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Did I accept too early?


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I've put myself in a bit of a pickle. I applied to only two doctorate programs. There were only a handful of programs that were in the specific area of psychology I wanted to study, had professors who specialized in research I was interested in, and were in a desirable geographic area. School A had an earlier deadline and let me submit electronic recommendations. School B was a direct receipt, paper application only.

School A told me a month after I applied. I got an email from the graduate admissions office congratulating me, but it was automated. It didn't contain any information about assistantships or orientation. So I waited for information from the program. And waited. And waited. After two weeks, I emailed the graduate admissions office and asked where I could learn more information. They confirmed that I had been admitted, but said that I'd have to email the program directly for information.

I waited another week and emailed the program directly. She also confirmed my acceptance, but gave very vague answers to my questions, telling me that they would discuss funding at orientation at "a later date." She also told me to please "accept or decline the admissions offer at this time." So I accepted. This same director also told another applicant that she could not be nominated for any fellowships until she accepted the offer. The emails seemed...curt.

Then last week, school B sent me an acceptance letter, along with information on an assistantship I was awarded. I also got a phone call from a professor informing me about the admissions visit (it's on the same day as School A's admission visit). The whole process was more professional and organized. School B's program is also highly ranked.

Now I'm having second thoughts about accepting School A. They still haven't sent me any definite information about funding. I'm wondering if I can back out of accepting their offer and what the repercussions will be. It's a small field, and I don't want to make any enemies. Is it too late to back out? And if not, what will happen if I do?

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Technically it's not too late, since you can back out of a commitment before April 15. However, you do run the risk of burning bridges, especially if it's a small field. I would ask again about funding at school A, and let them know that you need funding in order to attend. In the mean time, you can hold school B's offer in your back pocket until April 15 or until school A lets you know if and how much they're funding you.

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Honestly, School A sounds kind of shady. If this school is a member of CGS, they're not allowed to pressure you for a response to a funded offer until April 15th. Doing the whole "we can't discuss funding until after you accept this funding-neutral offer" thing to get around that deadline--if that is indeed what they're doing--makes me seriously question how they're going to treat you if and when you matriculate. Is the person you corresponded with an admin or faculty? Were they actually looking for a formal, binding acceptance, or was this a poorly-worded attempt to gauge your interest in the school?

I would definitely call someone else in the department of School A and clarify what exactly is going on. It is not unreasonable to need to know your funding situation before you accept an offer. In the meantime, I second newms' advice to hang on to your other offer.

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I would definitely call someone at school A and continue to call until I had answers. If they continue to be vague, let them know that you need funding information to make a decision (and perhaps mention that this decision is between their school and school B which has been forthright about funding information).

To determine if school A is part of the CGS (council of graduate schools), go here: http://www.cgsnet.org/Default.aspx?tabid=102

If it is, then I would recommend looking here as well: http://www.cgsnet.org/Default.aspx?tabid=201

The above link is to the Resolution Regarding Graduate Scholars, Fellows, Trainees, and Assistants. the summary provides states: "The general spirit of the Resolution is that students should have an opportunity to consider more than one offer and should have until April 15 to do so, that institutions and students should be able to view acceptances in force after April 15 as binding, that everyone should know what the rules are, and that an offer by the institution and its acceptance by the student constitute an agreement which both expect to honor. The Resolution acknowledges that students, after having accepted an offer, may change their minds and withdraw that acceptance."

I'm pretty sure that there is nothing that school A, if part of CGS ,can do if you change your mind. In fact, it may already be in violation of the resolution. Even if it is not though, I doubt that the agreement would be binding if you haven't signed anything formal yet. However, keep in mind that you should be as polite as possible so as not to anger anyone who you potentially be going to for a job. This by no stretch of the imagination means that you must stay at an institution which does not seem to treat its (at least prospective) students well or which offers less funding.

good luck!

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Gosh, thank you for the responses and the advice. The school is a member of CGS, but I'm not sure if that applies because their offer didn't come with any funding or TA contract attached. I haven't actually physically signed anything with the department, though, just filled out the online acceptance form that's part of the university-wide system. The person who asked me to accept wasn't a faculty member; she was an administrator. I did get an email from a professor who told me I can wait to see if I get a fellowship, but at that point I'd already accepted.

I already made hotel reservations for their Open House next week at School A. I'm going to ask them more questions about the funding process. It's possible they just haven't made decisions about TAs yet. In fact, from looking at the boards, not everyone has even been sent a rejection or acceptance letter. I'll also hopefully meet current grad students at the Open House and can see if they're happy with the program. In the meantime, I'm going to hold onto the offer from School B.

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