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Deadlines that don't jive - help!


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Hi all, 

I'm surprised I haven't really seen any posts about this - either I've missed them, or I am missing some major piece of the puzzle. But here's my question for you all, if you'll be so kind: 

I have applied to eight different schools for an MPA or similar program. So far, I have heard back from four (all accepted), with funding information from three of those. None have offered a funding package that will leave me less than 40k in debt, so clearly I want to hold out for responses from the rest. I'm also admittedly doing a mad dash to look for scholarship opportunities now, because I seemed to have been a bit in the clouds about what kind of funding I might receive. 

Now, the tricky part: One school has asked for my decision by March 15. It is one of my top choices, but also the most expensive and the scholarship they offered me barely makes a dent, because of how expensive it is to start. This school, like each of those I applied to, has its various pro's and cons, and I know it would be a great program - but so would most of the programs I applied to. One school won't send out funding information until mid-March. One or two schools likely won't send out their admissions decisions until early April, according to the results survey here. And some of these scholarships won't send out their decisions until as late as May or even July! 

So the question is - how do I make this decision with so much up in the air? Do I make a decision assuming that I won't get the scholarships? Do I ask the early school for a deadline extension (I have already confirmed that they indeed meant March 15, as it seemed exceedingly early to me, and they said at this time they do not offer extensions). Do I accept that school, just in case, and then if I get a better offer, decline it and swallow the several hundred dollars I paid to accept my slot? Do I call them up and say that I'm really in a pickle because I can't afford the program, and see if they offer more money? 

Perhaps I'm missing something major here - I'd appreciate any insight ya'll would be willing to share. I am being vague about the schools I am referring to, but hopefully this information is not too necessary. Thanks in advance, and good vibes to those of you in the same stressful position! 

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This does happen a lot, especially for non-PhD programs and programs outside of the USA (most funded programs in the USA all agreed to set the same deadline: April 15).

But this scenario will come up in real life and in academia many times when you apply for jobs etc. You always have to take a risk of accepting what you have or waiting for something better that might not come through.

That said, you have the right idea. I would contact the March 15 school and ask them if they would be willing to extend the deadline to April 15. I don't think you will have much luck asking them to wait until May or July. If the funding is not enough to live on, it's also appropriate to say that you are very interested in their program but the current level of funding is not enough and then ask if there is any other funding available.

Finally, since this is not a fully funded program, it is okay, in my opinion, to accept the offer at whatever deadline, pay the deposit and then forfeit that fee if you end up not being able to go or if you choose another place with better funding. "Okay" as in ethically okay and you probably won't burn any bridges (but maybe someone in your field can speak to that specifically). If this was a fully funded program, going back on your word like this would be much worse.

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