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Should I, Can I change grad schools?
May 28, 2012 9:21 PM   Subscribe

The school I wanted to go to seemed like they weren't going to accept me so I took them off the list a few months ago. I was accepted to another program which starts tomorrow. Whoops, on Saturday I got an acceptance letter from the first school. Now what??

I need help navigating this problem. I don't even know if switching schools is possible or even if it's what I ought to do. I just need information to help me work this out. I don't have anyone I can ask about graduate school protocols. Note these are both online programs.

Some background: Months ago I applied to several schools and sent out transcripts. I was almost immediately accepted to a program located across the country, I call it School Alpha. They offer a unique program in line with my career interests as well as a nice scholarship. They are the sister school of my bachelors alma mater and I understand their organization and how they work very well. However, it's a for-profit school which means it is more expensive and it's too far away for me to attend graduation.

I'd also applied to a state school much closer to home with a more research-intensive program. This is School Beta. Not only would it be much cheaper (public school plus in-state tuition) but their program interests me greatly, even if it's more of a departure from my bachelors. But after some contact with them I didn't think I was much of a priority and they kept asking for more and more documentation beyond what they'd originally said. The admissions department for Alpha was a lot easier to work with than Beta. Finally all contact with Beta dropped off about seven weeks ago.

A month ago I decided to go with Alpha and it was to start for the summer semester. This starts tomorrow. Oh, I mean today. My first assignment is already due. Books are read. Advisors involved. I was settled down and then I got the letter from Beta: conditional acceptance for the Fall semester. They still want some more documentation that must be submitted before the end of the first semester but I guess I meet their requirements.

So here are my questions:

1. Can I change schools and if so, when? To drop the first course without repercussions I have to do it within the next two days. Financial aid and everything is already lined up.

2. Should I just go ahead and finish the first course and then leave? I admit I'm having some trouble with the idea of just dropping the whole thing right now. Especially since the last time I talked to the admissions counselor I was gung ho and ready to go. Now I feel I'll look like a flake.

3. Grad school is different from undergrad. It would be pretty easy to change schools in undergrad, in fact, I did it. But I don't know how to do it now. Can you even transfer or would I have to reapply to Beta in order to go? Would Beta School be miffed if they found out I was in another school?

4. Should I just ignore the greener grass and stick with the program I'm in? I think I could get over not going to Beta. On the other hand, the easier thing to do is call Beta and tell them "no thanks" and get on with my classwork.

5. Would this mess up my financial aid? I don't even know. Beta wants me to start the financial aid process with them but I'm already getting financial aid for another school!

Well I'm in a panic and ignorant so I would appreciate any help.
posted by Danila to Education (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
What is, at least the general, discipline?

Regardless, you need to talk to your adviser tomorrow. Especially when there is a big difference in money involved for students, good advisers always work hard to meet their student's best interest if it is possible. Keep in mind that in talking to your adviser you will learn a lot about their value to you.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:31 PM on May 28, 2012


A for-profit graduate school sounds kind of sketchy. Do you mean something other than "university of Phoenix"-type for-profit? Is it accredited?
posted by leahwrenn at 9:44 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The first rule of grad school is: do not go into debt for grad school.

The second rule of grad school is: do not go into debt for grad school.

I would be very wary about going to the for-profit school.
posted by twblalock at 9:51 PM on May 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Danila meant "private" rather than "for-profit." It's an easy mistake to make*. But even so, from what little information is written here, it seems like Beta is the better choice, both financially and academically.

There are a couple of ways you can deal with this. You can withdraw from school Alpha. You can defer admission to school Beta and then transfer to school Beta after a semester or after a year, or you can stick with school Alpha. Given that School Beta doesn't seem to be entirely sure about your admittance yet, deferring admission might be the happiest choice for all involved. No matter waht you choose, the best way to handle this is to contact the graduate advisor in your department at school Beta (send an email with a schedule asking for a phone meeting) and ask him or her on the phone how best to handle this.

*Note, this is a very important distinction. DO NOT EVER attend for-profit graduate school. Private is OK.
posted by yeolcoatl at 9:52 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is, at least the general, discipline?

Social sciences.
Given that School Beta doesn't seem to be entirely sure about your admittance yet, deferring admission might be the happiest choice for all involved. No matter waht you choose, the best way to handle this is to contact the graduate advisor in your department at school Beta (send an email with a schedule asking for a phone meeting) and ask him or her on the phone how best to handle this.
The letter says acceptance is for this upcoming academic year and if I don't enroll then I have to re-apply. Does that negate the possibility of deferring admission? I too am concerned about the "conditional acceptance". I have no issue getting them all of the documentation they ask for but I'm very worried about doing that and then they decide they don't want me after all. But that is something I can bring up with the graduate advisor they assigned me.

But along that vein, I'm still concerned about telling School Beta about School Alpha.
posted by Danila at 10:13 PM on May 28, 2012


CA similar thing happened to me.

1) You can change schools; you can drop out of Alpha right now and go to Beta in the fall. You might be able to go to Alpha for a term and then switch to Beta, but your credits probably wouldn't transfer, and Beta might be annoyed by that (you'd have to ask them to know).

2) I really don't think this is the best course of action. Especially if your main motivation is saving face. In the long run, it doesn't matter what the admissions counselor thinks of you. Seriously!

3). If you drop alpha now, like this week, it won't be a transfer, it will just be you going to beta period.

4) This is something you have to figure out for yourself. But take the long view! Don't do what's easiest, or what's least embarrassing -- pick the school you think will give you the best education at the best price. (From your descriptions I am not positive which it is.)

5). I am not sure about this part -- I would call the financial aid offices at both schools to be sure.
_______

In your shoes I would contact both schools tomorrow asap. To alpha, I would say something like "My first choice school just unexpectedly accepted me. I love school alpha but am torn because of beta's research opportunities and cheaper price. Can you help me think this through? Are there any other scholarship/research opportunities at Alpha which I don't know about?"

To beta, I would say "I have been accepted to Alpha already and their classes start this week. I love school Beta but am uncomfortable giving up a sure acceptance to pursue a conditional one. Is there any way you could unconditionally accept me in the next 48 hours?"

This is uncomfortable, but the admissions counselors will get over the disappointment and I believe they see this stuff all the time. Dealt with tactfully, this situation could help advance your cause at either school.

Hang in there! I hope you'll return to this thread and tell us what you decide to do. Oh, and congratulations on your acceptances :)
posted by feets at 10:17 PM on May 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


Great advice from feets - look at the long term, even though that's hard to do now.

What degree will your graduate program lead to? I have to admit I'm having trouble wrapping my ahead around the idea of online graduate school, since grad school usually requires a lot of direct interaction with professors.
posted by lukemeister at 10:22 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was almost immediately accepted to a program located across the country, I call it School Alpha.

Just to be clear here, did you move there, or are you attending grad school online? If it's the latter, I can't imagine grad school being a positive experience via online. I work with a bunch of grad students and they get regular, in-person feedback from their PI and advisors. Without that, I think they would be lost. Email is not a great way to interact with advisors, and skyping and phone conversations don't compare. I don't know what your area of study is, so this is hard to say for sure.

2. Should I just go ahead and finish the first course and then leave? I admit I'm having some trouble with the idea of just dropping the whole thing right now. Especially since the last time I talked to the admissions counselor I was gung ho and ready to go. Now I feel I'll look like a flake.

You don't owe anything to anyone other than yourself. This is your future you're talking about here. You need to make the best choice for you; Don't worry at all about "pissing off" School Alpha.

4. Should I just ignore the greener grass and stick with the program I'm in? I think I could get over not going to Beta. On the other hand, the easier thing to do is call Beta and tell them "no thanks" and get on with my classwork.

The "grass is greener" usually involves a fantasy or idealizations that are not realistic. But um, School Beta legitimately seems like a great choice for you, and it is a reality that you can attend this school. The only pluses I see for School Alpha is that they accepted you immediately and that you are familiar with their organization. Despite the scholarship, it seems like it's still more expensive than Beta. Why are you second guessing this? *grabs and shakes you*

If your school is like mine, it should be entirely possible to withdrawal from classes before your class starts (or the day they start) and get 100% of your funds refunded to you. They should be refunded to you with plenty of time to pay for the classes at the new school. Financial aid is not that complicated, I swear! Call the school tomorrow, check the drop dates, get a refund. You just need to switch which school gets sent the check each semester, and this should be no problem once you talk to both schools. And yes, if you can escape grad school with less debt, that's great!

To me, it sounds like you should be thanking your lucky stars you got accepted by the school that is the best choice for you. Check the withdrawal dates for classes, and even if you lose some cash on the deal, flee from this for-profit, online grad school, and prove to Beta that you deserve better (them). Like I said, call Alpha tomorrow. Don't even apologize; don't tell them all the gory details; don't feel guilty. Take the money and run!

(On preview, definitely check that the conditional acceptance to Beta is only conditional on whatever paperwork they are asking for. Get concrete details. If they are asking for proof of something, ask them exactly what they are looking for so you know they will get the information they are looking for and your acceptance will be "guaranteed" as far as you are concerned. Check with them that they it's not conditional on anything else. You should be able to get this documented (aka, the letter they sent to you). This is not that unusual; I was accepted conditionally at my current university. The terms were clearly stated in my acceptance letter, and I was confident that I would have no problems with their conditions.)

Good luck!
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:29 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Also, you'll likely get a different financial aid package with Beta, but it's not too late for that, either. Definitely tell Beta that you had a package for another school all sorted out and that stuff needs to be changed. Shouldn't be a problem!)
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:33 PM on May 28, 2012


Danila: " Social sciences. "

Oh god, please don't go into debt. Alpha can go fuck themselves, the fact that they are willing to put you into debt means that they already don't respect you in addition to the fact that they want to put you into debt. Any acceptance letter for graduate school in the arts or sciences that does not also come free and with a living wage is not an acceptance letter at all, it is an advertisement.

Don't apologize, don't feel guilty, this is not a fuck up but an opportunity. Make sure that you understand what conditional means to them before jumping ship, but this sounds like a great time to jump ship. Anyone who isn't happy for you can go fuck themselves.

If you don't mind us asking, what do you plan to do with the degree? An online graduate school in the social sciences sounds awfully odd.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:37 PM on May 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


And please, for the love of Pete, do not allow anyone at Alpha to guilt trip you into anything. You owe them nothing; the entire point of this exercise is to advance yourself and not some online degree granting outfit.

Beta is offering you a proper degree from a real institution that people will recognize without sniggering. There is no substitution for that.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:36 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


If Alpha is a for-profit school, don't even think of going there.

Of course they let you in quickly and they made it easier for you to get in. That is what for-profit schools do. It is in their best interest to get you in there and get their hands on your tuition money ASAP. The admissions department at for-profit schools is a sales department.

Drop the Alpha classes and go for Beta all the way. "Beta is offering you a proper degree from a real institution that people will recognize without sniggering. There is no substitution for that." Indeed.

(Posting from my sockpuppet account because, unfortunately, I teach for a for-profit college, and I can't afford to get fired just yet. I want out of the job but have been unable to find anything else yet. Believe me, I won't defend the for-profit academic model.)
posted by lessobvious at 1:45 AM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


The first rule of grad school is: do not go into debt for grad school.

The second rule of grad school is: do not go into debt for grad school.


That is the rock-solid rule for PhD programs. Going into debt for a professional masters degree, however, often makes sense, as long as the amount of debt is low relative to the increased opportunities you will get from the degree. In other words, it would make no sense at all to take on a six figure debt to get an degree that might boost your salary by only a fraction, but it would make all kinds of sense to borrow a few tens of thousands of dollars for a degree that would double your current salary.

Anyway, I think it will help you to think of this as two separate conversations, with places A and B. Call place B first and tell them that they are your first choice but that you have an offer in hand for a summer start at your second choice school, and get them to clarify how "conditional" their offer really is. If it sounds like you are in there, or at least there is a really, really strong possibility of that, then you need to call place A and either just withdraw (which you still have two days to do so with no penalty, right?) or ask to defer for a semester or year, your choice.

And, as suggested above, telling place A that you have a better offer in hand has the possibility of magically producing a competitive counter-offer.

But if place A is actually for-profit (as compared to private), and the cost of this will be large, then you would be very smart to use this as an excuse to walk away, no harm, no foul. Big debt for an online, for-profit degree is almost guaranteed to make no sense.
posted by Forktine at 3:41 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


This has been a great help. I did call Beta School to find out what "conditionally accepted" means, and I found out that it means I have been accepted due to my previous coursework and gpa. The admissions counselor (who was very pleasant and helpful) said they need other paperwork for my file and I should send it to her sometime before the first semester is up, but as far as they are concerned I am a student starting this fall if I want to be. Which I have decided that I do. That is scary for me to decide because I love it when things are settled and three days ago things were very settled. But I have taken to heart all of the people here saying this is an opportunity. It was very helpful to learn that if I withdraw from Alpha today (or really, this first week), it doesn't affect Beta at all. The counselor also confirmed that.

For Alpha school, I meant for-profit, not just private, and it is 100% more expensive though not outside of what I'd budgeted. I was going to go because they do offer a scholarship and a program that seemed perfectly suited to exactly what I want to study. Beta program is actually a different and unrelated field. I got a double major in undergrad and I loved both of my majors. Alpha represents one and Beta the other! Beta is definitely more academic than professional and more research based.

I am highly susceptible to salespeople. I listen to telemarketers when they call and sometimes I even buy from them. That's how I ended up with a University of Phoenix associate's degree (which I do not regret but that is an example of my decision-making progress). This thread has helped me face up to that problem I have being a pushover. I also am the only person in my family/social circle who has gone through this whole college thing and certainly graduate school is a foreign thing.

I was really just happy getting degrees and having to be more responsible about these decisions has been very hard and anxiety-inducing since it means I will have to call the very nice saleswoman and tell her I'm not going. I've been up all night and I still haven't got up the nerve to contact Alpha school. This is going to come out of left field completely for her and I hate that I will look like a liar who doesn't keep her word. Thanks to you guys I am trying to frame her as a salesperson who is used to rejection and not just as this friendly person who has been helping me to get a degree.
posted by Danila at 6:37 AM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


That is a great decision, and I am so happy for you. Whatever you do, don't let the for-profit school (and the probably on-commission sales person) convince you or guilt-trip you into changing your mind.
posted by Forktine at 7:00 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Danila: "I also am the only person in my family/social circle who has gone through this whole college thing and certainly graduate school is a foreign thing. "

This can be a really weird and disorienting thing, I would strongly recommend finding someone who is knowledgeable about what college can do who you can share more of your information with for advice.

Your profile shows you as being not so far from a couple of major universities, could you hike over to one of them and show up at their academic advising center? They are likely not supposed to advise non-students, but tell the secretary what you told us at the intake, that you are the first in your family and social circle to go to college, have attended a for profit University for a bachelors, and that you have concerns about the for-profit graduate program you have been accepted to. With that they should do whatever it takes to get you into the door with a responsible academic adviser who can help you.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:45 AM on May 29, 2012


Oh I just got off the phone with the Alpha advisor and thanks to repeating so many of the insights I got here she said it seemed like I had put a lot of thought into it and she's happy I am doing what sounds best for my future. I was kind of a mess and she was very sweet although she sounded disappointed but I don't have to make everyone happy, just conduct myself with integrity and I feel I did. Praying right before I called helped a lot. You guys helped. I am so happy and might be able to go to sleep! So thank you guys.
posted by Danila at 7:52 AM on May 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


Congrats on your decision, and best of luck!
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:11 PM on May 29, 2012


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