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How to phrase a declining letter?


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Something short is fine:

Dear so-n-so,

Regretfully, I am writing to decline your [generous/etc] offer. I want to thank you for considering me for your program.

Sincerely,

your name.

Be prepared for them to ask where you decided to go. If you want to say it in your declining msg, feel free. But you don't have to tell them where if you don't want to either.

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If you have met or corresponded with your advisor at the program you are declining you should right them a personal e-mail (they are in your field, you may need their help some day). It is always good to maintian ties in your field. They don't expect everyone to come, but if you can keep up a correspondent, it's always helpful.

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Dear (Lesser Institution, Institution Too God Damn Cheap to Fund Me, Horrible Fit For Me, etc.),

I would like to decline you offer for admission.

Thank you.

Nuff Said.

No one cares, this usually goes to a secretary or admin office. They simply cross your name off the list and move on to the next backup. Don't waste your time and energy trying to tip toe around you not wanting to be there.

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Here are some examples of ones that I sent. This first one is to my safety school, which I did not even visit:

To Office of Graduate Education,

I am sorry to report that I have decided to attend graduate at a different university. Thank you for your consideration, and I wish you the best of luck with your incoming class!

Sincerely,

XXXX

This second one I put more effort into, because I really liked the school and the program, and wanted to keep it friendly since I will probably run into them sometime in the future:

Hi,

I am writing to respond to the XXX Department's offer of admission to the PhD Program. It was a very difficult decision, but in the end, I have chosen to attend XXXX, because I think I can be happier geographically closer to my family. I thank you and the department wholeheartedly, I had a wonderful time at the visitation weekend, thank you so much for your hospitality!

Thanks and best of luck,

XXX

I also sent personal letters to some of the faculty that I really liked at the second school, with a bit more detail and personal info.

Hope this helps!

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I had one program that accepted me over the phone. I reciprocated, when I declined that offer, by calling that person directly. He thanked me specifically for calling, and said he wouldn't have wanted to find out via email.

If a potential adviser or department chair called you to give you your acceptance, give them the same courtesy.

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Dear (Lesser Institution, Institution Too God Damn Cheap to Fund Me, Horrible Fit For Me, etc.),

I would like to decline you offer for admission.

Thank you.

Nuff Said.

LOL. That's to the point.

I had one program that accepted me over the phone. I reciprocated, when I declined that offer, by calling that person directly. He thanked me specifically for calling, and said he wouldn't have wanted to find out via email.

If a potential adviser or department chair called you to give you your acceptance, give them the same courtesy.

Great advice!

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  • 2 weeks later...

If you have met or corresponded with your advisor at the program you are declining you should right them a personal e-mail (they are in your field, you may need their help some day). It is always good to maintian ties in your field. They don't expect everyone to come, but if you can keep up a correspondent, it's always helpful.

Great advice. Particularly in a narrow field of study it always is good to maintain contacts.

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As a current student who helped out with grad recruiting this year, I have gotten a few letters that have made me chuckle. Usually it's because the letter writer has unintentionally said something slightly presumptuous. For example, it is not necessary to go out of your way to reassure people that their program is a great one -- we are glad you liked it, but honestly as long as you're not coming it doesn't really matter to us whether you think we are "great." That is for the job market and our general reputation in the field to decide. Also, it is not necessary to imply that we might be upset or offended by your rejection. Of course we wish you had come, but it's not like we're going to take it personally, and it can almost sound like you're fishing for us to reinforce your sense of self-importance: "Indeed this is a dark day for our program! It troubles me deeply to know that YOU will not be coming!" (How else am I supposed to respond to that kind of comment? "Actually, it would have been great if you'd decided to come, but it's really not THAT important to us"?)

I don't mean to poke fun. I'm sure I said some of these things myself last year. I know that these comments are completely well-intentioned, and that declining an offer can be a very emotional experience. However, it is just not as emotional to the programs whose offers you are declining (even if they are truly disappointed you won't be coming), so there's no need to write your letter as though it is. Just thought I would share my perspective, since clearly this is a hard thing to get right when you've only been on the applicant side.

Edited by socialpsych
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  • 10 months later...

As a current student who helped out with grad recruiting this year, I have gotten a few letters that have made me chuckle. Usually it's because the letter writer has unintentionally said something slightly presumptuous. For example, it is not necessary to go out of your way to reassure people that their program is a great one -- we are glad you liked it, but honestly as long as you're not coming it doesn't really matter to us whether you think we are "great." That is for the job market and our general reputation in the field to decide. Also, it is not necessary to imply that we might be upset or offended by your rejection. Of course we wish you had come, but it's not like we're going to take it personally, and it can almost sound like you're fishing for us to reinforce your sense of self-importance: "Indeed this is a dark day for our program! It troubles me deeply to know that YOU will not be coming!" (How else am I supposed to respond to that kind of comment? "Actually, it would have been great if you'd decided to come, but it's really not THAT important to us"?)

I don't mean to poke fun. I'm sure I said some of these things myself last year. I know that these comments are completely well-intentioned, and that declining an offer can be a very emotional experience. However, it is just not as emotional to the programs whose offers you are declining (even if they are truly disappointed you won't be coming), so there's no need to write your letter as though it is. Just thought I would share my perspective, since clearly this is a hard thing to get right when you've only been on the applicant side.

Hi! I was very glad to hear this! However, what do you recommend to write? What if you corresponded with a couple of professors and students? Is this content different than if it was just an acceptance email? Response is greatly appreciated!

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Hi! I was very glad to hear this! However, what do you recommend to write? What if you corresponded with a couple of professors and students? Is this content different than if it was just an acceptance email? Response is greatly appreciated!

Ditto - absolutely appreciate the advice but I'm curious about how to phrase it where you are respectful to the program but not presumptuous (aka telling the program that it is good, as socialpsych put it.) Or is "short and sweet" the best way to go, period?

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What if you've spoken with multiple faculty since receiving your offer? At the schools I've declined thus far, I had only spoken with one person (a faculty member on each occasions). I contacted that person when I declined. However, I've spoken with at least 5 faculty at another university. Should I contact all of them or only the grad administrator?

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  • 2 weeks later...

What an interesting divide between how the Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities students seem to be handling this situation . . . I would echo the earlier advice about giving the department the same courtesy given you . . . If they called, call; if they emailed, email; if they form-lettered, form letter. And as someone else said, you never know when you will run across (and need) people in the unchosen department . . .

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I've got a letter drafted and ready to send, but I'm not sure who to send it to. The DGS? chair of graduate admissions? graduate student liaison? All were mentioned in my letter.

Further, I was simply contacted through the mail, with no follow up email. Should I just send a letter back and then maybe touch base with someone (who?) by email? All of my other schools are fairly clear about where to send acceptance/declining letters, but this one has no clear information. My instinct is to send it to the Administrative Secretary to the Graduate Program, but she wasn't mentioned in any of my materials; I've just previously spoken with her during the application process. Any thoughts?

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I've got a letter drafted and ready to send, but I'm not sure who to send it to. The DGS? chair of graduate admissions? graduate student liaison? All were mentioned in my letter.

I e-mailed my POI and cc'ed the grad secretary. Seemed to be the most efficient way to go about it.

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From my experience, be as careful as possible: I found it really easy to burn bridges with these things. In fact, I recently ran into the program coordinator/graduate recruiter at a department where I declined admission over two years ago... And she said she still remembers being really upset that I declined. It's worth noting that you may well burn bridges simply by declining an offer, and you want to minimize that as much as possible.

Fields can be small, and keeping good connections is really helpful.

As was mentioned earlier, it's not like you'll make or break their year by not coming- but if they've taken the time to put together visits, financial packages, etc. they've already invested a decent amount of time in you, and you should be courteous and somewhat personal in declining, imo. Especially if you're in the running/have received fellowships, etc.

I wrote mine emphasizing my choice based on research fit. It was the easiest way to go, and got the best response, I think. I sent e-mails to PI's I'd met with (that I was particularly interested in working with), as well as the program director/DGS. Declining based on fit is a professionally respectable choice- declining based on financial packages, location, weather, etc. are all less so.

I still keep up with people from schools I did not attend, and I think the connections you make in the application/admission process can be quite beneficial down the road.

Edited by Eigen
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I'd like to add a new layer to the question:

I received an acceptance by mail, and included in it was a little half-sheet with check boxes: if yes then great, if no then please tell us where you're going instead. After that, I'm given the address to mail it to. Should I include a separate letter, or is the little half sheet sufficient?

(Just not sure about the etiquette here, and I do want to be as gracious as possible.)

Edited by blackshirt
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I had one school that included a formal rejection "form". I still sent e-mails to the Dept. Head (who I'd chatted with) and the PI's I'd met with to let them know that I was declining, and a short explanation of why.

I think it really depends what level of correspondence you've had with the school. If you've talked to people, I'd let them know...

I'd e-mail the DGS or someone as well as returning the formal rejection- it gives them a heads up faster so they can move to the next person in line.

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The same way the universities phrase their rejection letters: be vague, impersonal, and feign gratitude and respect.

Exactly, I think one should respond to a program the way they expressed interest in you. For instance I have one school that sent me a cold email and didn't respond to my response that had questions. They'll be getting a cold one-liner. However I had one program pay to fly me in, called me personally, and wined and dined me at a faculty dinner at a fancy restaurant. The DGS will be getting a phone call from me when I decline, or at least a very personalized email where I explain where I chose to go instead.

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  • 2 weeks later...

From my experience, be as careful as possible: I found it really easy to burn bridges with these things. In fact, I recently ran into the program coordinator/graduate recruiter at a department where I declined admission over two years ago... And she said she still remembers being really upset that I declined. It's worth noting that you may well burn bridges simply by declining an offer, and you want to minimize that as much as possible.

Fields can be small, and keeping good connections is really helpful.

As was mentioned earlier, it's not like you'll make or break their year by not coming- but if they've taken the time to put together visits, financial packages, etc. they've already invested a decent amount of time in you, and you should be courteous and somewhat personal in declining, imo. Especially if you're in the running/have received fellowships, etc.

I wrote mine emphasizing my choice based on research fit. It was the easiest way to go, and got the best response, I think. I sent e-mails to PI's I'd met with (that I was particularly interested in working with), as well as the program director/DGS. Declining based on fit is a professionally respectable choice- declining based on financial packages, location, weather, etc. are all less so.

I still keep up with people from schools I did not attend, and I think the connections you make in the application/admission process can be quite beneficial down the road.

I'm just tapping into this conversation, and I appreciate everyone's thoughts. I'd been procrastinating on formally declining offers until I visited my top school... which went well - last weekend. This is the week to tactfully say no! Good luck, all!

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I used your terse format for the enrollment counselor. For the professors I met with personally, I sent them a tiny bit more information. One of them even admitted that another school I was accepted to was stronger in my area of concentration, but I didn't want them to think that was the reason I was declining.

Profs. X, Y, Z,

Thank you so much for meeting with me and allowing me to attend your classes when I visited a couple weeks ago. I left with an extremely good impression of the school and have been recommending the program to my fellow applicants. Unfortunately, I was not offered any funding at your school so I have declined my offer of admission.

Sincerely,

Me

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