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Decline PhD programs and refer a friend, ethical?

  1. Feb 18, 2015 #1
    I have received offers from multiple research groups for my PhD. I have a friend who has also applied to PhD programs in the same field, and he has not even been invited to an interview, and it looks like he may get rejected by every school he has applied to. He is actually a very smart guy, smarter than me for sure, but I think maybe it's just that his application writing skills aren't very good? I was thinking...I am going to be declining a few offers of admission in favor of my desired program. Would there be any ethical dilemma if I tell the professors to whom I am declining the offer about my friend who is wanting to work on a PhD more than anything, and basically "put in a good word" for him? He has excellent grades and research experience, and I'm sure he can supply letters of recommendation, but the deadline has passed for admission and he's basically in a stroke of bad luck.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2015 #2


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    I don't see anything "ethically" wrong with that, but I doubt it will make any difference - particularly if the deadline for applications has passed.

    No one is going to push aside all the candidates who applied before the deadline for one who did not.

    Your friend's best bet (if indeed he is not accepted to where he has applied) is to re-assess his applications, seek feedback, improve on any weak areas, or re-orient and aim for programs that might be a better fit.
  4. Feb 19, 2015 #3
    Oh this isn't always the case, I have friends who were deeply wanted by certain PhD programs for math and was given the option of allowing his girlfriend admission into the program and I'm not sure she would've gotten in otherwise.
  5. Feb 19, 2015 #4

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    I find that kind of hard to believe, that she wouldn't get in otherwise. If this was suggested any time I was on a committee, we would have laughed so hard coffee would come out our noses.

    I think Choppy is right. It will make at most a microsocpic difference.
  6. Feb 19, 2015 #5
    Not unethical at all, you are saying what you honestly believe and without any deception.

    You will just lose credibility, though.
  7. Feb 21, 2015 #6
    What do you mean by "lose credibility"? What do I have to lose if I'm declining a program?
  8. Feb 21, 2015 #7
    Yeah if you aren't going to work there, you don't need it, I guess.
  9. Feb 21, 2015 #8


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    I don't see how there's anything unethical about this, but I also don't see how the recommendation of an applicant that was given an offer of admission, but chose to decline it, will carry any kind of weight. There are plenty of other students that have been wait listed. If you refuse your offer of admission, the opened slot will be filled by one of those people on the wait list...and not some random person that was either already rejected, or did not even apply to that program.

    I find this almost impossible to believe. Are you claiming that you know of MULTIPLE instances of this happening? This doesn't even make sense. You seem to be suggesting that these programs wanted your friend(s) so badly, that they were willing to accept your friend(s) girlfriend(s) in place of your friend(s) themselves. This is bizarre.

    We can suppose that your friend(s) and their girlfriend(s) were both physics majors, and both applied to the same programs...if your friend(s) were accepted, but refused the offer of admission, it is possible that their girlfriend(s) had been wait listed but were accepted upon your friend(s) refusal of the offer of admission...in which case I doubt that the recommendation of your friend(s) had any kind of significant impact on the decision.

    This is the only scenario in which such a sequence of events seems even remotely plausible to me.

    If the girlfriend(s) did not even apply to the same programs, or were previously rejected from the program...why would the admissions committees even consider it? Someone can be the most brilliant physicist in the world and have a significant other that knows next to nothing about physics. If the girlfriends were sub-par applicants, why would their applications be bolstered by merit of being the girlfriend of a person who is a stellar candidate?
  10. Feb 22, 2015 #9
    No, I'm saying the guy got in and the college wanted him so badly that they were willing to make space for the girl to get in so that he'd go there. I know of one instance of this happening with someone I know, perhaps I'm underestimating the girlfriend (who was also a math major going through the grad school application process) but I do know they made space for her, it's not like they made an exception for someone with no math background, it just wasn't as good as the guy. No offense but you sound somewhat naive, when institutions want people rules are sometimes bent and exceptions are sometimes made (this happened revolving me but in a different situation/program); this happens in sports frequently, it stands to reason that it could happen in pure academia.
  11. Feb 22, 2015 #10


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    Okay, I misunderstood your post. I'm not being naive. I've had 10 years of experience in the "real world" prior to even starting college. Obviously not everything always follows "the rule book" in practice. I still find it hard to believe that they wanted him badly enough to also offer his girlfriend a spot. That seems slightly more plausible than how I was interpreting it previously however.
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