Jump to content

Declining PhD Offer


Recommended Posts

Longtime lurker, just made an account for this dilemma I have found myself in. Considering how stressful and difficult it can be to get accepted to a PhD, has anyone had the experience of turning down a PhD offer to improve their application and reapply? It could be for trying to apply to other schools, finding more funding, etc. That's where I'm finding myself.

I have been accepted to 2/2 PhD's I've applied for, and one has offered minimal funding (tuition covered, no stipend). Both rank well for graduate placement as of 2015, one being among the top 3 (Toronto School of Theology). Both have solid potential supervisors (one an expert in the field) that I've been in regular contact with and have agreed to supervise me. However, having gotten into both programs I applied to, I am left wondering if I perhaps should take a year to aim higher, apply more broadly, and attempt to secure more funding. I could spend the year learning additional languages (German, French), reading more, attempting to get more publications and present at conferences. I've been thinking back on my applications and I know that they could be a lot better, but I also know I may just be thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

My broad area of interest is Theological Ethics and Farmed Animal Welfare in the Anthropocene, so I know that I could find a good supervisory fit at Yale w/ Luke Krieder, University of Virginia w/ Willis Jenkins & Paul Dafydd Jones, Duke with Norman Wirzba. It's a relatively niche area, but growing! Notre Dame seems to be lacking in this area, so I haven't been able to see a good fit there. I'm sure there are others I'm not aware of that might be good fits at other schools as well. I am not so concerned with going somewhere "prestigious" but am more focused on A) Funding; B) Supervisor-y Relationship; and C) Professional Development.

I'm also nervous about declining a PhD offer given how tricky the admissions process can be year-to-year. Has anyone else found themselves in this position? I know it is a strange one!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So one covered tuition and the other one? I'm presuming from your tone that it was worse.

Anyway, absolutely do not take out loans for a PhD, even just to help augment living costs.

You're not the first to decline an offer and try again next year. You can go work for a year, try to hop into a one year program, etc.

I'd also suggest reaching out to your POI at the school's and/or the director of graduate studies for the department. Explain your situation and see what they have to say. Odds are they won't have more funding for you, but they might have resources and/or suggestions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Since PhD is a lot of self guided work, it seems to me there isn't a big difference whether you spend one more year studying by yourself or spending the year in the PhD school? So if you think next year you will land in better programs, it seems to be worth it.

Btw, I don't think getting accepted into a PhD is difficult (or is it?). I think getting into a good program with good funding is difficult.

And one more note, I hate to raise this loans thing again - but a logic I keep seeing/hearing from almost everyone but don't understand is, if this religion PhD path is so hellish and you won't find any job paying more than 20k a year afterwards anyways, then why do it at all even if you were offered with, say, lucrative funding? In this case I would say don't do it at all no matter what! But if you know eventually you will be able to find some job one way or another, then what is so wrong of taking a loan now? Or perhaps what they really mean is, don't take a loan too big which is beyond easy paying off?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another aspect to consider: If you're going on the job market and have to worry about providing a living for yourself, all that time you spend working on that will cut into valuable time that you could use honing your research or building up your CV with talks and publications. 


I know it's hard to wait another year. I got rejected across-the-board one year, then got into my top choice the next year. But honestly, I would have preferred this in the long run over going into a non-funded program or going into one of my lower ranking schools. A year's a long time, but it's not wasted. And, it's definitely not worth the stress of more student loans! In retrospect, if you wait it out another year and then get into a fully funded program, you'll eventually look back and see you made the right choice!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not sure where you're landing on this. Something to consider that a friend of mine mentioned to me the other day is that many programs are struggling to fund at pre-Covid levels and may be for a while (some slots have even disappeared over the course of admissions season). I'm not sure how many fully funded slots there are in your area when you take a survey of programs, but even trying again next year doesn't mean there will be more spots, or that funding will improve. I'm not saying that there wouldn't be that fully funded spot waiting for you next year, but its worth acknowledging that it might not be there and you do have something, if financially imperfect, now. And plenty of people takes loans to get PhD's done, even funded ones. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use