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So I applied to several PhD programs at different schools of probably different levels of selectivity and prestige. From a few of these schools I have been admitted and in contact with certain professors there who are suggesting that I will receive full funding to go there. In one case, this funding will be in the form of a fellowship from the school. The only hang up is that they would like me to make a decision on these offers quickly. In one case, I think they want to figure out if I would accept the fellowship if offered to me so they can extend it to someone else if I wouldn’t accept.

The problem is, the two schools I am most interested in have not yet admitted me and no professors from those schools have reached out to me. I would like to know what the result of my application to these schools will be before deciding. Should I just tell the other schools to wait? I worry that I may not receive a fellowship offer from one of these schools for delaying my decision too long (and would maybe be funded through some other means). Another option I see would be to reach out to the universities that have not admitted me yet and try to initiate conversations about working in professors groups and gauge how they perceive the strength of my application.

To summarize my question: What is the best course of action when a grad school (or specific professor you want to work with there) pressures you to make a decision on their offer before all other schools you applied to admitted or rejected you?

I am located in the US, sorry forgot to mention it

  • Where are the schools located that you applied to? (specifically, what country/region) – Bryan Krause Jan 18 at 16:22
  • This is not unusual, nor are you the first to ask this question. Those schools want you to come, and are dangling a carrot. Only you can decide based on what you want to do. – Jon Custer Jan 18 at 17:16
  • I am in the usa. – user74671 Jan 18 at 20:39
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    @user74671 In that case, as my answer mentions, they can't withdraw a fellowship offer as long as you accept before April 15th, assuming they are one of the institutions that agrees to the April 15th deadline (which includes almost every school in the US; my answer includes a list). – Bryan Krause Jan 18 at 20:55
  • Why don't you flat-out ask them how long the are willing to wait? – Karl Jan 18 at 20:56
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I would try to (softly) delay with the second choice schools. And immediately contact the first choice schools (professor who leads admissions). Let them know both that you are being pushed for a decision and may come off the market AND that the fellowship is being offered (maybe you get a match).

No guarantee but in general competition (for you) drives better outcomes. But you need to let them know. This becomes even more the case when job interviewing.

  • With regards to contacting the first choice school, would it be better to contact the admissions director or the professor who I would like to work for – user74671 Jan 18 at 20:38
  • Send an email to admissions director, cc professor (assuming you have previous contact with professor). – guest Jan 19 at 0:03
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This answer applies if your schools of choice are in the United States:

Most major universities in the US are signatories to the "April 15th resolution," which gives students until April 15th to accept offers of admission/financial aid. A full list is here: http://cgsnet.org/ckfinder/userfiles/files/CGSResolution_RevisedOct2017.pdf

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


If the schools you are applying to are in the US and signatories to this resolution, they are not allowed to offer and then withdraw admission/financial aid prior to April 15th. Before that deadline, you can politely inform them that you are waiting for all your offers before making a decision. They might want to pressure you to commit earlier, but you are not compelled to do so.

You are correct, though, in assuming that they would like to offer the fellowship to someone else, if possible. Therefore, the polite thing to do is to inform any school that is no longer in contention as soon as possible, that is, as soon as you have another offer you plan to accept, and no sooner.

You could reach out to the schools you are waiting to hear from, but I wouldn't pester them, it is still fairly early in the acceptance calendar (again, from a US perspective) and admissions committees are still meeting to make decisions.

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There probably isn't a best course of action as it all involves tradeoffs that only you can make. But the options you suggest are all ethical. The only one that would contravene ethical standards is to accept an offer knowing you would later back out of it.

But asking for delays in acceptance or asking for additional information about your position (shortlist or no...) are all good options. I doubt that they would prejudice any decision against you.

It seems pretty common here that the places that really want a candidate seem to make offers before the places that the candidates prefer. That is pretty natural, also, as the later decision makers may well have higher standards.

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