I have heard stories that graduate schools revoke their offers because of various reasons, such as lying in the application and some other serious misconducts.

As the title suggests, can the opposite happen? And can you recall any such events? If you have, why did they happen?

  • Don’t think the universities will publish figures for this, or even keep a record.
    – Solar Mike
    May 9, 2020 at 6:53

2 Answers 2


The typical process that happens in graduate application selection is that you subdivide applicants into three groups:

  • Accepted applications: These are your first choice of candidates, and you offer them a position. This list need not be ranked.
  • Waitlist: These are the applications you think are good enough to accept, but not so good that you want to make them an offer right away. You rank this list, and go top to bottom as people who have previously been offered a position decline.
  • Reject: These are the applications you think aren't good enough to succeed in the program. There is no need to rank these candidates because you don't anticipate ever tapping into this pool.

The point I'm trying to make is that the rejected applications are candidates you don't think are good enough to succeed in the program. You're probably going to ask what happens if everyone declines and you're out of names on your waitlist? Well, then you just don't make any more offers. That's because you've previously decided that the ones on the "Reject" list aren't good enough to succeed.

The only thing that's worse than not being able to fill all graduate student slots is to fill these slots with students who you believe will not succeed in the program. That's a sunk cost: you're paying for people who aren't good enough to do the job they're paid for.

So, under the assumption that all universities work on such a system (which I think is, in essence, the case), there is no reason ever to turn a rejection into an acceptance.

(Now, has it ever happened? Almost certainly, given just the sheer number of cases. Does it happen on a regular basis? No.)

  • In an ideal world, this would be the case, but there might be pressure, administrative or otherwise to fill all slots, even if this means taking people from the rejected list. After all with funding, it's often spend it or lose it. In particular unfilled slots in one year might prompt whoever is doing the budget to give you fewer in the next. But I agree, normally, the waitlist should be long enough to avoid such situations.
    – mlk
    May 9, 2020 at 16:39
  • @mlk Trust me, departments have other ways of spending money that's left over :-) May 11, 2020 at 2:43

Most probably this is institution specific and if it happens, an extremely small number of this type of events occur. The main reasoning behind such a U-turn is that an applicant who accepted or was sent an offer, did not take it within a certain time. But even in this case, most graduate schools work with waiting lists and are likely to use them to send a second batch of offers.

Thus, technically possible, it is very unlikely that someone will have a rejection turned later into an offer. The only scenario I could think of is that someone came second in the application process and the school has unexpectedly received another grant allowing more students, but then would be a matter of the group wanting to run a second application process or just use a previous list of applicants.

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