This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

admissionprof
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This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby admissionprof » Sun Apr 01, 2012 6:49 am

Something very unusual seems to be happening this admission cycle. With just two weeks to go, a remarkably small percentage of those we've made offers to have responded.

Let me give you some numbers. For anonymity, I have changed the actual numbers quite a bit, but the point is the same. Suppose we want a class of 18, and typically find that 30% of our offers are accepted. We don't make 60 offers right away, because in these budget times, we really can't afford to go over (if, for example, 40% accepted instead of 30%, we'd go over and have to plead with Deans for extra money - the statistics of small numbers can be misleading). So we make 50 offers, and then as the responses come in, we see how it looks and can then go to the waiting list.

In past years, by April 1st, we have heard from roughly 50% of our offers, and only 5-10% wait until the last couple of days.

This year, we have heard from about 15% of our offers. This is not just my own institution - I talked to a few admissions directors elsewhere late last week, and they are seeing something similar. As a result, our waiting list is just sitting there, and we are very nervous. Nobody seems to know why. The situation is unstable, since our failure to decide on the waiting list causes those students to not commit elsewhere, etc. Hopefully, the dominoes will begin falling soon.

Visits are mostly over, and I can see that many of you who have applied this year have gotten into several places. You do not have to have a final decision to respond to every offer. If you're waiting to hear from another place, but can decide between the ones you've visited, please tell the ones that you've decided against NOW. You don't need to say where you are going. I can understand not being sure between 2 or 3 places and needing time to think about it and talk to friends and advisers, but there is no excuse for holding on to many more offers. If you know you are not going somewhere, tell them now. Not tomorrow, not next week, but now. Please.

giga17
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby giga17 » Sun Apr 01, 2012 6:57 am

Hmm I'm not sure if the assumption that visits are mostly over is valid though. I know there are a lot of Open Houses in the first week of April, especially among the top schools. I'm not sure if people would make a decision that quickly as I feel that the entire decision process is hijacked by the top schools, and if your school's program is decently ranked it may take a while till those visits are over before people start to respond.

admissionprof
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby admissionprof » Sun Apr 01, 2012 7:17 am

giga17 wrote:Hmm I'm not sure if the assumption that visits are mostly over is valid though. I know there are a lot of Open Houses in the first week of April, especially among the top schools. I'm not sure if people would make a decision that quickly as I feel that the entire decision process is hijacked by the top schools, and if your school's program is decently ranked it may take a while till those visits are over before people start to respond.


I understand, but about 85% of the open houses are finished, so some ordering should be possible. And if you look at last year's open house dates, they were roughly the same. So why is the response rate so much slower this year?

microacg
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby microacg » Sun Apr 01, 2012 10:09 am

I'm not in a position to assist with this problem, but I find it fascinating.

Well, if your program or any other that you are in communication with ends up getting screwed and doesn't have enough students to commit then you could probably grab a few from this community!

Bozostein
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby Bozostein » Sun Apr 01, 2012 2:55 pm

maybe people would just rather go to another school instead of yours? I can't believe that your sample size of talking to a couple of people indicates a trend.

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InquilineKea
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby InquilineKea » Sun Apr 01, 2012 3:06 pm

April Fool's Joke?

(that said, it could easily go either way - I wouldn't be that surprised if this were true).

astroprof
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby astroprof » Sun Apr 01, 2012 3:17 pm

The issue is not how many students are saying yes or no, it is that
students are not saying anything (yet). As mentioned on other
threads, everyone is better served if students can narrow down
their choices in a timely manner and inform schools of their
decision in advance of April 15. While we make more offers than
we expect to have accepted (over-commits), we can not move on
the waitlist until we know whether our yield will be higher or lower
than average. If all students wait until April 15 to inform all of their
schools on their decision, the system breaks down. Now, having
said that, I am not advocating for everyone to commit to a school
well in advance of April 15 - sometimes it takes a genuine deadline
to force a decision, and some are still waiting on possible offers from
waitlists. However, you should be able to narrow it down to just 2
schools by this point. Please inform the others of your decision as soon
as possible.

Note that this is even more of an issue for astronomy departments, which
are (usually) smaller than Physics departments. Missing the mark by
one or two students can lead to financial difficulties (too many students)
or staffing problems (too few students).

admissionprof
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby admissionprof » Sun Apr 01, 2012 3:32 pm

Bozostein wrote:maybe people would just rather go to another school instead of yours? I can't believe that your sample size of talking to a couple of people indicates a trend.


This is not a joke, I am quite serious. Of course many people would rather go to another school; that is true every year. And of those that have responded, the acceptance rate is similar to our average. The difference is that this year an anomalously low number of people have responded (and when several admissions directors tell me the same thing, it does indicate a <b>possible</b> trend, although there aren't a lot of data points). That makes it much harder to inform waitlist people.

I agree with everything astroprof says above.

GeorgeThe4th
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby GeorgeThe4th » Sun Apr 01, 2012 6:10 pm

It is indeed strange, and it is frustrating to me. I am wait-listed at Ohio State, and was told they do not know how many they will be taking from the wait list. They said they probably won't know until very close to April 15th. This is problematic to me, since I just visited U Florida, and they want me to make a decision soon so they can notify the applicants on the wait list... At this point I probably will be going to Florida, but I cannot feel comfortable committing until I get a final response from OSU.

The whole system seems really awful. I will probably end up rushing on April 13th/14th to make my decision, and the one I reject will then have to rush to send out an acceptance to someone else. Also, if I am accepted to OSU, there will be no time for a visit. I certainly wouldn't feel good about accepting an offer without having visited the campus and a few of the professors first.

astroprof
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby astroprof » Sun Apr 01, 2012 7:04 pm

GeorgeThe4th - if you think you might accept OSU (even without a visit), then
you should continue to wait on making your final decision. However, if you
have already decided that Florida is your top choice among your current options,
then you should notify the other school(s). Also, if you feel comfortable doing
so, you might let Florida know that they are your top choice at the moment, but
that you are still waiting to hear from some schools (you do not need to say which
one(s), but can if you like). This will help Florida make a more educated guess on
your likelihood of accepting their offer, and thereby potentially make additional
offers from their waitlist sooner (given all the other variables at work). I certainly
understand your frustration with the process - it is not ideal from either side of
the application folder.

admissionprof
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby admissionprof » Sun Apr 01, 2012 7:10 pm

GeorgeThe4th wrote:It is indeed strange, and it is frustrating to me. I am wait-listed at Ohio State, and was told they do not know how many they will be taking from the wait list. They said they probably won't know until very close to April 15th. This is problematic to me, since I just visited U Florida, and they want me to make a decision soon so they can notify the applicants on the wait list... At this point I probably will be going to Florida, but I cannot feel comfortable committing until I get a final response from OSU.

The whole system seems really awful. I will probably end up rushing on April 13th/14th to make my decision, and the one I reject will then have to rush to send out an acceptance to someone else. Also, if I am accepted to OSU, there will be no time for a visit. I certainly wouldn't feel good about accepting an offer without having visited the campus and a few of the professors first.


Yes, the system seems awful, but I have yet to hear of a better one. No April 15th deadline would turn into chaos, with lesser schools giving people very little time to decide. One thing that would help would be an agreement to schedule all open houses before April 1st. But that gives fewer weekends, so more overlap. When we make offers after April 1st, we give them an April 30 deadline -- but that wouldn't help you decide on UF vs OSU. One idea might be to give the top few on the waiting list a weekday or weekend visit in April....that would only cost a few thousand and would let the students have a better basis for a decision.

Astroprof is completely correct. Being up front with Florida will help them with their waitlist decisions. It wouldn't hurt to let them know that it's OSU you're waiting on. And any school that is below Florida on your list should be told right away. Who knows, maybe someone on the waitlist at the school you have below Florida currently holds an OSU offer and would prefer the other....

TakeruK
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby TakeruK » Mon Apr 02, 2012 10:25 am

I think this is a problem that will continue to grow. I think that people are taking longer to decide because there are more uncertainties in the decision making process.

In addition, some schools were really slow at providing further information about the offer and I got the sense that students are supposed to find out more at the open house. But this could be several weeks away and for some places, I could have made a decision earlier if my questions were answered earlier. And for some places, it turns out that some answers change by the time the open house happened.

The offer letters I received basically said that they would appreciate hearing from me ASAP but then cited the council of graduate studies (or something) agreement and said there is no obligation to respond before April 15. Based on this, I probably would have waited until the last week to make a decision, because what if I decide too soon and situations change?? But since I did know that waiting could cause others to miss out on a spot (from past experience and this forum), it didn't make sense to hold out on every offer (e.g. safeties) in the negligible chance something could change my mind. But not every student is on here, and the admissions process might not be clear to some students.

So I think it would encourage more people to reply sooner if the letters were more strongly worded so that students understand why an earlier response is preferable. Otherwise, it is like a homework deadline -- why hand it in earlier when you still have a few weeks to go?

I also think it would greatly help if there was a standardized (range of) date(s) for all applications to be due, for decisions to be made, and for students to respond. Also, if graduate programs were as open as possible about the status of applications, then students may feel like they have enough information to make "early" decisions. For example, when an application is submitted, or even on the application information page, the department can give stats such as: average # of applicants, average # of offers made, average # of people who accept the offers, percentage of international students admitted, and the stipend amounts for the last few years. Also, after the first wave of acceptances go out, it would be nice to know sooner rather than later if you're on a waitlist or not, and this email (no snail mail) should contain a line that says something like we received X applications, made Y1 offers while expecting Y2 acceptances, and you are one of Z students on a waitlist. If possible, the student's position on the waitlist should be indicated, but I understand that position depends on who ends up accepting the offer!

Basically, what I'm saying is that students are playing it safe by waiting longer to make decisions. But (some, perhaps not yours) graduate programs are doing a very similar thing by carefully guarding their admissions information as well*. This leads to us students having no idea where we stand so the only thing we can do is wait for more information, which might never come. Ideally, an increase in information from graduate admissions is desired, but at the very least, explaining to students why responding sooner rather than later could be helpful.

*Note: I don't think this information is necessarily secret, because most of my rejections usually give X and Y1 at least. During Open Houses, profs have told me their school's Y2 fractions, usually around 30%, which matches what is discussed here. So it is not really a matter of secrets, but a lack of communication.

asdfuogh
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby asdfuogh » Mon Apr 02, 2012 8:26 pm

Maybe also because prospective grads have more information (compared to the previous years) about acceptances and rejections, and they're all just waiting for some other wave of rejections before making decisions? Has there been a trend of decreasing numbers of responses by this time period, or is this year just weird?

CarlBrannen
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby CarlBrannen » Mon Apr 02, 2012 10:05 pm

asdfuogh wrote:Maybe also because prospective grads have more information (compared to the previous years) about acceptances and rejections, and they're all just waiting for some other wave of rejections before making decisions? Has there been a trend of decreasing numbers of responses by this time period, or is this year just weird?


Interesting.

It's easy enough to compare the number of acceptances and rejections between this year and last year (by looking at the grad cafe data). Assuming there's been no change in the percentage of students reporting, etc., then there being no change in the data would suggest that students are different this year, and a change in the data (perhaps later rejection notices) would suggest that the universities are acting different this year.

Hausdorff
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby Hausdorff » Tue Apr 03, 2012 7:59 pm

I need to decide between two schools now and I still have a few schools that haven't replied back to me. So, there is a paradox between schools and students that both don't respond.
I think schools can trigger the solution if they start sending a small portion of their decisions(both acceptance and rejections)

But, whatever the case is, students should be able to decrease the number of choices to two or three.

baconface
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby baconface » Thu Apr 05, 2012 12:22 pm

I understand why schools may have to delay decisions for waitlisted students, but why would some schools still have not sent out rejections? Currently, UC Irvine has said nothing to me. I don't really care, as I'm not going to attend a school I won't even have time to visit. I'm either on the waitlist or in the reject pile, but no word either way (after 4 months, $80, and 3 email inquiries). I suspect I'm not alone in limbo, as I have seen no "waitlisted" or "rejected" posts from Irvine applicants here or on gradcafe.

Now, I can imagine that a decent number of applicants would wait on accepting their other top 50 offers having not heard anything from schools like this (which are probably near the top of their list).

Any insight or hunches as to why a school would delay their rejections so long? I just found it curious.

admissionprof
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby admissionprof » Thu Apr 05, 2012 1:22 pm

baconface wrote:I understand why schools may have to delay decisions for waitlisted students, but why would some schools still have not sent out rejections? Currently, UC Irvine has said nothing to me. I don't really care, as I'm not going to attend a school I won't even have time to visit. I'm either on the waitlist or in the reject pile, but no word either way (after 4 months, $80, and 3 email inquiries). I suspect I'm not alone in limbo, as I have seen no "waitlisted" or "rejected" posts from Irvine applicants here or on gradcafe.

Now, I can imagine that a decent number of applicants would wait on accepting their other top 50 offers having not heard anything from schools like this (which are probably near the top of their list).

Any insight or hunches as to why a school would delay their rejections so long? I just found it curious.



I find that outrageous. We've told our waitlisted students that they are on the waitlist for many, many weeks, and have kept them updated. But to say nothing? Maybe you should call them, and then call them, and then call them.....

Hellas
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby Hellas » Thu Apr 05, 2012 2:45 pm

baconface, i also have not heard a single word from 3 different institutions, one of them being Irvine as well. it is ridiculous that they cannot just notify you one way or another, if even by generic email.

CarlBrannen
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby CarlBrannen » Thu Apr 05, 2012 3:47 pm

baconface wrote:I understand why schools may have to delay decisions for waitlisted students, but why would some schools still have not sent out rejections? Currently, UC Irvine has said nothing to me. I don't really care, as I'm not going to attend a school I won't even have time to visit. I'm either on the waitlist or in the reject pile, but no word either way (after 4 months, $80, and 3 email inquiries). I suspect I'm not alone in limbo, as I have seen no "waitlisted" or "rejected" posts from Irvine applicants here or on gradcafe.

Now, I can imagine that a decent number of applicants would wait on accepting their other top 50 offers having not heard anything from schools like this (which are probably near the top of their list).

Any insight or hunches as to why a school would delay their rejections so long? I just found it curious.


Since you're not going to attend UCI, why don't you make their problem easier and tell them this.

baconface
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby baconface » Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:03 pm

It just seems like a well respected institution like that should know the effect delaying decisions. I mean, I'm just a humble 20 something with no real insight into this process, so if they need my help then I'm worried for them! Anyone with enough motivation should organize a big call marathon, lining up all the prospective students who haven't heard anything yet. I would like to help, but I'm mostly trying to put the whole 2012 application debacle behind me at this point.

I also hope that more decisions are coming in for your department, admissionsprof.

pythy
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby pythy » Fri Apr 13, 2012 2:04 am

hello, admission prof. thanks for your response on another thread about what the heck to do about being on a waiting list. but has your problem abated, cause mine sure hasn't--big time anxiety. i'm still on the wl at three other schools rated higher than my best admit, one of which is ohio state, which has been mentioned in this thread. one of the schools told me that i might hear by april 15th, or not, which i suppose means that i might get a positive response after april 15th. are your decks clearing, or are things still stacked up? my gf says i should've committed a month ago, but she's in to commitments. is this really going to go down to the wire. and does that serve anyone? or is this year really an anomaly? i guess i have to wait to the last minute, but that doesn't seem to serve anyone, does it?

admissionprof
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby admissionprof » Fri Apr 13, 2012 6:08 am

pythy wrote:hello, admission prof. thanks for your response on another thread about what the heck to do about being on a waiting list. but has your problem abated, cause mine sure hasn't--big time anxiety. i'm still on the wl at three other schools rated higher than my best admit, one of which is ohio state, which has been mentioned in this thread. one of the schools told me that i might hear by april 15th, or not, which i suppose means that i might get a positive response after april 15th. are your decks clearing, or are things still stacked up? my gf says i should've committed a month ago, but she's in to commitments. is this really going to go down to the wire. and does that serve anyone? or is this year really an anomaly? i guess i have to wait to the last minute, but that doesn't seem to serve anyone, does it?



The logjam (at least for us) seems to have broken in the past few days, but we still have more left than usual. You refer to your "best admit" - I presume you've rejected all other admits by now (the problem is that many don't reject a school even when they know they aren't going).

One possibility that many don't pursue is simply to ask your best admit for a few more days. It may be that they have a big enough class so far that no harm will be done by giving you a few more days. It can't hurt to ask. But you should be completely open with them - tell them who you're waiting on and what your prospects are.

It does look like it will go down to the wire. This year might be funny because the 15th is a Sunday. So it is possible that admissions committees will do a lot of "if-then" decisions today, and thus you might have more information soon. I've never been clear on what time of day the deadline is (we just say midnight our time)....the resolution isn't clear on that question.

GeorgeThe4th
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby GeorgeThe4th » Sat Apr 14, 2012 12:21 am

@pythy

As I discussed earlier in this thread, I have been on the wait list at osu as well. Over the last few days I have been in contact with them and attempted to get a decision from them. They told me on April 12th that they may be able to make 1 or 2 offers to applicants on the wait list, but they may not be able to do so until April 16th or 17th.

What disturbed me was the advice they gave me. They suggested that I temporarily accept one of my other offers, and then ask to cancel the agreement a few days later in the event that osu accepts me from the wait list. Morally that concept did not sit well with me. So I slept on it. In the morning I decided I just wouldn't be willing to do that, even if it meant not being able to go to osu. So I withdrew my application from the wait list. Besides that, the idea of attending a place that I wouldn't have a chance to visit in advance did not sound pleasant either.

Meanwhile I have officially accepted the offer at University of Florida. Finally the uncertainty is over for me!

archetyperyan
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby archetyperyan » Sun Apr 15, 2012 12:05 pm

The matter is being settled today, obviously, but I came here to add that I was also waiting on three schools until the last minute. I was waitlisted at Colorado State, UC Irvine, and Johns Hopkins without any e-mails or notifications. The latter two finally got back to me with a decision (rejected :( ) but I haven't heard from Colorado State and when I e-mailed them a week ago they said they would get back to me "in April."

I sent in my acceptance to University of Hawaii a couple of days ago, but how are students supposed to make reasonable decisions without knowing all the offers they might receive?

admissionprof
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby admissionprof » Sun Apr 15, 2012 2:27 pm

archetyperyan wrote:I sent in my acceptance to University of Hawaii a couple of days ago, but how are students supposed to make reasonable decisions without knowing all the offers they might receive?


How are universities supposed to decide on whether to go to the waitlist when so many students that have offers aren't responding? It works both ways (i.e. it sucks for everyone). If everyone who had more than one offer in hand would decide what their preference is BEFORE April 15th (and tell the loser(s)), there would be much less of a problem.

Thank you for sending your acceptance to Hawaii a few days ago---it gives them time to decide what to do.

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YodaT
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby YodaT » Sun Apr 15, 2012 6:20 pm

The status of all my applications remain "complete". I called a month ago and they said they'll notify me of a decision by April 15... nice to know we pay for and take the time to prepare an application to be tossed in the corner.

Maybe I'm just having a horrible day, but I feel majoring in physics is probably the worst decision of my life. No job offers and no money for grad school apps this fall... see you all at Subway.

bfollinprm
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:04 am

YodaT wrote:The status of all my applications remain "complete". I called a month ago and they said they'll notify me of a decision by April 15... nice to know we pay for and take the time to prepare an application to be tossed in the corner.

Maybe I'm just having a horrible day, but I feel majoring in physics is probably the worst decision of my life. No job offers and no money for grad school apps this fall... see you all at Subway.



Don't give up yet. Schools which didn't fill their first year class might still have room for you (you're a quality applicant), even if you didn't apply. Talk to Carl about sending in late applications, and who to contact to make sure you aren't wasting your time again. You aren't going to make it into the top schools, but that's not the end of the world. It could all end up being for the better.


Also, did you apply to riverside yet? They have a great math physics program and take applications until May 1st. Other programs with gravity research which take late applications (though won't necessarily have any money left, so email first)

Penn State--Physics
...

CarlBrannen
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby CarlBrannen » Mon Apr 16, 2012 3:59 pm

bfollinprm wrote:Other programs with gravity research which take late applications (though won't necessarily have any money left, so email first) ...


Best program that does gravity research (for getting into late) is U. Texas Brownsville. They are so new that they don't even offer the PhD. If you attend UTB you get your PhD sort of through U. Texas San Antonio, if I recall.

From this description they may look like a high grade community college, but actually they have one of the best gravity departments in the US with 9 astronomy / gravitation people:
http://www.phys.utb.edu/research/astro.shtml

Because of this combination of low profile / high quality, this is easily the best place to put an application for late admittance to a gravity department. In fact, people interested in this should apply before the deadline.

Also, I did the research on Brownsville, and it's a relatively low crime area. I bet it has great food. And the warmest winter in the continental US. Plus it's close to the ocean and so doesn't get that hot in summer. But it's relatively low cost housing. An advantage of Texas is that there's no state income tax which simplifies your life.

I got admitted to UTB last year. They were very nice, but I chose Washington State instead partly because it was a shorter move and partly because I fell in love with the campus here from the first visit. But I told UTB that over the years I'd send graduate students their way, so please mention that Carl Brannen suggested applying there. It's the place I'd love to have a postdoc at.

pythy
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Re: This year's admission cycle is anomalous. Please help.

Postby pythy » Fri Apr 20, 2012 1:42 am

long week, wow. thanks for the advice ap, and yes, i did reject all admits other than my best admit, but it was still harrowing. no hard feelings from best admit, they were exceedingly understanding which i really appreciated. but if i had to do it again i'd contact them even earlier, which i imagine would reduce the stress on everyone. in the end, the decision came down to the fact when i called the phone number at the wl school i was eventually admitted at to get more info, not only did a professor answer the phone, but it was one who was doing exactly the research i was interested in. what's more, he seemed to know who i was from my school and my recommendations. probably stupid, but it seemed like karma. not all that happy that it went down to the wire, but i'm very happy with the way things turned out.
and hey, george, i definitely understand your concern with ohio state, that is bizarre advice. i didn't contact them, and they didn't end up accepting me. of course, they didn't reject me, either--just limbo.




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