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Recently I applied to a number of graduate program in the humanities. After applying to ten schools, I received an offer in late February for a full funding package, from one of the universities, which seemed rather early to me. This offer came from an advisor, not the actual graduate school - the official letter of acceptance from the graduate school came several weeks later. In the offer, the advisor stated that though I had been offered funding, they would appreciate an answer on whether I would accept the funding as soon as possible. Since this was late February, and I had only heard back from one school at the time, this put me in tricky situation, and I couldn't really give her a deliberate answer. I would certainly accept the funding if I chose to attend, but that was not a certainty by any means. The school from which I received the offer was not my top choice, a good school, but not a top choice. As such, I told her I needed more time, without going into any details. Quite simply though, I just hadn't heard back from most of my schools.
A couple of weeks later I heard back from this same advisor, and this time she again asked for an answer as soon as possible, but did notify me that the national deadline in which a decision can be made is April 15th, several weeks away. At this time, I was still waiting to receive a decision from a couple of other schools. I told her (the advisor that contacted me) that I needed more time. One to two weeks went by, and trying to expedite the decision, I contacted the one last school that I hadn't heard from, and found out I had been placed on the waiting list. My waitlisted school said they needed to receive word from a couple of other students whom they had made offers to, and they could then possibly make an offer to me if these students declined. As such, after thinking myself into a rabbit hole with these complications, rashly, despite having thought of it for several weeks (which may be why I thought myself into a rabbit hole) I accepted the offer from the initial school that made the offer.
I have read elsewhere on these boards that accepting an offer and then withdrawing it after April 15th, for a waitlisted school is highly unethical and can cause dismissal from all schools. I certainly see the reasoning behind that, but if I were to rescind my acceptance before April 15th, hopefully a week or more, would this be considered unethical since they could still easily give the funding elsewhere? Moroever, would it be a disadvantage to the school I did receive the offer from? Finally, could it possibly have an effect on my long-term career if I rescinded the offer and accepted admission to the waitlisted school?
Regardless, is it ethical to rescind an acceptance of funding and admission before April 15th (hopefully a week or more before)? Would this burn a serious bridge that would hurt my career? Would another student not receive funding since I accepted the offer and then withdrew it? I understand that some programs will reach out to their highly-regarded candidates in order to recruit them, and I'm certainly not against the school, but it sounds like I have a solid chance of getting off of the waitlist. It was one of my top schools, for not just academic reasons but personal as well. Seeing how this is the next five years of my life, it's a weighty decision to make. Please let me know what you think, or if you have any official procedures for going about these matters. Thanks!