Is there proper etiquette for colleges to announce that they are extending their application deadline? (Is “proper etiquette” redundant?  Is “improper etiquette” even possible?)

I found myself pondering that question after a single week in February when I received e-mails from at least five institutions announcing that their application deadlines, already passed, had been extended.  The problem with setting a deadline, it seems, is that once it passes with less-than-desired response, the one who’s dead (in the water, that is), is you.

I haven’t done extensive research on the semantics of deadline extension, which of course does not prevent me from commenting.  The most common justification seems to be weather or natural disasters.  A couple of announcements tied the extension to the major snowstorm that had just hit the Northeast, at least one may have referred to Hurricane Sandy, and I kept waiting for an announcement that a college or university was extending its deadline because of the meteor that exploded over Siberia or the near-miss from Asteroid 2012 DA14.  I would hope that colleges and universities would always extend understanding and consideration to students impacted by weather events and other disasters that may impact their ability to meet an application deadline.  I just don’t like institutions using those events as pretense for extending deadlines because the applicant pool needs more water.  By the way, the least common justification is transparency, admitting that more applications are needed or desired.  

One particular announcement caught my eye—and my ire:

            “Due to overwhelming demand (italics mine) from students who have not yet completed the Common Application…we have extended the February 1 application deadline on a space-available basis.”

The two phrases I found interesting in the announcement were “overwhelming demand” and “space-available basis.”  What amount of demand qualifies as “overwhelming” rather than just “whelming”?  Is there a demand threshold that sounds the alarm to trigger a deadline extension? What does “space-available” mean? One would assume that space is available given that the deadline is extended, so is “space-available basis” a euphemism for “operators are standing by” or “if you order now”?

What raised my ire was not the announcement itself, but the backstory.  Less than two months before, the President of the very same university had announced both at a meeting of counselors and later in front of prospective students and parents that the institution would be admitting no one who didn’t apply either Early Decision or Early Action.  That created panic, given that both early deadlines had already passed.  The admissions office went into damage control, announcing that the Early Action had been extended, due to Hurricane Sandy.  I’m guessing, however, that a number of students who had begun filling out a Common Application for that university figured why bother after hearing the President’s message.  The broader question is, If an institution is only going to admit students who apply Early Action, then why have regular decision at all, or why not rebrand “Early Action” as “regular admission”?

The announcement of the deadline extension said to feel free to contact the Office of Admission with any questions or concerns, and being in a particularly (but not that unusual) curmudgeonly mood, I did.  I shot off an e-mail to the generic e-mail address provided pointing out my surprise given the President’s comments.  I added that “I hope this reflects a change in that policy (no one admitted not applying E.D. or E.A.) and not an attempt to pad application numbers when you have no intention of admitting any of them.”

In retrospect, that last statement was a bit strong and perhaps unwarranted, although I think it accurately reflects concern for some of the gaming that is becoming prevalent in the college admission industry.  The good news is that within an hour I received a long, thoughtful, informative e-mail from the Dean of Admission explaining in detail the reasons for extending the deadline and the circumstances related to Common Application submission that has led them to do so.  It was the kind of honest communication I always appreciate from colleges and fear I receive less and less.

Is there a proper, face-saving way to announce that you are still accepting applications even though the deadline has passed?  I’d be interested to know what others think.