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There is an internship opportunity at a prestigous institution, which I consider applying for. I do not yet have a job offer for the considered time period. I need a job/internship for financial stability. I am also applying to apply for internships in a different country, where I prefer to spend my time. These are less prestigious institutions, and I think I am more likely to get employment. However, I am not sure.

I want to make sure that I get employment, so I would like to apply for the prestigious institution as well. If I get accepted to both places (ie to the prestigious institution, where I don't want to be in general but I will cope if I have no other job, and to one of the less prestigious institutions, in the country where I prefer to be), is it burning bridges if I turn down the offer of the prestigious institution?

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    It's not uncommon for a company to ask if you have applied for any other jobs. Just be honest and say yes, this might even make them want you more. Jan 13 at 12:24
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    I've had quite a few occasions where I met with companies when there was mutual interest, even though I wasn't available and they didn't have exactly an opening at that time. If there is a reason to believe you will work with them in the future, many people might be open to chat with you about their company plans for the mid term future, etc and you can disclose when you think you may be available, etc and discuss possible future collaborations. When I was recruiting I also did the same with some people. It's keeping up with people / companies of interest.
    – Thomas
    Jan 13 at 19:19
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    Considering "prestigious institution" it is fairly likely they get tons of applications and you are extremely unlikely to be even remembered (unless you are far above other candidates). Jan 14 at 9:07
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    I was in the exact same situation as you. Decided to apply to “prestigious institution” even though I wanted to live elsewhere. Got and offer from “prestigious institution”. The offer is too good to reject. I’m moving to “prestigious institution” a less attractive country.
    – Andrea
    Jan 14 at 9:16
  • If not actually burning, you're clearly scorching bridges. Why would you want to apply for anything you were likely to turn down? Jan 15 at 19:48
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Generally, you should not apply for a position you have no intention of accepting. I find it is unethical to do so; others may see it as merely impolite or even not a problem at all.

That doesn't seem to be the case here - you're applying and would take the offer if it's given to you and you don't have another better choice (better means better for you, not "more prestigious institution"), but might choose another offer if it's presented to you.

There's nothing ethically wrong with this action. Is it possible someone would take your rejection of an offer as a snub and react negatively to your applications in the future? Sure, there are people all over who make judgments on people for reasons they should not. However, that wouldn't be you burning a bridge, it would be someone else acting vindictively towards you. More likely no one will even remember if you apply again in the future.

Adding from Noah Snyder's comment, when you do get an offer you want to take, you should withdraw from other applications and decline other offers as soon as you have confirmed acceptance of the offer you prefer. It is rude to delay or remain in consideration for positions you will not take.

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    @NoahSnyder: Just make sure you got a binding offer, preferably with the contract already signed.
    – Michael
    Jan 13 at 11:30
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    Yes! When you're looking for a job you should be applying to more than one place at a time.
    – MaxW
    Jan 15 at 10:16
  • Indeed; this is completely normal. Applying to only one job would be rare. Jan 15 at 18:31
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No

Offers are only offers, not contracts. They can be declined, and are declined all the time (for example, in 2018, 18% of undergraduates accepted by Harvard declined). Whoever is managing the internship will have a wait list, and if you decline, they will call someone else from the wait list and forget about you.

Naturally the more people are accepted in the internship the less likely someone is to remember you, but even if you're the only person, you should be OK especially if you decline courteously and promptly.

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    And decline in a timely fashion. And do not accept, get an offer elsewhere several months later, and then decline. Such are the risks of applying to more than one place...
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 13 at 0:30
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I think it pretty unlikely that such a decision would follow you into the future. Few would know about it unless you tell them (other than at that one place).

People understand applicants applying to several things at once, given the uncertainty of the process.

But you would do well to keep an open mind until you need to make some definite choice.

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I agree with the other answers that you are not burning bridges with the institution. However, you may -- in some circumstances -- be burning bridges with individuals.

If an internship (or fellowship) is one of several offered by a group or department, or is just based on accomplishment not on fit with specific work requirements, there should be no problem. Your slot will just go to whoever is next on the waiting list.

However, if you specifically were selected since (formally or informally) someone spoke up to express enthusiasm to supervise you or otherwise have you work on their specific project, they may be now emotionally invested in you coming (and feel a bit rejected if you turn it down), and/or may have prioritized you over others in a way they cannot roll back. It shouldn't be that way, but selection meetings can become contentious with people backing their preferred candidates and emphasizing their strengths over others.

People do reject offers quite frequently and -- if you do so in a timely and responsible manner -- this will not make you enemies. But you do need to consider the possibility that specific people who may have lobbied on your behalf may feel less enthusiastic to invest more personal energy on your behalf next time you pop up on their radar screen in whatever other context.

Therefore: go ahead and do what you have to do, but be sensitive to who may be individuals who may (appropriately or not) feel a bit slighted if you do take another opportunity. If there are such individuals, it would likely be helpful if you reach out to them afterwards, explaining how you had to prioritize such and such, and reiterating how much you hope to work with them in the future (or somesuch, whatever feels natural). A bit of empathy and explanation goes a long way!

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  • I think it is common to apply for multiple internships. Just be honest if asked where else you've applied. If offered an internship then you need to make a decision in a reasonable amount of time and then decline any outstanding internships after you have accepted an offer. What will burn bridges is to keep stringing an offer along while waiting for a "better offer" or all the other offers.
    – MaxW
    Jan 15 at 10:23

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