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HELP! I formally accepted an offer at university A but just received a last minute offer from university B


cochra13
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Hi there! I really need some advice. I applied to a few graduate programs in Clinical Psychology across Canada this year and received an early acceptance offer from one university (a tie for my top choice). I contacted all other programs to get an application status update prior to accepting this offer and was told from all of them that my application was unsuccessful. So I went ahead and accepted my one offer, formally. However, I was just contacted today by my POI at a different university (my other tie for top choice) saying she was sorry for the mix up but she would actually like to extent me an offer. 

I've heard from a few people in the past that you cannot back out of an offer once formally accepted, or at least it's highly frowned upon? But I just really want to know what my actual options are here. It is even slightly possible for me to consider accepting my offer at this other program and write to apologize and retract my acceptance to the other? 

I really want to handle this in an appropriate way. I really need help and need to decide in the next couple days!!! Thanks in advance!!

Edited by cochra13
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I don't think there is anything that legally binds you to the first offer. Unless you signed some special contract (but even so, I have never heard of an academic contract that prevents you from dropping out or withdrawing from an academic program). 

You're right that doing so would be highly frowned upon. The extent of which it is frowned upon would depend on the culture in your field so I can't speak to that. 

But what I got from your post is that there's no indication from you that this other offer is any better than your first offer. You said it was one of two programs tied for top choice, but now that you know something from both programs and their offers, which one would you prefer? I think before you do anything, you should probably decide for yourself which of the two offers you would take if you had them both on the table. If you decide that the new offer isn't any better than the first one, then you don't have to worry about whether it's even possible to back out of your current offer. If you end up deciding you would prefer to take the new offer, hopefully by then people here would have some insight on what the "costs" are to changing your mind and you can decide if the new offer is worth that cost.

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On this note, if you've formally accepted an offer and then get off the waitlist at your top choice, how do you go about communicating that to the school you accepted originally? I would expect it to be a somewhat common-ish occurrence, but I haven't really heard anything about this. 

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1 hour ago, eevee said:

On this note, if you've formally accepted an offer and then get off the waitlist at your top choice, how do you go about communicating that to the school you accepted originally? I would expect it to be a somewhat common-ish occurrence, but I haven't really heard anything about this. 

As I wrote to the other poster, you are not legally bound to the first school (the one where you formally accepted the offer) but going back on your word can have other consequences professionally / be frowned upon. The extent of this depends on the culture of your program/field and a little bit on the personality of the people you're dealing with too. 

Hindsight is 20/20 so my best advice to others who are about to be in this situation is to not accept any offers until you are sure you want to attend. If you're waitlisted at your top choice and have an offer from a second choice, then decline the other offers but don't accept the second choice until the April 15 deadline or until you hear from the top choice, whatever comes first. (Do reach out to the first choice to find out their timeframe though). The April 15 convention thing goes both ways----schools are supposed to promise to not make you decide before April 15 and students are supposed to take the time to make their commitments actual commitments. The exception would be if the second choice school forces you to decide before April 15 and before you can hear back from another school. Then I would feel a lot less bad about going back on my word.

For your specific situation, my advice is to be upfront and honest about what you are doing. Keep in mind that the school probably has set aside resources for you (funding, class space, office space) and probably declined/waitlisted another student because you took the offer (and this student might have already taken another offer in the meantime so they can't get that student back). I'm not saying this to discourage you from switching---in fact, I think you should switch if you strongly feel the top choice is a much better opportunity since I think it's usually true that the better fit school is worth the consequences of switching. But instead, I'm just letting you be aware of how the school might feel about your switch.

The way I would do it would be to first accept the top choice school's offer, then immediately email the second choice school to apologize and say that you would like to retract your previous acceptance and that you will not be attending their program. It's up to you whether or not you want to be explicit about the reason why (e.g. attending X instead). I think you should but you could also choose to wait until they ask the reason for your withdrawal to tell them if you prefer. Make sure that you email both the official person to withdraw (e.g. dept chair or maybe grad school dean) as well as someone who you would have closer academic ties to (e.g. your POI or your future advisor or whomever appropriate that is "local" to the department). Make sure that you go through whatever steps is necessary to withdraw. After this logistical stuff is all done, it's worth emailing any profs that you had close contact with and who might expect you to show up in the fall to let them know you've changed your mind (for these people, I think you should definitely tell them where you are attending instead).

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I just did this yesterday actually.  School A accepted me with 3 years of funding, but only gave me 5 work days to accept or decline the offer.  As it was my only funded offer at the time, I accepted it within their timeline.  I had been accepted to School B and was in the process of interviewing for 1 year of funding.  After I decided that I could not say no to full funding, I contacted School B to regretfully decline, and they whipped up a full funding package that was more competitive than School A.  On a side note, all of my interactions with School B were so warm, welcoming, accommodating, and transparent whereas School A felt very cloistered to me. 

I accepted School B's offer and emailed School A to let them know that after careful consideration I would be accepting another offer.  An admin asked what school I would be attending (I did not answer) and my advisor wished me success in my career.  I wasn't happy to do it, but they seemed to not be terribly mystified that it happened.

Also, I have applied for even more competitive funding at School C (my dream location) and if that comes through, I may once again belatedly decline my offer to School B.  I don't feel particularly great about this strategy, but I feel like the whole process is just messed up with schools releasing acceptances and funding offers at such divergent points on the calendar.  This is my career, my future, and I don't feel like I am beholden to any University (besides the one I choose to attend).

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I think @Pennk handled the situation very well and this is a model response to a tough situation where the school doesn't give you the standard April 15 deadline. Not that you need my approval of course, but I just want to point this out to others who may be wondering how to proceed.

I think it would be a good idea to answer the question about where you would be attending instead since in academia, it's important for people to know where you are and they will quickly learn this anyways if they want to (e.g. department directories, seeing you at conferences or other academic meetings). But maybe the norm in some fields is to be more secretive about this (not sure why though).

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14 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

I think it would be a good idea to answer the question about where you would be attending instead since in academia, it's important for people to know where you are and they will quickly learn this anyways if they want to (e.g. department directories, seeing you at conferences or other academic meetings). But maybe the norm in some fields is to be more secretive about this (not sure why though).

 

Good point.  Perhaps I will let them know as a courtesy.  In my mind I envision them using it against me somehow.  Perhaps I am just paranoid since I feel uneasy about all the accepting/rejecting I have been (will be) doing.  Mind you, School C would not disclose any funding opportunities to admitted students who hadn't accepted, so for one brief moment in time I had accepted admission to 3 schools.

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