I have been offered admission in a top-25 university, and a RA position in a lab that works on my area of interest. I am pretty happy with this offer and I would feel comfortable accepting it. However, I still have not heard back from some top-10 institutions.

I am concerned that the professor might feel upset if I take too long to answer the offer. What should I do?

I should mention that I am an international student applying to Engineering PhD's.

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    Contact any place that you might potentially prefer to the current offer. Tell them you have an offer and ask for the status of your application. – Boris Bukh Feb 6 '18 at 15:47
  • The phrase " a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" comes to mind... – Solar Mike Feb 6 '18 at 16:02

You should ask both institutions.

Some institutions will fast-track deciding on if they’ll accept you if you tell them you have an outstanding offer. By contacting the outstanding offers, you can probably find out sooner.

Additionally, you should contact the department that made you an offer and tell them that you’re interested and honored by their offer, but have some outstanding applications and ask when they want you to get back to them by.

EDIT: I completely missed that the title says “in the US.” As the other excellent answers have stated, you very likely have until April 15th or later to make a decision. A large number of universities (see the 2014 list here) have agreed to give all students at least that long to decide to respond.

It is worth noting that the April 15th Resolution applies to offers of payment and funding, not acceptance. However, since in the US virtually all engineering PhDs are funded, it de facto applies to admissions as well. If you were applying for an unfounded masters program, it wouldn’t apply.

Some schools give longer than April 15th to decide, while others will pressure you to accept on the 15th or soon after. So for now, I would advise you to wait. If in early April you still haven’t heard back from a school you really want to go to, I would advise you to contact them as I said at the beginning.

  • OP also mentions receiving an RA (research assistantship), so this is an offer of funding and the April 15 resolution definitely applies. – Nate Eldredge Feb 7 '18 at 15:12

In my field (public health), they gave us a deadline of April 15 to respond to offers. It seemed like it was perfectly acceptable to respond on that day. (And yes, I am in the US.)

A funny story: one of the universities I applied to only accepted 4 students a year, and it invited about 10 students to go interview. I figured out, after a while of not hearing back, that I was on their wait list. I had got an excellent offer from another university, and at some point in late March, I decided that further information would not change my decision, so I accepted that offer and sent my regrets to two other programs that had offered me admission. I forgot to do so to university number 1, and on April 15 I got a call from them.

As I said, I determined that further information would probably not change my decision, so I am fine, but that serves as evidence for paragraph 1.

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    The April 15 resolution is widely observed by US institutions, and represents a commitment not to require or pressure applicants to respond before April 15. I would be pretty surprised if there is a "top 25" university that hasn't signed on. – Nate Eldredge Feb 7 '18 at 5:29
  • Thanks for pointing out the April 15 resolution. I missed that the OP had specified the US in the title. – Stella Biderman Feb 7 '18 at 13:52

Following on Weiwen Ng's answer:

Your offer should have stated a deadline to reply. That deadline is almost certainly April 15. You're under no obligation to reply earlier, and should not feel pressured to do so. Nobody is expecting to hear from you before that. Neither the professor nor anyone else will be upset if you wait until the deadline.

Take as much time as you need, up until the deadline.

Stella Biderman's answer is good advice for most job search-type situations, but in view of the April 15 Resolution, I don't think it's quite relevant here. There isn't much point in contacting other schools to let them know of the offer in hopes of them speeding up their process, because they know you have until April 15 anyway, and they are certainly planning to send out their acceptances well before that date.

  • Thanks for pointing out about the April 15 resolution. I missed the fact that the title of the OP says “US” and have amended my answer. – Stella Biderman Feb 7 '18 at 13:50

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