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Schools How do I prepare for two different possible paths (Grad school/work)

The title of this may be a little confusing.

My delema is this:

I am a physics undergrad with only one more semester left to go. I am also a co-op at a really great little company that designs and produces waveguide optical components, sensors, microfluidics, and spectrometers - really cool place. They told me they would hire me after I graduate *if* they have the money. I plan to take them up on that offer if the offer still stands when I graduate.

But because this company is so small (and the economy is so fail), they really can't make an accurate prediction on whether they will have the funds to hire me until JUST before the time comes...maybe a month's notice at best. That's just because they don't want to commit to something until they KNOW they can afford it - and the further away a decision is, the less they know. And in a company of 12 people, you do have to make damn sure you can afford it before you agree to pay someone's salary for a year...

And here's where it gets complicated...."Just before the time comes", is actually just before the standard academic year starts, since my current undergraduate class rotation involves academic study during the summer.

So here's where I am confused and obviously don't know how things work with grad schools. First of all, I haven't applied to any Grad programs yet. Can I apply, and if accepted, defer the decision of whether or not to actually go there until literally a month before I would start? Or do you sign a contract well before that? What should I tell them in any Grad School applications or interviews? Any suggestions on how to approach this problem?
 

Choppy

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It is late in the year for graduate school application if you're looking for entrance for fall 2009. It may still be possible though for some schools. Your best bet is to contact any schools you're interested in and see if you can still apply. If you've missed the deadline for fall 2009, you might be able to get acceptance for winter 2010, if the school offers that as an option.

It's been my experience that when an offer goes out it comes with a deadline, so deferring the decision may not be an option. However, circumstances can change. No one is going to hold a gun to your head if once accepted, you decide not to attend. The disadvantages of doing this are however that (1) it burns a bridge, and (2) it may result in certain financial penalties, depending on the school.

I would suggest crossing the bridges as they come. Contact the schools you're interested in and first see if it's possible to get in. Then worry about actually getting in - remember it's a competative process, and applying late may not work in your favour. If you get accepted, worry about a deferred decision only if there's a deadline. If the company then decides to hire you, then worry about declining the application.
 
Thanks for the advice

That's kind of what I figured about it being late in the year. Actually, I somehow didn't even know that I had enough credits to graduate this summer until just a few weeks ago. Very poor planning on my part...But I never thought I'd get out of this school so fast.

I'm kind of thinking about delaying grad school for a year anyway, but then that makes me wonder what I will do for the next year if the company can't hire me! I guess I'll be just another guy in Michigan looking for a job...Or would it do me good to take some classes somewhere?

I don't want to make grad school my "Hap-hazardly planned backup plan" - I'd rather put some time into the decision of which school to go to. I don't mind waiting a year, even if the company can't hire me. I just want to make sure I do have a backup plan that doesn't involve me wasting a year of my life living in mom and dad's basement :).
 

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