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!


The Council of Graduate Schools's April 15th resolution clearly lays out the obligations of students, and notes that a decision made prior to April 15th can be rescinded if the student gets a different offer, so long as it is done in writing.

Students are under no obligation to respond to offers of financial support prior to April 15; earlier deadlines for acceptance of such offers violate the intent of this Resolution. In those instances in which a student accepts an offer before April 15 and subsequently desires to withdraw that acceptance, the student may submit in writing a resignation of the appointment at any time through April 15. However, an acceptance given or left in force after April 15 commits the student not to accept another offer without first obtaining a written release from the institution to which a commitment has been made.


The answer to your question as to whether it is unethical to rescind your commitment before April 15th is an unequivocal no: @aeismail's answer gives the proof, quoted from the CGS April 15th Resolution.

[Earlier this week I reached out to a student, saying that we were about to admit him. He wrote back saying that he had just accepted an offer from a comparable school. I wrote back telling him that his offer was not binding until April 15th. He stuck with his decision -- as I was expecting -- but the point is that the ethics of this are completely understood.]

Having said that, speaking as a Graduate Coordinator, I don't understand what you think the school in question did wrong. You write

To be frank, I've been trying not to second-guess the decision and take responsibility for the decision I made, but as I've thought more and more about it, I don't exactly feel like it was fair to place that pressure on me so early in the decision process.

What pressure did they place on you? They communicated clearly that you had until April 15 but "asked for an answer soon if possible." To me this means: if you have already made up your mind, please let them know. If you haven't made up your mind yet -- e.g. because you are yourself waiting on another school -- well, then it's not possible for you to answer soon because you don't know your decision yet.

They have to know that I probably haven't heard back from other schools, that I'm not in a position to make an informed decision, and that it is unorthodox to personally reach out to student who is trying to make the best decision for him/herself as they can.

They can't know whether you've heard back from the other schools of interest to you -- rather, that's what the email is asking. You may or may not be in a position to make an "informed decision"; if you're not, you should hold on to the offer until you are or until April 15th. As for personally reaching out to students: this week I have personally reached out to every student who has a pending offer from us. I make it clear that they have until April 15th to reply but say that if they happen to know already it would be very helpful to hear. Guess what the most common response to this email is? "Sorry, but I haven't made up my mind yet."

Bottom line: you absolutely do not owe anyone a response before April 15th. The right strategy for you is clear: you should hold on to all offers of interest until April 15th and let go of all the offers you know you will not take. The second part is important, because in order to get the information you want before April 15th, it is very likely that other students need to follow this strategy too. And thus emailing students to get them to remember to divest the offers they are no longer considering is also an important part of the process -- it benefits you too, so you should not resent it.

  • 1
    Thank you for your very direct answer. Yes, in retrospect, I should have been much more blunt and straightforward in my replies. I had just read elsewhere on these boards schools reaching out like this are breaching some ethical rule and that it is considered unusual and a bit shaky, but it's the internet and that's why you try to get as many opinions as you can. Thank you for lending a point-of-view on the other side of the equation as someone who is part of the field - it is useful to know the procedural aspects that go into these processes.
    – Absurd
    Apr 6 '18 at 1:49

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