How to turn down an admission offer already accepted

  • #1
randomseeker453
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I applied for graduate admission in Canadian universities for fall entry. One of the graduate programs offered me admission in February and furthermore offered me a prestigious scholarship to motivate me to accept the offer of admission. I accepted the offer of admission and the offer of scholarship in February.

A few days back (early May), I received an offer of admission from another more lucrative graduate program. I would like to accept the new offer and rescind the old offer because the new graduate program has research groups more in line with my own research interests. However, I am uncertain as to how I should reply to the admissions chair of the old graduate program that I want to rescind their offer of admission. It's been nearly three months since I accepted the first offer. What would be the polite way to rescind the offer of admission?

P.S. A couple of professors from the old graduate program also expressed their interest in supervising me (in February). I told them that I would get back to them soon after but it's been three months and I still haven't replied back to them. Should I also send them an email stating that I rescind the offer of admission?
 
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  • #2
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I would talk with your current advisor and/or your schools graduate admissions about the pros/cons, the etiquette and possible side-effects of rescinding the offer.

Being accepted is a lot like accepting a job offer. Only in the case of the job offer, there is no shame in rejecting it and jumping to a better one. However the downside is that if done too often then you get a reputation of constantly switching jobs that is hard to fix. Also in turning down the original offer you may discover that you can't apply to that company again.

In one case, I knew a friend who jumped to another company because of better pay but lost his job shortly thereafter when the company was sold and now couldn't get back into his original job because the old company had filled the position and didn't want to hire him back. There are always risks in any decision you make but you need to think through every aspect of it.

With respect to your current predicament, have you looked at other factors such as living expenses, the surrounding environment, health benefits? Do you know anything about the department is it easy or hard to work there? Have you talked with any of the other graduate students to see what they think? Do they graduate students in a timely fashion?

Sometimes the first offer may in fact be the better offer even though the money may not be there. Its like the bird in a hand is worth more than two in the bush.
 
  • #3
OrangeDog
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Do what is best for you. Those schools have enough money and students where they can get someone else very quickly. The first program you accepted seems like they want you more though.
 
  • #4
randomseeker453
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I would talk with your current advisor and/or your schools graduate admissions about the pros/cons, the etiquette and possible side-effects of rescinding the offer.

Being accepted is a lot like accepting a job offer. Only in the case of the job offer, there is no shame in rejecting it and jumping to a better one. However the downside is that if done too often then you get a reputation of constantly switching jobs that is hard to fix. Also in turning down the original offer you may discover that you can't apply to that company again.

In one case, I knew a friend who jumped to another company because of better pay but lost his job shortly thereafter when the company was sold and now couldn't get back into his original job because the old company had filled the position and didn't want to hire him back. There are always risks in any decision you make but you need to think through every aspect of it.

With respect to your current predicament, have you looked at other factors such as living expenses, the surrounding environment, health benefits? Do you know anything about the department is it easy or hard to work there? Have you talked with any of the other graduate students to see what they think? Do they graduate students in a timely fashion?

Sometimes the first offer may in fact be the better offer even though the money may not be there. Its like the bird in a hand is worth more than two in the bush.


Well, my new graduate program is rankwd much much higher in league tables and does work in my research field of interest. My old graduate program was always my safety school. I know that league tables don't matter in graduate schools but then again my old graduate program does not do the kind of research work that I like. Also, if I leave physics altogether at some point in or after my PhD studies, the ranking might be an important consideration.

I hope I'm able to reply in the proper way so I don't mess things up.
 
  • #5
randomseeker453
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Do what is best for you. Those schools have enough money and students where they can get someone else very quickly. The first program you accepted seems like they want you more though.

Well, the second program also offered me a bursary, and the money offered by the scholarship from the first program and the bursary from the second program are the same.

A bursary is less prestigious than a scholarship, but it might be best for me to go with the second program because of the higher ranking in league tables and the alignment with my research interests.
 
  • #6
Vanadium 50
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If this were in the US, you would be in big trouble. The Council of Graduate Schools has a universal April 15th deadline, and once that date passes, you are committed. Other schools aren't supposed to enroll you (especially with funding) if you have already committed to a school. There are only a few Canadian schools that are signatories to this, but you should nonetheless carefully read both offers of admission. They may not allow you to do what you are proposing - in the US they would not.

Don't worry about not "messing things up". Your actions will mess things up. If nothing else, your first school rejected someone that they otherwise would have accepted. There's just no good way to say "I gave you my word, but now that circumstances make it favorable to break it, I am breaking it."
 
  • #7
Choppy
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A bursary is less prestigious than a scholarship, but it might be best for me to go with the second program because of the higher ranking in league tables and the alignment with my research interests.

Aligning with your research interests is one thing. Ranking doesn't trump a scholarship though. The thing with scholarships, particularly the big ones is that they tend to snowball. It's a big plus to have on your CV if later on you're applying for support for post-doctoral positions.
 
  • #8
OrangeDog
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If this were in the US, you would be in big trouble. The Council of Graduate Schools has a universal April 15th deadline, and once that date passes, you are committed. Other schools aren't supposed to enroll you (especially with funding) if you have already committed to a school. There are only a few Canadian schools that are signatories to this, but you should nonetheless carefully read both offers of admission. They may not allow you to do what you are proposing - in the US they would not.

Don't worry about not "messing things up". Your actions will mess things up. If nothing else, your first school rejected someone that they otherwise would have accepted. There's just no good way to say "I gave you my word, but now that circumstances make it favorable to break it, I am breaking it."

It isn't like schools don't have the resources to replace someone though. A grad student is basically slave labor, so why shouldn't he go where he thinks he will do best? It isn't like the student is a big investment that could hurt the University's bottom line.
 
  • #9
randomseeker453
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It isn't like schools don't have the resources to replace someone though. A grad student is basically slave labor, so why shouldn't he go where he thinks he will do best? It isn't like the student is a big investment that could hurt the University's bottom line.

Good point! :biggrin:
 
  • #10
Vanadium 50
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It isn't like the student is a big investment that could hurt the University's bottom line.

You're letting your bitterness get the better of you. A grad student is a huge commitment on the part of the department. Maybe not so much financially, but in effort and time.

In any event, it's now the middle of May. Rejection notices have likely been sent; it's too late to say 'We changed our mind and now we want you.'
 
  • #11
randomseeker453
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You're letting your bitterness get the better of you. A grad student is a huge commitment on the part of the department. Maybe not so much financially, but in effort and time.

In any event, it's now the middle of May. Rejection notices have likely been sent; it's too late to say 'We changed our mind and now we want you.'

True that!
 
  • #12
Andy Resnick
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It isn't like schools don't have the resources to replace someone though. A grad student is basically slave labor, so why shouldn't he go where he thinks he will do best? It isn't like the student is a big investment that could hurt the University's bottom line.

I can't speak for other faculty, but my grad students are not 'slave labor'. If anything, they are apprentices requiring a large investment of my time and Department resources. Students are not customers, they are indeed investments.
 
  • #14
OrangeDog
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But back on topic, do what you want but don't make any rash decisions. I think the first school will be better for you, though.
 
  • #15
micromass
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Any university that treats its grad students as "costumers" and slave labour is somewhere where you need to stay far away from. Usually, the department will put in a lot of resources in the education of its grad students.
 
  • #16
randomseeker453
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Is it alright to email my first graduate program to tell him that I can't enrol in his graduate program due to unavoidable circumstances?

I only want to bring up the issue of an offer from another graduate program only if he asks for further clarification.
 
  • #17
micromass
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Is it alright to email my first graduate program to tell him that I can't enrol in his graduate program due to unavoidable circumstances?

I only want to bring up the issue of an offer from another graduate program only if he asks for further clarification.

Did you read up on the terms of the offer like Vanadium told you?
 
  • #18
randomseeker453
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Well, there were no terms - at least the first graduate program did not point out any terms.

I had to pay an admission deposit, though, to secure my admission offer in the first place.

But they offered me a very prestigious scholarship and I'm really nervous and afraid of sending an email saying that I rescind the offer.
 
  • #19
OrangeDog
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Ill tell you what, it is none of their business for your justification for what you decide to do. This is similar to jobs requiring a 2 weeks notice before you quit. Do companies require two weeks notice before you are fired? Do graduate school require 2 weeks notice to tell you your funding will get dropped? No, of course not, it is a fools game to play. Are they going to arrest you if you decline? No. Can they sue you? No, because what is the difference between you leaving now and you failing out first semester and leaving, or maybe having a kid and having to leave?

Say something like this:

"Unfortunately I have some bad news. Due to some unforeseen circumstances I will have to decline the offer I accepted on xx. I appreciate the time and consideration you have given to me, as well the offer and the scholarship I received. However, due to personal obligations I cannot in good faith pursue your program at this time."

EDIT:
HOWEVER, please consider your decision carefully. Visit the school before making this choice! Do not be rash, because if you are making the wrong choice now you are double screwed.
 
  • #20
randomseeker453
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Ill tell you what, it is none of their business for your justification for what you decide to do. This is similar to jobs requiring a 2 weeks notice before you quit. Do companies require two weeks notice before you are fired? Do graduate school require 2 weeks notice to tell you your funding will get dropped? No, of course not, it is a fools game to play. Are they going to arrest you if you decline? No. Can they sue you? No, because what is the difference between you leaving now and you failing out first semester and leaving, or maybe having a kid and having to leave?

Say something like this:

"Unfortunately I have some bad news. Due to some unforeseen circumstances I will have to decline the offer I accepted on xx. I appreciate the time and consideration you have given to me, as well the offer and the scholarship I received. However, due to personal obligations I cannot in good faith pursue your program at this time."

EDIT:
HOWEVER, please consider your decision carefully. Visit the school before making this choice! Do not be rash, because if you are making the wrong choice now you are double screwed.

Thanks for the support. At least in physicsforums, I find a lot of help from you guys on how to tackle difficult issues such as these.
 
  • #21
micromass
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Thanks for the support. At least in physicsforums, I find a lot of help from you guys on how to tackle difficult issues such as these.

I wouldn't listen to OrangeDog. He's clearly new to academia.
 
  • #22
OrangeDog
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I am new to academia but I know how the real world works. At the end of the day graduate school is like a job, even though everyone says it is not, that is a bunch of crap. The OP has to decide what is best for himself and he needs to do the research on those ramifications. He could call the school and find out what the implications are, but again it is completely unreasonable that he does not have the freedom to chose what to do by some contract. What if he was in some kind of car accident and had to withdraw the offer?
 
  • #23
randomseeker453
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I wouldn't listen to OrangeDog. He's clearly new to academia.

Well, there were no terms to the offer that the first graduate program made - at least they didn't say the terms explicitly.

I only had to pay an admission deposit to accept the offer of admission.

How would you advise me to got about the process of turning down the first graduate program?
 
  • #25
randomseeker453
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I guess I should then go with mentioning unavoidable circumstances and not bringing up the issue of an offer from another graduate program, since there's no point in making the conversation awkward with the first graduate program admissions chair.

I'll only bring it up if she queries me further about my decision to quit her program.
 
  • #26
OrangeDog
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He's not, is he?

That is true, that is why I suggest he calls the school and think carefully before pressing the red button. I cant see how this would be a problem. There will be kids in their first semester looking for research. At the university I left there were many students networking with professors to start research second semester.
 
  • #27
randomseeker453
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I'm fairly certain I want to press the red button.
 
  • #28
randomseeker453
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I'm fairly certain I want to press the red button.

... and go for the second graduate program. Except for the fact that the second graduate program has a bursary and not a scholarship, the second graduate program far outweighs the first one in all respects - ranking, research topics I want to work on, location, postdoctoral prospects, etc.

I just needed to figure out a way to let the first person know that I'm not going to her program.
 
  • #29
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Is it alright to email my first graduate program to tell him that I can't enrol in his graduate program due to unavoidable circumstances?

But the circumstances are avoidable. Do you think lying is a good way out? You should keep in mind that the physics community is small, and you should not think School X will not learn of your interactions with School Y.
 
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  • #30
OrangeDog
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... and go for the second graduate program. Except for the fact that the second graduate program has a bursary and not a scholarship, the second graduate program far outweighs the first one in all respects - ranking, research topics I want to work on, location, postdoctoral prospects, etc.

I just needed to figure out a way to let the first person know that I'm not going to her program.

You need to physically go to the school, meet the people you are working with, and then decided if it is the greatest thing ever. I made that same mistake. The school I went to I thought was in a good area, I was told funding wont be a concern, they had plenty of classes to take. When I got there I found that I didn't fit in at all. I ended up leaving the program and acquiring additional student loan debt to pay for my room and board. Don't underestimate thinking carefully about this decision. You might go to this school thinking it is highly ranked and all that, but find out the environment is toxic.
 
  • #31
randomseeker453
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You need to physically go to the school, meet the people you are working with, and then decided if it is the greatest thing ever. I made that same mistake. The school I went to I thought was in a good area, I was told funding wont be a concern, they had plenty of classes to take. When I got there I found that I didn't fit in at all. I ended up leaving the program and acquiring additional student loan debt to pay for my room and board. Don't underestimate thinking carefully about this decision. You might go to this school thinking it is highly ranked and all that, but find out the environment is toxic.

What if the difference in the ranking of the two universities is on the order of a couple hundred?

I am an international student. I can't physically go to the universities and confirm.
 
  • #32
randomseeker453
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But the circumstances are avoidable. Do you think lying is a good way out? You should keep in mind that the physics community is small, and you should not think School X will not learn of your interactions with School Y.

Should I then not use the words unavoidable circumstances but rather just be straight to the point and let them know that I can't attend their program because I got an offer more in line with my research interests?
 
  • #33
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Well, there were no terms - at least the first graduate program did not point out any terms.

Of course there were. Do you not have something that says "You start on this day, your stipend is this much, we expect you to finish undergrad, we need a decision on this date" and so on? You say you sent a deposit. Why? Presumably there was something that said to.
 
  • #34
randomseeker453
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Oh, yes. I've read the terms. It says, among other things, that my offer had to be accepted or declined in three weeks and that admission deposit had to be paid.
 
  • #35
f95toli
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But the circumstances are avoidable. Do you think lying is a good way out? You should keep in mind that the physics community is small, and you should not think School X will not learn of your interactions with School Y.

To be fair, part of the problem here is that the two two schools do not send out their offers at roughly the same time. This situation will presumably arise a LOT for a student enrolling in the second school if they are sending out offers much later than their "competitors".

I have been in the same situation myself, but from a supervisors point of view; I've had students reject offers because they had already accepted offers from someone else and I have also had potential students leave quite late in the process because they got a better offer somewhere else. I've never blamed the students for this; they should do what is best for them (my main problem is that one of the programs through which I can get students is set up so that everything happens 2-3 months later than most other programs in the UK; if a student "waits" for us and then does NOT get an offer he/she will be out of options)
 
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