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I am talking about US universities in what follows.

So currently I have a Ph.D. offer from a less prestigious school that pushes me to decide whether I will take the offer or decline, without giving me any extensions. However, a more prestigious school, to which I have applied, told me that they are still making decisions, and cannot decide on the deadline of the first school (to which I am accepted). Historically, the prestigious school DID admit students late in previous years.

I don't want to find myself in a situation in which I accept my current offer but later the more prestigious school offers me a position. How can I handle this kind of situation so that I am not going to act unprofessionally? Thanks!

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  • In essence you are wait-listed at the other school?
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 20, 2023 at 17:11

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I doubt there are legal issues unless you sign a contract. You are stuck, but may have to make that decision. Don't put too much emphasis on differences in reputation. You can get a fine education at any R1 university in the US. Your career will depend much more on what you do than on the name of the institution you graduate from (within limits). But even if you get a PhD from MIT, your career still depends on you.

What to do depends on how much risk you are willing to take. And, how much setback you would suffer from no viable offer this year.

It is possible that having accepted a slot in a doctoral program you could still back out, just by requesting it. Most places won't bother to hold you to it unless they spend considerable money (effort, ...) after you accept. There is little advantage to the program to have disgruntled students. But, don't take that as legal advice.

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