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I was planning on attending a Ph.D. program at my undergraduate alma mater, and I requested letters of recommendation from two professors and a previous employer. All three of them wrote and submitted letters of recommendation on my behalf.

However, as it gets closer to the time I need to submit my application, I realize I'm not having positive feelings about getting a Ph.D. It makes me anxious to think about it and has slowed me down in preparing some documents.

I like the people that wrote letters for me, and I want to keep a good relationship with them. I feel terrible that they used their time to write sincere letters for me, and ultimately I've decided not to attend.

Should I tell them that I've decided not to attend after they've submitted letters? Are they expecting a follow-up from me? Will they be insulted that I've used their time for no reason?

I was auto-accepted into the Master's degree for the same program, which feels like a much more reasonable commitment to make, given where I am in life. I'll likely see the professors when I attend my Master's courses, too.

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Yes, I suggest you tell them to keep the lines of communication open. Just say you are exploring other opportunities and thank them.

Note, however, that in the US, you normally pay tuition for a masters and don't for a doctorate if you have a position as a teaching assistant (TA). Think about the cost/benefit and other things before you jump.

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    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 16:09

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