If you got as far as a wait list, they liked your application. Not everyone gets a second look from their most preferred school, but you did. You have absolutely nothing to lose by asking. And although you may wonder about being seen in terms of "desperation," it is also possible that your inquiry may be perceived as showing genuine interest, persistence, flexibility and resilience.
I have read so many of Minnesotan's posts. VERY wise. I wish I had read them last fall, too, because I would have done better applications, esp SOP. This is like the end of the term at every university, and professors are all doing final exams and term papers and grades. DO give them time to reconsider your possibilities and your flexibility and resiliency. It is probably very hard to schedule meetings just now because of all this.
Actually, accepting their offer might help re funding. It gets you on the list. It makes you one of theirs. Call tomorrow and have a friendly talk, say you are going to send in an acceptance, can they help find support in this department, work-study, or anywhere on campus? I knew a guy in Journalism who got an assistantship in Computer Science giving tours. It sounds weird, but he was a really good talker and could explain science to ordinary people.
At this point in time, there is nothing to lost by joining a wait list. MOST on the wait list ahead of you have either found other places or withdrawn, so your odds may not be as bad as all that. Tell them oh yes thank you, and smile and smile, meantime, figure out some plan to buff your resume for the future if this does not work out. DO NOT TAKE THIS PERSONALLY. I know it feels personal, but it's just X's in boxes, and who cares, if luck comes your way, the teachers in your actual classrooms will not know or care whether you got in on the first round or the last minute. I am not kidding, I have friends who have been in grad schools and the admissions committees are absolutely not in communications with the ordinary faculty teaching 1st year students, and even if they themselves are, they don't seem to connect names and faces, so everyone starts at the same place. Tabula rasa, don't we love it.
I also had e-mails which were semi-promises. Both said I was high on the list, expect to hear soon about funding, we are almost sure you will get something, we just need to know what the first round of offers are going to do, &c. I was happy at first, not later. At the end, one school never came through with funding, even though I kept being patient and waiting and so on, but the other school did offer a TA-ship after I was patient &c. So it's hard to say--maybe so, maybe not. Any Ph.D. went to grad school AND knows the need for support unless he was born into a royal family of some kind. I can't believe they forget even twenty years later. But they get busy, and one more grad student, more or less, matters way more to the grad student than to the department, esp. if it's kind of a large one, but even if it's not. Like I said to my son's kindergarten teacher--you have 25 students here, but I only have one. Anyway, like one of the previous writers said, it does not hurt to phone and ask how's it going, how does it look, I sure hope I get good news, I'd love to come to your school.
And also check on your FAFSA which I hope you sent in because that should be worth a couple thousand dollars even if you don't get anything else, and would help with rent.
One of my friends got a TA-ship a week after she started classes. It was that late. I think someone who was accepted didn't show up, but she never asked where the money came from and didn't care. Optimism is free and good luck can happen to anyone who doesn't quit.
Everything is variable, and everyone has a story to tell. I know a person who got funding a week after classes started. In philosophy! Wow, I would never go on loans in philosophy, but she got lucky. If you have until the 28th at your other schools, then you have a few days. It's just that you have only three schools--well, really you are only looking at that one dithering place--and they have maybe a dozen or more supplicants knocking, and maybe they started with a hundred or more. For the ones on the inside, the perspective is so different. What's a few days, more or less? From the outside, it's like a little kid waiting for Xmas morning--it feels like it will never come.
I even wrote that to one admissions chair while I was waiting--I said it was like looking through a telescope from the other side. He was quite cheerful, agreed, wished me luck, and after a few days, sent a rejection. But they have lots of applicants, and it's just that their perspective is different. And it's not like you're left stranded on the beach--you have offers. From what you wrote, I thought you had some mixed feelings about this school anyway (well it sounded mixed to me, maybe I am way off base). However, this is the real world. If you have to make a decision by a due date, it's fair to say so, and if they still are fiddling around, then they can continue to fiddle while you decide on a school that can make up its mind. I don't know what your field of study is, but I'll bet it is not involved with fiddling around and dithering.
In a sad but one-word answer, yes. The east coast-west coast thing is irrelevant. It's fine to apply where you don't know anyone. They just look at your folder, letters of recomendation, and GREs--and make their decision. Some are lucky. There is a lot of luck in this, as everyone says. NEXT: This is true but most don't do it. If she doesn't get in, e-mail or phone the Admissions Committee chairman (after the semester ends) and ask how to make the next application more successful. NO ONE WANTS TO DO THAT. But I didn't get in anywhere last year and learned that a different strategy was needed. I still haven't gotten it down right because I didn't get my first choice places, but I did get in this year. Anyway, there is life after 100% rejection, as I know personally, and your friend is fortunate to have a friend when needed.
Sometimes the websites will be the way applicants are informed that they are denied, generally through kind of a complicated process of logging in with secret passwords and codes which takes 20 minutes to find out they did not accept your application, what a cruel thing to do (my opinion). I knew a person who had to become a Wolverine Friend to check her application at the U of Michigan website, which was: Denied. She wanted to revoke the friendship. Other schools just say "under review" on the websites until the fatal e-mail or letter arrives via post office. That is the way U Mass does it. They want to tell you first, somehow and then you can read the news on the website a couple of weeks later. I don't know why they have a check your status option because they really do not update your status. I don't think Under Review at this late date is a good sign, but I have read of late acceptances--a few--and it would be best to take courage and phone the school or e-mail the admissions coordinator. Sit with her when your friend does this but have a stash of kleenex in your pocket.
I followed this with a lot of interest because I also had several notes from a professor at a school I wanted to get accepted at. He said I was so high on the wait list and he was almost certain they would make me an offer probably in a few days, surely by the end of March. Well I got excited and wrote back "great" (I said it fancier than that) but the few days went by, also about the end of March. I wrote again and said I was very interested in the school and hoped there would be good news soon. I read that helps on a wait list b/c they want to make their second round offers to people they think are likely to accept. He wrote back oh yes for sure he knew it was hard to wait but could I just keep hanging on. But by the end of March, when he had said they didn't know yet whether they had vacancies from their first round of admissions, I saw on the grad cafe list that the same school had admitted two others off their wait list. The week before April 15 he wrote again that he was doing all he could to get me in, and I replied with (fading) enthusiasm. I was lucky enough to have acceptance elsewhere, which I took (on the 14th, bird in the hand), and later got a rejection from that first school in the mail. I am puzzled by the whole correspondence, really.
In your first post, you said you thought maybe you needed some publications. Can you get a spot in a lab with a chance to get your name on some papers? If you are going to have to sit out the next few months, I urge you to think about polishing your application that way. I did not get in anywhere last year and had to find a whole new strategy this year. My field is different, but still, strategy change helped and I think I still could have done better on it because I would like to have been first round in a couple of places where I didn't make the cut, but at least this time I got in.
I just declined two schools (funded) yesterday. Both showed acceptances today by others off their wait lists. There is a LOT of action right now. I was waiting out a wait list myself but gave it up and am happy with where I got accepted, although not what I had first expected. Two people were happy with the exact same schools I gave up. I think there will be acceptances after 4/15, there will have to be, don't give up your hopes.
This is it. Flip a coin. While the coin is in the air, before the coin comes down, you will become aware of some wish of how it will come down. Follow that wish. THAT is where you REALLY want to go. Amen. I am not joking. There is a part of yourself that knows. All the rest is rationalization. See ya in St. Louis. Or somewhere!
Chicago. Don't look back over what might have been. It's a magnificent school. You are blessed by the opportunity. Just figure on wearing warm coats for a few more years. You know in your hears it is the right choice, other wise you'd have bailed on the other "obligation" and skipped to DC. You sound like a rare person with a heart and a soul. Cherish these and please don't trade them in for short-term pleasures.