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I'm sure I already know the answer to this question, but I feel compelled to ask.

With the passing of midnight a couple hours ago, the April 15 deadline used by many US graduate schools, by which applicants should accept/decline offers of admission (as decided by the Council of Graduate Schools) has passed. While I have made my choice, there is still at least one (pretty well-respected) school from which I never received a decision. Thus, in order to have waited out a decision from this program, I would have had to risk losing other offers (one of the conundrums that the April 15 resolution aims to avoid).

They were totally fine with taking my application fee back in November, but never seemed to get around to making a decision on my application (it's still pending online and there has been no response to emailed inquiries). I understand rolling admissions, but this is absurd. Is there any chance I will be able to get my application fee refunded, seeing as they did not keep their end of the deal? I guess I'm asking if anyone has ever successfully made this argument to a school.

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You do not a have a leg to stand on, legally, morally or otherwise. The thing you should actually indict them for is not responding to your emails. That is rude; I think you should probably accept that as an implicit rejection. If they were still thinking of admitting you they would have checked on your status by this point.

The issue with your argument is that it doesn't actually follow the text of the resolution. The binding part of resolution you cited says "Students are under no obligation to respond to offers of financial support prior to April 15." So, schools have agreed not to withdraw an offer because you haven't accepted it before April 15th, and not to try to hold you to an offer you've accepted if you change your mind before April 15th. The school in question has held to their end of the bargain perfectly, since they never made you an offer.

The resolution says nothing about the school having to make a decision before April 15th. Of course, schools are well aware that it will be much harder to get people after April 15th, so they make an effort to make offers earlier. However, this is not a deal, this is the department acting in their own self-interest.

Unfortunately, there's too much uncertainty in the process to guarantee you'll make all offers before April 15th. After all, you have some plan for what your incoming class will be, you make offers to many more people than that, and you hope that you guessed the yield correctly. If the people who've already been offered admission are waiting until April 15th to make up their minds, you're then left with a great deal of uncertainty as the deadline approaches, since it will be a big problem if your incoming class is such bigger or much smaller than you planned. Thus, there often are people who you are not sure you want to reject, but not sure you have the money to fund. In my department, we still have a number of people waitlisted, since we haven't filled our class yet. Usually, such people will be formally notified they are on a waitlist; I think again, that's in the department's self-interest and helps clarify things for the student. So, again, it's likely this is an implicit rejection, which for whatever reason they haven't bothered to formalize.

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    Top answer because it addresses my initial argument. Also, fair enough. As I said, I don't care about the decision at this point--I'm happily accepting an offer elsewhere--but it is a bit of the icing on the very opaque cake that is the PhD admissions process – marcman Apr 16 '15 at 23:07
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Is there any chance I will be able to get my application fee refunded, seeing as they did not keep their end of the deal?

Graduate schools generally don't promise to make a decision by April 15, so it's not clear there's any deal being violated. It doesn't sound like you have a case to demand a refund, but you could try asking for one and see what happens. I doubt you'll get one, but it depends on what was happening behind the scenes in this department. I can imagine you might get a refund if something went terribly wrong and the university is embarrassed by it.

Not responding to inquiries is certainly strange and unprofessional (assuming you were sending them to the right address), and waiting until past April 15 to make a decision would be extraordinarily late. One possibility is that you have effectively been on a waiting list while the first round of offers got sorted out. Other than that, I'm having trouble thinking of a good reason why this might have happened. Do you know whether anyone else was admitted or rejected before April 15? (You might be able to find discussions online.) How you might approach this with the university depends on whether it's a widespread problem or something unique to you.

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    It's true that most schools do shy away from giving a hard deadline for decisions, but most (American) schools have agreed to that April 15th deadline for students to accept or reject offers. After that funding and slots are no longer guaranteed for outstanding offers. Given that, it is implied that if a school expects students to make decisions by April 15, they should provide something to decide on before that date. – marcman Apr 16 '15 at 18:40
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Generally application fees are not refunded, so it is unlikely they will do so in your case. You may have a winning case legally, but no point in going to court over something as small as an application fee. And the universities know it, so the threat to go to court is not credible.

I have never heard of anyone getting the application fee refunded.

Not hearing from them is almost certainly a rejection.

  • Of course no court--that would be a waste of everyone's time and money. And I don't much care about the decision at this point anyway. I'm mainly just put off and would love to hear if people have ever found a recourse ;-) – marcman Apr 16 '15 at 7:02
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Legality and the school being unprofessional aside, academia is a small world. I would not risk the exceptionally small chance that 4 or 5 years from now people at that university remember my name as it was the first time they dealt with that request, only to essentially make a point.

This doesn't answer your question proper - there is always a tiny chance something unexpected works out as you desire.

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