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How to phrase a declining letter?

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Well if you're turning down your undergraduate school, you have to be particularly courteous and thoughtful because the school has already come to know and love you and has put a lot of resources into developing you. You should be humble and personal, and don't make a bigger deal out of it than it has to be. Don't make it sound like you think you're too good for them now. Make them feel valued and not like you just blew them off to go fool around with your friends on the beach.

Something like: Ladies and gentleman, next fall...this is tough...next fall I'll be taking my talents to [elsewhere] and study at [X University].

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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.

This was amazing advice. I completely agree.

Professors like to know that they've gotten something out of the interviews too.

I'm scared of getting into this situation, but I'll have to prepare for it (and I will be severely split, since I had such good interactions with faculty members at several schools). Could it be a good idea to say "keep in touch"? Maybe it might also be a good idea to suggest the possibility of meeting again at an academic conference? (or even for summer research/a future postdoc opportunity?). In any case, the choice of school might not matter as much as it used to - thanks to the Internet. Professors collaborate with each other even when they're in different schools.

With that all said, it does depend on the professor you interacted with, and how warm they were to you.

Edited by InquilineKea

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I had to send out declining e-mails not to individual programs, but to each individual professor that offered me a position. I think I sent out 10 e-mails or something like that, and tried to personalize them all. One program I had to completely write off because their funding package was not competitive. I had quite liked the people there, and had spoken to them multiple times since I interviewed and after the acceptance to see if there was anything else that could happen funding wise. They knew their funding wasn't competitive and were obviously disappointed to lose me, but knew that is what happens at their university unfortunately. Another program that I declined had flown me out for a wonderful interview weekend, but I ultimately declined to join a different department at their school. I think that lessened the blow for them too, that I was still at their university, just not with them. I actually ran into the dean on Tuesday who was one of the profs who offered me a spot, and she was really nice and offered to have lunch with me.

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Don't ramble on about how great the people at the declined institution are and how you wish them luck with their future research and hope to see them at meetings in the future

Hm, that is a good point.

==

On another note, I think it might be a good idea to ask your UG adviser about this, or to maybe ask the professor you're going to work with about this.

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Well if you're turning down your undergraduate school, you have to be particularly courteous and thoughtful because the school has already come to know and love you and has put a lot of resources into developing you. You should be humble and personal, and don't make a bigger deal out of it than it has to be. Don't make it sound like you think you're too good for them now. Make them feel valued and not like you just blew them off to go fool around with your friends on the beach.

Something like: Ladies and gentleman, next fall...this is tough...next fall I'll be taking my talents to [elsewhere] and study at [X University].

Love the Lebron reference! Definitely the way I plan to phrase any and all declining letters.

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"Dear University,

Thank you for the offer of admission, as well as seeing potential in my application. However I have decided to accept an offer of admission from Clown College.

Thank you again."

Bam. You aren't breaking up with super emo exes for goodness sake.

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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.

thanks Eigen!

im getting a little nervous as to how to phrase my thanks, but no thanks letters. i actually didnt think id need to write so many! any thoughts on length?? a paragraph or is 2 overkil?

thx!

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I've sent two so far, basically saying I was grateful for their consideration, but that I had received a full scholarship elsewhere. Those ones were easier though, because they were immediately cut from the running because of no funding. Even knowing I definitely wouldn't go to those schools, however, it totally freaks me out to officially decline. In the back of my mind, all I can think is "what if something goes wrong with every other school and I need *that* acceptance?" - even more ridiculous because I told myself going into this process I wouldn't go anywhere without funding...

Also, am I weird to expect at least a reply acknowledging my email declining the offer? It just feels incomplete, or something.

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Thanks everyone for this posting, I am wondering how to tell a school that didn't give me any money (thanks a bunch) that I'm basically sailing for greener pastures without sounding completely full of myself.

Did anyone send an email/letter to grad students who showed you around the school when you went on a prospective visit? I really enjoyed speaking with them when I visited but I will not be attending... should I just leave it be?

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I followed the advises given here, and wrote one paragraph, thanking the potential advisors for their time and for the hosting, and explaining I chose to go to Awesomeness University instead of theirs since it better suits my research interest. While one of the potential advisors was kind and answered nicely, the other potential advisor was quite unpleasant. He wrote: "It's plain to me that either I'm missing something big about what you plan to do, or that someone who's advising you in Where-I-Am-Right-Now has a shockingly different opinion of His-Department and/or Awesomeness Department than I have, but in either case I wish you well".

It was two days ago and I still feel crappy. It made me feel so bad. I considered his university mostly because of him, and had really good time during the visit... My advisor says I should take it as a compliment, reflecting how much he wanted to have me as a student, I hope that this is indeed the case and that it will not affect our possible relationship in the future, I would really like to work with him in the future if it would be possible.

Sorry for the long post, I had to share :-(

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^ That's a pain. Unsurprisingly though, professors are not gods, and they do not all act perfectly appropriately all the time. I would agree that you should just take it as a compliment that the person is insulted/disappointed that you weren't attending their institution.

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Here is a professor's perspective on this question - I found it quite interesting.

I can't disagree more with this professor's opinion of students who continue with their interview schedules even though they're intending on accepting another offer. After all of the work and fees and sweat an applicant has put forth during this process, they ought to get as good of a feel for every school that offers and take every opportunity they'd like. Minds can change, can't they? Competitive students will have choices, and it seems unprofessional for a school or a faculty member to voice being upset by a student exercising those choices.

Also, I don't feel too guilty about waiting until the last minute to respond to an offer if I'm still waiting on offers from my top choice schools. It isn't my business or my concern who is on what waitlist--those matters can be sorted out between the school and the applicant, and I don't feel obligated to put myself in a risky position just to open up a spot for someone else.

Maybe that is harsh and a tad selfish, but its a competitive process and I intend to make the best of my opportunities.

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I can't disagree more with this professor's opinion of students who continue with their interview schedules even though they're intending on accepting another offer. After all of the work and fees and sweat an applicant has put forth during this process, they ought to get as good of a feel for every school that offers and take every opportunity they'd like. Minds can change, can't they? Competitive students will have choices, and it seems unprofessional for a school or a faculty member to voice being upset by a student exercising those choices.

Also, I don't feel too guilty about waiting until the last minute to respond to an offer if I'm still waiting on offers from my top choice schools. It isn't my business or my concern who is on what waitlist--those matters can be sorted out between the school and the applicant, and I don't feel obligated to put myself in a risky position just to open up a spot for someone else.

Maybe that is harsh and a tad selfish, but its a competitive process and I intend to make the best of my opportunities.

I agree.

My mentor encouraged me to visit all programs that were reasonably strong, even after I was planning to accept an offer at another school. It's a big decision that will affect the rest of your life and a visit might change your mind. As they say, you never know until you try.

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