique funding opportunity was not the only funding offered to me, just a more attractive funding option.

Here is how the funding opportunity works. They nominate a certain number of accepted students. If the accepted student is awarded the funding and decides to attend the university, all is well. Both the department and the student are better off. If the accepted student is awarded the funding and decides to attend another university, the department is worse off, because the funding is not 'transferable' to any student who did decides to attend. That makes the department be picky about who they nominate. They like to meet with the students and ask how seriously they are considering their university and how likely they would be to attend if they received the special funding.

In order to determine how likely I would be to attend the university making the unique offer, I contacted the other universities I applied to asking for status updates. This turned out to be a somewhat awful decision. My contact at one university thinks I am either lying or that the special funding university is engaging in unethical recruiting tactics by trying to make students decide early.

This is where the conversation now stands. I would definitely still like an acceptance from the other university, even though one person there is accusing me of being a liar. This accuser has also subtly inquired as to which school is making the offer. I would not like to reveal that information, because I thought the offer was a kind gesture.

Any thoughts on how to proceed? My goal is to get another acceptance and not reveal the university making the unique offer.

broo
Posts: 13
Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2015 7:23 pm

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby broo » Sun Jan 31, 2016 6:07 pm

Is there a deadline on accepting the funding? Most departments have an agreement to not require students to accept or decline offers until April 15th, so I could see why another department might be wary of you claiming that you're being coerced to accept an offer sooner.

FeMan
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2015 10:46 pm

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby FeMan » Sun Jan 31, 2016 6:25 pm

There is a deadline approaching soon for the special funding opportunity. The department nominates applicants to the university. But that wasn't the only funding offered. I could still decide to attend the offering university on April 15 and receive a different form of funding.

broo
Posts: 13
Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2015 7:23 pm

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby broo » Sun Jan 31, 2016 6:42 pm

So they offered funding with a deadline, but they take into account your likelihood of attending the university before deciding to give it to you? That doesn't seem implausible to me. My guess is that they might have misunderstood and thought you were saying that you won't get any funding otherwise or that you needed to accept an offer soon, as opposed to them just wanting to gauge your interest. If you were clear about the situation with whatever university you called I don't see why they would doubt it. Honestly, I would probably send a followup email to whoever you talked to with an attached copy of the funding information. I think if someone in the admissions committee thinks you're dishonest you need to prove otherwise.

FeMan
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2015 10:46 pm

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby FeMan » Sun Jan 31, 2016 7:46 pm

Yes, you got it. An early 'deadline' for special funding and the usual April 15th deadline for different funding. Unfortunately this was all conveyed through a conversation rather than an official letter, so I cannot send anything more than my word to the other university. I sent another email trying to be much more detailed. Hopefully this will clear things up and not hurt my chances at the other university.

Thanks for the advice!

furiousmushroom
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Dec 01, 2015 10:49 am

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby furiousmushroom » Sun Jan 31, 2016 8:30 pm

I would maybe get in touch with your contact at the special funding university and ask them to send an email directly to this person who thinks you're lying.

Could also offer to phone up/Skype this person who's accusing you. You'd probably communicate better that way

Numberwang
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Nov 15, 2014 9:57 am

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby Numberwang » Sun Jan 31, 2016 10:35 pm

It's kinda dickish to accuse someone of lying for no reason! I would be wary of going to that school if that's how they are.

FeMan
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2015 10:46 pm

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby FeMan » Sun Jan 31, 2016 10:44 pm

I got a much better response after the even more detailed email. The university will not provide any early status updates. And while the unique offer from the university seem reasonable, it probably isn't the best method for attracting students, and it puts extra pressure on students already faced with a difficult decision.

I would not recommend that anyone do this type of thing. It would only be worse if you applied to a large number of universities and had to ask them all. As hard as it may be to pass up a slightly better offer and wait until all of your schools have made official decisions, I would strongly recommend not trying to get a faster decision or an update too early.

Thanks for all of the comments!

astroprof
Posts: 95
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby astroprof » Mon Feb 01, 2016 3:28 pm

This appears to be a situation exacerbated by poor communication between the parties. While I don't know the precise details of this situation, it is not uncommon to need/desire additional information from the applicant if the applicant is being nominated for university-wide fellowships. Those university-wide fellowships require not just the applicant's materials, but also a letter from the department to nominate the student. The letter usually includes a summary of why the applicant is worthy of the fellowship (providing context for the specific department's applicant pool) and how likely the applicant is to accept an offer. This latter information is important, as the university usually over-commits on fellowships, just like departments over-comment on graduate admissions offers. Since the graduate school has even less context than the department does, it is important to indicate a reasonable likelihood of whether the student is likely to accept. Thus, contacting the student and inquiring about their "interest" in the school is not uncommon. This allows us (the department) to write things like "Professor so-and-so contacted happy-prospective-student to discuss our graduate program on February X. While happy-prospective-student has several offers, we believe his/her good match to our program, particularly his/her interest in Prof interesting-subject's research area, makes it likely that he/she will accept our offer." Conversely, if happy-prospective-student is actually I-don't-have-time-for-your-not-Ivy-student, we may choose to nominate someone else for the fellowship. None of this violates the April 15 deadline since this is not a requirement to say "yes, I will definitely attend your institution, particularly if you give me this really nice fellowship offer" in order to be nominated for the fellowship.

Given that this is standard operating procedures at most universities, it should not have raised a red flag at the other institutions. However, there also was no legitimate reason for mentioning this situation to the other schools. Their admission processes will proceed at their own pace. You can send an inquiry regarding status of the process, but no one is going to provide notification until they are ready to provide notification. So there really was no need to contact those schools at this point. The answer to the first school should have been "I am very interested in your program, but I am waiting to hear back from other schools so that I can consider my options fully." (If that is true) or "I am waiting to hear back from other programs, but a fellowship offer would definitely make your school more attractive" (if that is true) or "I am waiting to hear back from other programs. I think your school has a lot to offer, but I have a lot to consider first." All of these leave your options open, but indicate different levels of interest in the program.

integratedfields
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Jan 22, 2016 12:04 pm

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby integratedfields » Wed Feb 03, 2016 3:29 pm

I just faced a very similar situation. A school I applied to had me do a skype interview and gave me a similar ultimatum of "Decide within a week if you are going to attend to get nominated for an RA". I felt very uncomfortable with such a short deadline, and it seemed really fishy to me. I talked to my advisor about it and he said the only reason they said that in a skype interview and not an email is because they could get into a lot of trouble sending such an ultimatum through email.
I was lucky that I was already accepted somewhere else, so I did not feel as pressured to accept as I could have. I know they are just trying to retain the best students they can, but the tactic completely backfired in my case and I withdrew my application to the school.

astroprof
Posts: 95
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby astroprof » Wed Feb 03, 2016 4:11 pm

Integratedfields: That does sound like a department behaving badly, and their bad behavior should be reported. Unfortunately, some faculty are not aware of the proper procedures and/or think that they can get away with such bad behavior. Either you or your advisor should send a note to the department chair (if the chair was not the one conducting the interview!) to let them know that their admissions committee appears to be violating the April 15 agreement (assuming that the institution is a signatory - only US schools are on the list).

For others who may be in a similar situation, the Council of Graduate School's Resolution Regarding Graduate Scholars, Fellows, Trainees and Assistants says the following:

"Students are under no obligation to respond to offers of financial support prior to April 15; earlier deadlines for acceptance of such offers violate the intent of this Resolution. In those instances in which a student accepts an offer before April 15, and subsequently desires to withdraw that acceptance, the student may submit in writing a resignation of the appointment at any time through April 15. However, an acceptance given or left in force after April 15 commits the student not to accept another offer without first obtaining a written release from the institution to which a commitment has been made. …" (bold font added)

In other words, even if you say "yes" now, you can still change your mind up until April 15. I don't recommend saying "yes" and then "no", as it will be viewed negatively (and Physics/Astro is a very small community), but if you did think that this was a school that you would like to attend, despite their bad behavior, then this would allow you to keep your options open.

The take-away message is that you really do have until April 15 (for US schools) regardless of the un-informed/malicious acts of individual departments. It is also important that these departments be informed that they are behaving badly (if un-informed) and/or reported to the University's graduate school (if acting maliciously) so that the behavior does not continue. You may be able to report this to the graduate school (not department) by filling out a comment box on the "I decline your institution" form, or by including a statement indicating that this was the reason you declined the school in your e-mail response to the offer (all our accept/decline e-mails are forwarded to the graduate school for processing).

TakeruK
Posts: 813
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Sticky Situation

Postby TakeruK » Thu Feb 04, 2016 3:48 am

To add to astroprof's post, here is a link to the full text (and list of signatories) of the resolution: http://cgsnet.org/ckfinder/userfiles/fi ... ct2015.pdf




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