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When (and how) to say no?


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I have been fortunate to get into several PhD programs I am totally thrilled about, though I'm getting a little overwhelmed both by the prospect of making a really difficult decision and by the sheer amount of correspondance that comes along with acceptances.

I want to decline some of the offers. I know there must be some talented and probably anxious people on the waitlist, and frankly I would like the tidal wave of emails to stop.

But how quickly, and how, can I let a school know I'm not interested without seeming rude? I mean, if I email them a week later without visiting or even talking to any of the faculty saying "I'm sorry, it was a difficult decision, but I ultimately don't think your program is the best fit for me" doesn't that just smack of insincerity? These people will be my colleagues in the future and I don't want to come off as an asshole.

A grad student at my undergrad institution told me to wait on it a while so as not to come off as insulting, but after seeing so many people nervously sitting on waitlists here, that just doesn't seem right...

Anyway, thoughts?

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Hey. I'm in something of a similar situation myself, actually, though I don't know that I've experienced the tidal wave of heavy pursuit from programs that you have. In my case, I will likely have to turn down the school I did my M.A. at, where my potential supervisors are actually fairly good friends, and have done a lot for my applications in terms of vetting statements of intent and writing recommendation letters, along with generally being very supportive resources throughout the application process.

My old graduate supervisor, who deals with the acceptance/rejection thing every year, explained it to me like this:

There are any number of good reasons why somebody would decline a very strong offer from a program. Even an amazing school with tough admissions standards, great supervisors, etc. that is willing to bend over backwards for you as an applicant (read: funding) may not be the best "fit" for you personally or academically. Moreover, administrative faculty get "rejected" all the time, so to speak, so it would never be a huge shock for them. They understand that if you're a strong, sought-after candidate, there are likely a number of options available to you, and you've likely applied to several programs and received equally great offers. All of these faculty were once applicants themselves -- they understand the process. Basically, don't feel like you will be offending anybody. You might be #1 on their list, but that's not to say #2 isn't a great candidate as well, and nobody will hold it against you down the road for taking a position at another school. Actually, as much as it would be great for people on the wait list if you declined, it would help the program, as they could make an offer to another student who may be considering his/her options somewhere else currently.

Two caveats to this:

1) Though it goes without saying, be as tactful as possible in declining, for all the reasons you mentioned in your post.

2) While you may feel guilty about holding a spot at a school you won't be attending, don't let that force you into declining prematurely. You never know how your envious position as a sought-after applicant might be levered into improving your offer from your ideal school. While it's great that you're thinking of others, you've obviously earned your current position as an applicant receiving an abundance of offers with a lot of hard work and success, so take advantage of it, if possible. Spending half an hour a day writing brief but cordial emails wouldn't be a bad trade for a few years of increased funding, or the like.

Hope this helps, my humble opinion as it may be.

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I'm trying to figure out exactly what to do about this. I'm to the point where I don't think I can handle visiting all of the schools I've been accepted to and I don't think it's necessarily fair to visit a school at their expense when they are towards the bottom of my list based on fit at this point. I'm concerned that my mind may change after visiting, but I'm also concerned that too much travel could affect the quality of my coursework and thesis right now. I'm just not sure how to go about this tactfully.

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If you know you won't go, tell them ASAP. Don't visit, don't waste their money on recruiting you just so you can feel loved, and don't be rude about it. A simple "Thank you so much for admitting me to your program. After careful consideration, I have decided to attend another university." will do, though you can definitely elaborate if you want.

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I definitely intend to let them know ASAP, and it hasn't even been 12 hours since I heard I got accepted so I haven't spent too much time dragging my feet. But they're the least fitting school for me out of the 7 schools I've heard some so far, so I definitely don't think it's fair to them to visit at their expense when chances are slim that I will go there. The only thing I'm hesitant about right now is that I don't know where I'm actually going for sure yet, so I don't have much detail to give them. Is it okay to be completely vague?

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Not to be rude, but I have never understood why people get so stressed out about how to say no to an offer--I see this with job offers as well. You don't owe anybody a long, drawn out explanation. It's business, not personal.

Dear So-and-so,

I am flattered and excited to have been accepted into the program at YOURSCHOOL, and I appreciate your offer. However, after careful consideration I have chosen to enroll elsewhere. Thank you.

Sincerely,

YOUR NAME

The end.

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Yes its okay to be completely vague as long as you are tactful. They know a large chunk of students will say no - they know this particularly when they know they are lower ranking and admitting a student who has excellent credentials and can probably get into better programs. Especially if you've never visited, don't know them personally, haven't been their student etc. they're likely not even going to remember you. Right now, you are just a number to them so they're not going to take it personally as long as your rejection is polite and tactful.

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I am declining several offers this week, which is difficult because I have interviewed at many of the places I am turning down. Should I just send an email to the administrative staff and professors I spoke to/got to know prior to applying, or should I email everyone who interviewed me?

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I am declining several offers this week, which is difficult because I have interviewed at many of the places I am turning down. Should I just send an email to the administrative staff and professors I spoke to/got to know prior to applying, or should I email everyone who interviewed me?

I would send a personal message to anyone with whom you have sustained contact and who has expressed interest in having you join their lab (potential advisors, faculty sponsors if your program has them, etc.)

I wouldn't think it necessary to write to all professors if you only spoke to them briefly during an interview weekend/visit, but then I'm in a field where I made contact with potential advisors before even applying, so anyone additional I talked to during a visit was often just social and they would probably have no idea who I was if I wrote to them now.

Basically I would write to anyone who went out of his/her way to help/recruit me.

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When: as soon as you decide you're not accepting the offer.

How: short polite email is enough. Keep it professional.

Who: DGS/POI or whoever made the official offer. Possibly anyone else who you interviewed with and who you would like to maintain professional relations with.

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Hey. I'm in something of a similar situation myself, actually,[...]Spending half an hour a day writing brief but cordial emails wouldn't be a bad trade for a few years of increased funding, or the like.

Hope this helps, my humble opinion as it may be.

Your advice was REALLY helpful. Thanks!

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I emailed two POIs (brief, one paragraph) and called one that I had interviewed with. I was very disappointed to turn down his offer, but the fact is that professors understand that you need to do what's best for you.

It was a really tough process, but one thing that made me feel better was thinking about the people who are waiting to hear back from these schools who might be getting good news.

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