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Accepting an offer and possibly later declining?

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I have been admitted to a few different programs and have narrowed it down to two. One of the programs needs an answer now if I am too secure on campus housing. This program is my second choice, but a very good second choice.

I was also accepted into a program at Oxford, which is my top choice. I won't receive notification about one of the scholarships I applied for until June. The deadline to accept Oxfords offer is June 30th. It is a slim chance that I will qualify for this scholarship, but if I did, it would provide full funding. I don't want to loose my spot though in the other program.

Is it a bad idea to accept an offer and later decline? If so, why?

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Why is it a bad idea? Because it's unethical. That's why.

When you accept an offer, it is expected that you will keep your word. You do not want to burn bridges by actively screwing schools over.

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Burning bridges and being "unethical" is bad, yes...but cheating yourself out of proper options because of programs' selfish and equally unethical deadlines is worse. I say, if they don't explicitly tell you not to, take the offer and see. That is what I will be doing, as I was left with no choice but that.

They'll live.

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Burning bridges and being "unethical" is bad, yes...but cheating yourself out of proper options because of programs' selfish and equally unethical deadlines is worse. I say, if they don't explicitly tell you not to, take the offer and see. That is what I will be doing, as I was left with no choice but that.

They'll live.

im with you on this one. i actually did this last year - accepted an offer, paid deposit, then later withdrew (in june) in favor of reapplying to more schools this year. it was really no big deal. they actually offered me deferment as an option, which i took. i say YOU are your number 1 priority.

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i say YOU are your number 1 priority

It's quite shocking how some people are quite willing to abandon or ignore easily understood and agreed-to rules to suit themselves when they believe the circumstances create a more advantageous situation for them. Ignoring, of course, that most other people in this process try and abide by the rules we agreed to when we started this journey back in 2008.

Perhaps "shocking" isn't the appropriate word - disgusting more aptly sums it up.

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It's quite shocking how some people are quite willing to abandon or ignore easily understood and agreed-to rules to suit themselves when they believe the circumstances create a more advantageous situation for them. Ignoring, of course, that most other people in this process try and abide by the rules we agreed to when we started this journey back in 2008.

Perhaps "shocking" isn't the appropriate word - disgusting more aptly sums it up.

Agreed. This person clearly already knows what he/she wants to do and is simply seeking affirmation from equally amoral people.

Burning bridges and being "unethical" is bad, yes...but cheating yourself out of proper options because of programs' selfish and equally unethical deadlines is worse. I say, if they don't explicitly tell you not to, take the offer and see. That is what I will be doing, as I was left with no choice but that.

They'll live.

This person knew what he was getting himself into. Oxford works on a very different timescale--as do most UK universities. There is nothing selfish or unethical about these programs abroad.

However, what this person is set on doing is very much selfish and unethical. Period.

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Agreed. This person clearly already knows what he/she wants to do and is simply seeking affirmation from equally amoral people.

This person knew what he was getting himself into. Oxford works on a very different timescale--as do most UK universities. There is nothing selfish or unethical about these programs abroad.

However, what this person is set on doing is very much selfish and unethical. Period.

Keep in mind by taking a spot in a program that you know you probably won't be enrolling in, you're screwing other folks on the waitlist. So it's not just you and the university/department you're screwing.

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It's quite shocking how some people are quite willing to abandon or ignore easily understood and agreed-to rules to suit themselves when they believe the circumstances create a more advantageous situation for them. Ignoring, of course, that most other people in this process try and abide by the rules we agreed to when we started this journey back in 2008.

Perhaps "shocking" isn't the appropriate word - disgusting more aptly sums it up.

You are being totally ridiculous, as are the other self-virtuous posters on here vehemently claiming that it's wrong and despicable to rescind one's acceptance.

Are you saying that you would spend six or seven years in a place that you actually don't want to be at just because you were forced to make a decision by April 15. Until you actually do this, don't judge other people. Also note that no department will really want you to be a part of their program if you don't really want to be there. It will reflect in your work. Also note that any respectable program should have a waitlist, and why would you want to take the place of some deserving individual who wants to be at the dept more than you do.

Now this isn't to say one should accept an offer lightly. Obviously, it is only ethical to really accept an offer if you intend on going. But if unforeseeable circumstances happen, then the morally right thing to do is to rescind your acceptance. Grad school is a major commitment, and YOU SHOULDN'T LISTEN TO ANY OF THE CRAP ON HERE ABOUT YOUR ACTIONS BEING DESPICABLE OR DISGUSTING. They're legitimate and moral.

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Is it a bad idea to accept an offer and later decline? If so, why?

Weighing in squarely on the side of "definitely do not do this." You're in a difficult position that, to be honest, was highly likely to happen, considering the difference in deadlines and timetables for US programs and UK programs. Jortylander is right to say that unforeseeable circumstances happen, and in those cases, rescinding is understandable--but this isn't an unforeseeable circumstance. I'm not going to argue morality. It's a question of practicalities. Do you want to anger a department that put a fair bit of faith into you? Do you know for sure that you'll never have to count on those people again? (And, for the record, I'm not saying that not going to a school means "angering a department." I'm saying that accepting an offer and then declining that offer for another school might anger the department, and I personally would not be comfortable running that risk.)

On the other hand, I would not want to spend 5+ years at a program I wouldn't be entirely jazzed about, particularly if I got into one I liked better--but being "forced to make a decision by April 15" is the contract you signed onto when you applied. Are you in a difficult position? Yes. Is it anything you couldn't have known about? No.

With that in mind: could you speak to your contact people at the department about an extended deadline? It's not unheard of to receive one.

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Why accept an offer from a program which you don't want to attend in the first place? I really don't understand people who do that kind of thing - it goes back to the whole philosophy behind applying to programs to begin with. Don't apply to programs to which you have no interest and then you won't find yourself in this situation. And certainly don't accept an offer from a program in which you have little interest - by doing so you put yourself into a terrible ethical dilemma and also cheat out another student who sincerely is interested in the program.

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Why accept an offer from a program which you don't want to attend in the first place? I really don't understand people who do that kind of thing - it goes back to the whole philosophy behind applying to programs to begin with. Don't apply to programs to which you have no interest and then you won't find yourself in this situation. And certainly don't accept an offer from a program in which you have little interest - by doing so you put yourself into a terrible ethical dilemma and also cheat out another student who sincerely is interested in the program.

Right. This, too.

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Just to clarify my situation -- I was accepted into masters programs, not PhD programs. The programs I applied to were all programs I would be happy attending. I honestly did not realize the difference in timing between the US and UK programs. Program #2 (my second choice) requires an answer by May 15th, though I need to respond sooner in order not to loose priority for on campus housing.

My decision with Oxford is now purely financial. I applied for several scholarships and am now waiting to hear back about a very good one, however, I won't know about the result until June. This is a private scholarship that I found out about after I had applied. Program #2 has offered me some funding, but not full funding. If I recieve this scholarship for the Oxford program, it would cover everything.

It does put me into a difficult situation with timing. I guess I am wondering what the consequences would be of "angering" a department by accepting an offer and possibly declining. I am considering asking for an extension, though I'm not sure if an extension will give me enough time to wait on the results of my scholarship application...

Thank you all for offering your thoughts. It does help to get different perspectives before making a decision like this!

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I guess I am wondering what the consequences would be of "angering" a department by accepting an offer and possibly declining. I am considering asking for an extension, though I'm not sure if an extension will give me enough time to wait on the results of my scholarship application...

Well, honestly, I don't know what the consequences would be. No clue. But, I personally would not be comfortable of running the risk of being in a better position to answer that question. If I were in your position, I would be concerned about bad press, and possibly damaging future job opportunities, but I don't know if these are realistic concerns: I may be completely out in left field, but I do know that academia is a surprisingly small world of its own. Think about it this way: even if there are no consequences at all (which is rare, for just about anything), several people here have had a strong moral reaction to your proposal--would you want to wonder if your potential adviser at your second-choice school had a similar reaction? The fewer seeds sewn for uncomfortable (and possibly damaging) situations in the future the better.

Regarding the extension, if it were me, I'd outline the precise situation I was in, including the length of an extension required to be of use. It would be an awkward e-mail to write, but we're all in for long careers of awkward e-mails anyway.

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Of course, everyone should apply only to programs they absolutely want to get into, but obviously not everyone knows the circumstances under which they will get in (i.e. funding, housing, status, etc.) Trust me, I understand the difference in timelines, as I applied to both Canadian and U.S. schools. I could go on about the points made here, but I am just too flustered at a couple of the replies...

HisRoyalHighness, math123, you HAVE to be kidding with that rhetoric. "shocking", "disgusting", "amoral people"? Did you ever learn the difference between a healthy debate and personal attacks and judgment? Please spare us your exaggerated self-righteous remarks. 2400 actually sought honest opinions because he/she is in a very agonizing predicament. I don't know if you have found yourselves in that situation before, but regardless, you have no right coming in here and pouncing on people with such unnecessary attacks. "SHAME" on you. Ignorant voices are indeed always shrillest.

By the way, for your information (not that you seem to care about that much, since your morals are so high and mighty), programs usually account for students rescinding their offers, as this happens every year for a variety of reasons, foreseen or not. They were not born yesterday. They caution you against doing so for the purposes of their administrative processes, as it is a pain for them to close the file of a student whose status was accepted/gave intent. Especially for MA programs, professors are usually not even aware of who came and went, and bitter feelings and bad reputations are unlikely to result. This is particularly true if you give a reasonable explanation. Yes, I did ask two reliable sources in academia about this. Don't worry, though, you can still keep your world black and white the way you like it.

2400, best of luck to you and I am truly sorry you are in this situation. That's just how it works, I guess...they dictate your application deadline and your decision deadline...and many deadlines to come :) Please do try to get an extension though.

And please, people, can we act like potential/current grad students and stop the counterproductive insults?

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Of course, everyone should apply only to programs they absolutely want to get into, but obviously not everyone knows the circumstances under which they will get in (i.e. funding, housing, status, etc.) Trust me, I understand the difference in timelines, as I applied to both Canadian and U.S. schools. I could go on about the points made here, but I am just too flustered at a couple of the replies...

HisRoyalHighness, math123, you HAVE to be kidding with that rhetoric. "shocking", "disgusting", "amoral people"? Did you ever learn the difference between a healthy debate and personal attacks and judgment? Please spare us your exaggerated self-righteous remarks. 2400 actually sought honest opinions because he/she is in a very agonizing predicament. I don't know if you have found yourselves in that situation before, but regardless, you have no right coming in here and pouncing on people with such unnecessary attacks. "SHAME" on you. Ignorant voices are indeed always shrillest.

By the way, for your information (not that you seem to care about that much, since your morals are so high and mighty), programs usually account for students rescinding their offers, as this happens every year for a variety of reasons, foreseen or not. They were not born yesterday. They caution you against doing so for the purposes of their administrative processes, as it is a pain for them to close the file of a student whose status was accepted/gave intent. Especially for MA programs, professors are usually not even aware of who came and went, and bitter feelings and bad reputations are unlikely to result. This is particularly true if you give a reasonable explanation. Yes, I did ask two reliable sources in academia about this. Don't worry, though, you can still keep your world black and white the way you like it.

2400, best of luck to you and I am truly sorry you are in this situation. That's just how it works, I guess...they dictate your application deadline and your decision deadline...and many deadlines to come :) Please do try to get an extension though.

And please, people, can we act like potential/current grad students and stop the counterproductive insults?

Well said, Tams! I'm in a similar boat as the OP. I only applied to schools that I would be happy going to.

I've accepted an offer from Penn for a Master's program because the deadline was April 15th and it made financial sense to commit. However, because GWU is my first choice and they have a June 1st deadline, I'm going to continue applying for jobs with GWU to get tuition remission. I know that is unfortunate for Penn, but if they offered me more money, this would be a no brainer. If GWU comes through with a job for me, then I'm off to GWU. You have to do what makes sense for yourself, because after all, this is YOUR degree, YOUR time, YOUR money.

If it's unethical to take up someone else's spot, then why even apply to more than one school if you can only choose one? Wouldn't you be taking another applicant's spot if you weren't completely head-over-heels committed to the school? You can argue that by applying to six schools and being admitted to all six (like I did), and I obviously cannot go to all six, I was taking up a precious spot on the admitted students roster. That's what waitlists are for. Schools are used to admitted students dropping out. You have no reason whatsoever to feel guilty. If anything, you should feel guilty for attending a school you weren't excited about because you felt too guilty to drop out and attend your dream school.

Good luck!

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If it's unethical to take up someone else's spot, then why even apply to more than one school if you can only choose one? Wouldn't you be taking another applicant's spot if you weren't completely head-over-heels committed to the school? You can argue that by applying to six schools and being admitted to all six (like I did), and I obviously cannot go to all six, I was taking up a precious spot on the admitted students roster. That's what waitlists are for. Schools are used to admitted students dropping out. You have no reason whatsoever to feel guilty. If anything, you should feel guilty for attending a school you weren't excited about because you felt too guilty to drop out and attend your dream school.

Good luck!

The difference between being an admitted student and accepting an admittance is completely different. As an admitted student, you're not taking up anyone's spot. If you don't respond by the deadline date, you're assumed to be not attending. The department takes a person off the waitlist. If you accept an offer and rescind your acceptance, you've already eliminated someone's chances of coming off a waitlist because the school had already sent the waitlist folks a rejection letter (since the spot is no longer available).

Universities expect undergrads (where the are thousands of students) to drop out of commitments. Not graduate programs where the incoming class is 4.

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HisRoyalHighness, math123, you HAVE to be kidding with that rhetoric. "shocking", "disgusting", "amoral people"? Did you ever learn the difference between a healthy debate and personal attacks and judgment? Please spare us your exaggerated self-righteous remarks. 2400 actually sought honest opinions because he/she is in a very agonizing predicament. I don't know if you have found yourselves in that situation before, but regardless, you have no right coming in here and pouncing on people with such unnecessary attacks. "SHAME" on you. Ignorant voices are indeed always shrillest.

Excuse me? This isn't like the Bush Justice Department where anyone's amoral conduct can be creatively excused. 2400 received an "honest opinion." You may not like the way it was phrased but both myself and math123 are certainly entitled to voice ours. And no, I didn't find myself in that situation - wanna know why? Because I didn't create a situation like that for myself.

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Honestly, and although people might not like my opinion, I don't think 2400 is wrong, amoral, unethical, whatever for being in the situation s/he is in and possibly having to rescind an offer. 2400 wanted to go to both school (obviously with a preference in mind -- but don't we all have preferences?) and is now in a very hard, very agonizing position between going to school A (which the person obviously likes because s/he applied to it) or waiting and going to the slightly better school B. I say do what you have to. There's a reason that rescinding is an option -- because this kind of situation happens every admissions cycle and the adcomms know it.

I say look at it like possible jobs -- would you feel bad about giving up one job offer if a better one came around? I know I wouldn't because at the end of the day you got to take care of you. Now, I know that a lot of people will say that this is selfish thinking, people should think about the waitlistees, blah, blah, blah, but you know what? That's life. You have to do what is good for you or you won't be of any use to anyone. I also wouldn't worry about burning any bridges. I really don't think that, after how many years of school (I'm assuming you'll also be going for a PhD), the professors and people on the adcomm will even remember your name. They won't be holding grudges and making 2400 voodoo dolls because you rescinded your offer.

Have you emailed the adcomm to ask for an extension yet? If your situation is purely financial I would let them know why you want to wait around for Oxford. You say that they can only offer an X amount, but who knows? Maybe if they know that X amount of dollars is all that's standing in the way of your decision maybe they'll fess up more money. It's worth a try right?

In the end, I guess, do what you got to do and take what the haters are saying with a grain of salt. They have a sympathy/ empathy for the waitlisted (I do too-- to a degree), but I really think you have to do what is right for you.

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There's a reason that rescinding is an option -- because this kind of situation happens every admissions cycle and the adcomms know it.

Rescinding is not an option, it's something you have to go out of your way to find and do. That's why it's frowned upon.

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But, its not impossible to do and therefore is an option in circumstances where it is called for. Yes, the OP will need permission from the school to do so, but what school would want to force a person to stay if, in the end, they don't want to be there?

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I work for a graduate program. When students rescind -- and this happens at least two or three times per year -- one or two faculty members may be upset for ten minutes, but never more than fifteen.

In other words, get over yourselves. No one is going to cry if you decide not to come. Moreover, you likely didn't take anyone's spot.

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Honestly, and although people might not like my opinion, I don't think 2400 is wrong, amoral, unethical, whatever for being in the situation s/he is in and possibly having to rescind an offer. 2400 wanted to go to both school (obviously with a preference in mind -- but don't we all have preferences?) and is now in a very hard, very agonizing position between going to school A (which the person obviously likes because s/he applied to it) or waiting and going to the slightly better school B. I say do what you have to. There's a reason that rescinding is an option -- because this kind of situation happens every admissions cycle and the adcomms know it.

I say look at it like possible jobs -- would you feel bad about giving up one job offer if a better one came around? I know I wouldn't because at the end of the day you got to take care of you. Now, I know that a lot of people will say that this is selfish thinking, people should think about the waitlistees, blah, blah, blah, but you know what? That's life. You have to do what is good for you or you won't be of any use to anyone. I also wouldn't worry about burning any bridges. I really don't think that, after how many years of school (I'm assuming you'll also be going for a PhD), the professors and people on the adcomm will even remember your name. They won't be holding grudges and making 2400 voodoo dolls because you rescinded your offer.

Have you emailed the adcomm to ask for an extension yet? If your situation is purely financial I would let them know why you want to wait around for Oxford. You say that they can only offer an X amount, but who knows? Maybe if they know that X amount of dollars is all that's standing in the way of your decision maybe they'll fess up more money. It's worth a try right?

In the end, I guess, do what you got to do and take what the haters are saying with a grain of salt. They have a sympathy/ empathy for the waitlisted (I do too-- to a degree), but I really think you have to do what is right for you.

2nd....and wonderfully said.

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I work for a graduate program. When students rescind -- and this happens at least two or three times per year -- one or two faculty members may be upset for ten minutes, but never more than fifteen.

In other words, get over yourselves. No one is going to cry if you decide not to come. Moreover, you likely didn't take anyone's spot.

Whoa, chill. I don't think those of us who were worried about bridge-burning felt remotely like someone's going to "cry" if a student rescinds: I certainly didn't intend to imply that I expected a department to be wringing its collective hands if I were in the original poster's situation. It's not remotely egotistical to sweat over whether a decision made now can bite you where the sun don't shine later, and it's perfectly natural to worry about potential ramifications . . . excuse me if I prefer to minimize the number of things I can possibly worry about!

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I was talking about the people who were acting like you were committing murder...I think it's fine for you to rescind if you find a better offer later on.

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I'm in a similar boat too right now. My decision is over Toronto and Leeds though. I have funding for Toronto and have accepted their offer, but have this feeling inside that Leeds is where I really want to go. I've read all of the comments on here and really, you just have to do what you feel is best for you. Sure there are people on the wait list and you don't want to take an opportunity to study away from them. I think about that all the time. Then again (not to put people on the wait list down) but they are on the wait list and, I think, know this. You were the department's first choice over them, so make your choice. Lots of people accept schools and then decline later. I'd suggest making a pros and cons list of both schools you're thinking of to help you visualize what each can offer you. Do one for each school which represents their scholastic pros and cons, and one for personal reasons. I think it'll help. Where ever you end up, I'm sure you will do great. :)

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