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Waitlisting conversation with POI


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Hello everyone,

So I just received an email from a POI that I interviewed with at a school, regarding their attempts to organize a fellowship for me. However, I am waitlisted at this school. The POI says they and another faculty member who I'm interested in were very impressed, and they would love for me to join their lab. The problem is however, I have been informed that I probably will not hear the results of whether I get in or not from this school, until sometime late April (at which point it is too late to accept any offer from any other school and I'm left hoping I'm accepted via waitlist from this school). 

The problem is, I don't exactly know how to reply to this email. On one hand, I want to thank them and say I am also interested in both their labs (the POI and the other faculty member), and in the school. On the other hand I also want to tell them being waitlisted is a serious concern for me, and I don't want to put my entire PhD on the line for a risk like this. I have been accepted to other programs, and they are also very appealing. Now I like this school, and this school is actually at the top of my list, but as I stated prior, I don't want to end up finding out I did not get into the program and basically have to reapply again for Fall 2019. I also don't want to just ignore this email.

How can I tell them I appreciate the attempt, and would love to go to that school, but also convey that there is a serious concern that I am waitlisted, and that I don't want to throw away all my other offers for a "chance" to go to this school, all without sending the idea I've given up on this school or that I am uninterested, or that their attempts at getting a fellowship for me is useless. 

Thank you as always!

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So you said that this school is your top choice. The rest of this post will give advice assuming that if you get an offer from this school, you will definitely take it over the other two offers you have and that your ultimate goal is this school (i.e. you would only attend one of the other two choices if you didn't get into this school). I will call this top choice "A", and your other two offers "B" and "C". 

1. First, I think you should reply to this message saying that you are very interested in joining their lab. You can (and should) honestly say that their program is your top choice and if you are awarded admission, you will 100% accept their offer. I think saying this is very very important because at this stage, it could make a difference in the outcome for you.  Then, you should tell them that you currently have another offer from School B (or C, or just "another school" if you don't want to say) that has given you a deadline of April 15 to respond. Next, say that you will try to see if the other school will be willing to extend their deadline to later in April, but ask whether it is at all possible for them to have a decision to you earlier. Finally, close with an expression of your appreciation of what they are doing, say that you hope it will work out and that you'll keep in touch.

Note: By saying this, you are committing yourself to this school if they manage to swing this fellowship for you. So if my above assumption isn't true, then make sure you decide whether or not this school is your #1 choice before sending this email.

2. Second, you have to make a decision between your other two schools, B and C. There are two approaches based on how you feel about B vs C:

If you greatly prefer one of them over the other (prefer B over C) so you would definitely want to go to B if you don't get into A, then decline school C's offer now. You can/should take a few days to decide which one is B and which one is C. If you haven't visited both yet, it might be a good idea to complete those visits first. Then, maybe around April 1-5, ask School B for an extension beyond April 15 to make your decision. 

On the other hand, if B and C are interchangeable to you and you don't have a strong preference for B or C, then in order to maximize your chances at getting into A while having a backup school, you should ask both B and C if they would consider extending your decision deadline beyond April 15. It might be too early to ask this, maybe wait until the end of March. If only one school says yes, then keep that school and decline the other one. If they both say yes or if they both say no, then go to the step above and decide which school Is B and decline C.

3. Finally, fast forward to early/mid April. At this point you should have only an offer from B and waiting to hear from A. Check in with A again for the timeline. Ask B for more time if you need it. Contact the profs at A one last time around 72 hours before your final deadline for B to let them know that you will have to accept B's offer in 72 hours and see if they have any more information for you. Keep asking B for more extensions as required. Hope that A pulls through for you before B's final deadline. Since you don't want to risk having offer for A, then you would have to accept B at the last minute if A doesn't come through. But you can also change your mind on whether you want to risk it when the deadline is staring at you in the face.

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Thank you for the reply. My only concern is, if I do ask for an extension from school B or C, will that create a negative impression or have any negative repercussions if school B has offered me say fellowships/scholarships? Will they rescind their offer for these scholarships? 

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5 minutes ago, samman1994 said:

Thank you for the reply. My only concern is, if I do ask for an extension from school B or C, will that create a negative impression or have any negative repercussions if school B has offered me say fellowships/scholarships? Will they rescind their offer for these scholarships? 

Although no one can predict exactly what the people from School B or C will do, but if they have offered you funding in writing with a deadline of April 15, then it would not be appropriate for them to rescind or reduce your funding offer just because you asked about an extension. Of course, it being inappropriate does not prevent people from doing such things, but at some point, you have to trust others.

What could happen though, is that they might grant your extension but the extension may be for admission-only. They might not be able to promise you the same funding level if you don't decide before April 15. But they should be up-front about this and then you can decide if the risk is worth it based on that information.

For some further insight:

Whether or not B or C will be willing to grant the extension depends a lot on how B/C does their admission and if they have their own waitlists etc. If B or C is a school that doesn't do waitlists, then they won't really care that much if you need extra time and they will probably be okay with allowing you to wait until say, May 1, to decide because it's not like they want to offer your spot to someone else. Similarly, even if B/C has waitlists but their admission goal was to get (example) 16-18 new students and they have 17 committed and everyone else but you decline them, then they might not really care about replacing you with another person from the waitlist if you end up turning them down. Or, maybe they did have a waitlist but it was short so they already made offers to everyone on that list, so they don't have anyone left to offer your spot to should you turn them down. In any of these situations, your chances of getting an extension would be very high. 

On the other hand, if there is still a long list of people who they would love to have in your spot if you turn them down, then your chances of an extension will be very low. They might still offer the extension but with no promise of funding, which means they will likely offer your funding to other people in the waitlist and if those other people accept it, then you won't get funding. But maybe everyone left on their waitlist on April 16 would have already taken offers elsewhere or changed their mind about grad school so you might still have your funding offer.

You won't know what case it is unless you ask. This is also why I suggested asking for the extensions in a few weeks, when the school might know a little bit more about who is coming and who isn't.

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