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Unofficially accepted one offer, now want to officially accept another


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I was accepted to one program (Canadian MA) very early, and had the visit day several weeks before I even heard back from other schools. Towards the end of the visit day, one of the Professors asked me if they could expect to see me back in September. I felt like I was put on the spot a bit since it was asked in the presence of several other Professors and prospective students, so I responded with something like "oh yeah, definitely" and exited the situation. 


Now that I've been accepted to another school (that I didn't really think I had a shot at), I feel like a jerk for unofficially committing to the first school. To make matters worse, the potential supervisor at the first school works pretty closely with one of the Professors at the top-choice school who I will likely be taking several courses with.


How do I navigate this situation? I really don't want to piss of the original potential supervisor, and I certainly don't want to piss off the other Professor. But I definitely think going to the top-choice school will be much better for my career. I'm not planning on going for a PhD or staying in academia, but I don't want to burn any bridges either.

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I'm not entirely sure they can hold you to that "oh yeah, definitely," and it was kind of unfair for them to ask such a question and expect an answer they could hold you to. 


That being said, I feel like it is within your rights to kindly explain to the first school that while School 1 would be a good place for you, you believe you've found a great fit (more aligned with your interests/better location/good vibe/what have you) at a second institution, and that while you really appreciate their offer, you will be declining it. 


I don't think declining the first offer will burn any bridges, provided you never accepted an official offer and you don't wait too long to decline them. Schools are generally very understanding of declined admission. They would just prefer to hear sooner rather than later, so they can offer someone else what may be their dream school.

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It's simple: go to the school you want to go to.


You've worked hard to get to this point, after all, and are entitled to your own decision free of external pressures. You are not the first desirable student to turn down a program after initially showing interest and you won't be the last. In my experience, professors are surprisingly understanding about this type of thing. They were prospective students once too, remember, and had difficult decisions to make.


This sort of thing almost never 'burns a bridge', so there's no need to worry.

Edited by Horseshoe
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I agree with much that has already been said. You didn't make any mention of funding. If your top choice provides better funding and the other school provides minimal funding, you could also mention that financial reasons compel you to accept a different offer (in addition to your main concerns about research fit). I can't imagine anyone faulting you for not wanting to take on student debt.    

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I agree to all the points above, and if it will help, you can even call the DGS of the other university to let them know that you've accepted an offer elsewhere.


I went to a recruitment visit at the university I didn't choose in the end, and everyone there was absolutely wonderful to me, treating me with such respect as a student AND as a person, rather than a faceless number, when they weren't even sure they could offer me admission yet!!  They never expected an answer from me then and there, and they always said "If you should choose to attend ... "


I got the phone call of acceptance a week later.  I felt that my rejection of their acceptance warranted a phone call to the DGS rather than an email.  I simply explained that the other program was a better fit for me at this point in time (I didn't intend on rattling off specific reasons, but I'm a very expressive person, so I did), and the DGS totally understood!!  


So, my points are as follows:

- I don't know why they put you on the spot about attending right away! If it was a recruitment visit, your "acceptance" was a pressured response that I don't think they would take as a proper acceptance.

- You can always call them if you want, or if you're worried how they'll respond!  Chances are, they'll understand.

- Don't feel bad for feeling badly for rejecting the first school ... I was bawling before I made the phone call to the DGS to reject their offer!  It just shows that you were accepted to two great programs, and that you're very passionate and mindful about making the right graduate school decision!

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