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life after April 15th

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My situation is this:

I applied and was accepted to Master's programs at School A and School B. Both have excellent reputations in the field and good job prospects coming out. School A offered me a small amount of money (5k over the entire degree) and I would still be on the hook for ~60k (which would be made up of loans.) School A is in a city with very low living costs, is closer to home, however also has no opportunities for internships or other outside experience. School B is in a big city with lots of prospects, but is expensive. Initially they offered me a modest amount of money, such that when living expenses were figured in, School B was a good bit more expensive (~80k on me.)

So I chose School A, and am preparing to attend in the Fall, all set, right?

Well, not quite. School B has just last week sent me an email saying that "if you're still deciding" that they were disappointed I declined their offer, and now could offer me a full tuition scholarship. Now this is really attractive, especially compared to the small offer at School A, and given the schools are roughly equivalent in my mind (finances being the deciding factor pretty much.) However, it's May 8th and I sent all my accept/declines out April 15th, which is pretty standard. How School B could think I'm "still deciding" at this point is beyond me, but that's what it is.

So am I crazy even to entertain the notion of withdrawing from School A and accepting this new offer at School B? Everything I read says that's a definite no-no, can screw your professional career royally, makes a lot of people very angry, potential legal ramifications, etc. There's also the strangeness of how late School B's offer is. However, we're talking about an awful lot of money here, and I'm not exactly Richie Rich.

I don't even know where to start with this one, if I should contact A or B, what order, anywhere else I can turn, etc. so if anyone has any thoughts, please do share.

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A friend of mine declined one particular school (one of the top programs in the field actually), and they reoffered with more money...twice. Is there any chance school A can offer you more scholarship that now they are in competition?

As for the internships, you shouldn't overlook the location/network factor. It could become a considerable cost to interview/relocate for the internships in the end.

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I know it's usually considered a no-no but staring at a now-unnecessary 60K debt for your degree, I think you owe it to yourself to try and make this opportunity work. I think the first thing to do is tell school B you're interested but have already accepted another offer, so you need some time to try and figure things out before you can notify them whether or not you accept their offer. The next step is to contact school A, tell them that you just received a funded offer from another school and try and use it as leverage to either receive a funded offer from school A or to have school A release you of your obligations so you can attend school B. I think that financial considerations are something people will understand and not hold against you - you made the best choice you could based on the offers you had on April 15, but you now have a chance to not go into substantial debt. If you stress that you would still very much like to attend school A, but cannot afford to just pass up an opportunity like the one school B is currently offering you, that shouldn't upset anyone.

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Here's my opinion:

I don't think changing your mind about masters programs is quite as serious as doing the same with PhD programs. When you accept a PhD program, you're embarking on a 5+ year relationship which is typically funded. You are one of relatively few students selected. The professors may have had to fight behind the scenes to get you accepted. To go through all of that, accept the offer (meaning other potential students on the waitlist were bumped off), and then turn around and decline it? Pretty rude.

It seems to me that master's admissions are a TOTALLY different ball game. For one thing, they are not as selective due to the fact that most master's students pay their own way. (I mean... I personally was accepted to three Ivy League masters programs despite the fact that I had a mediocre GPA and hadn't even studied the subject as an undergrad. I doubt I could have had ANYWHERE near that success if I were applying to the PhD.) It is often the case that lots of masters students are accepted so help to help pay for the PhD students and/or fill the department's coffers. For that reason, there's usually less issue of taking a spot that could have gone to another qualified person on the waiting list. And the program is only expecting to have you around for 1 or 2 years. That's not quite the same level of commitment as a PhD program.

Reading between the lines here, it seems that you may not be planning on an academic career. (Good job prospects after the MA?) If that is the case, I wouldn't agonize too much about upsetting the university. The situation is a bit different for people who are planning to spend their entire careers in academia and don't want to risk ruffling the feathers of people who will be their colleagues for the next few decades.

Finally, you have a VERY good reason for changing your mind. You have the chance to save $60,000. That's a significant amount of debt that anyone would want to avoid if possible. To deny the full aid package would mean taking out a $60,000 loan just to avoid being rude. No one can blame you for going with the full aid, even if it was offered late in the game.

My advice is to contact School A. Explain your situation--funding is very important to you, and to your own surprise, you were just offered a full tuition scholarship (out of the blue--not even requested) from another program that you had previously declined. Can School A match this offer? Give them the chance to respond. If they can give you equivalent financial support, stick with School A. Otherwise I'd go with School B.

Side note--I'm not sure exactly what the potential legal ramifications would be, so of course you should look into the fine print of School A's offer before taking action!

Edited by Katzenmusik
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Thanks to all of you, your replies certainly reduced some of the anxiety over making this sort of change. For those that may come across this later, I spoke with School B, got all the details about their fellowship, and told them I'd get back to them after talking with School A. School A was actually very nice about the whole thing, and while dissapointed, totally understood why I'd accept the new offer, and I'm in the process of formalizing everything in writing.

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