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I am an upcoming Ph.D. student at some university in US. But I am thinking about reapplying due to the following reasons:

  1. A recent project I am doing made me realize that the topic I was working in that project is the one I am truly interested in. However, as I checked my program’s website, no one in my upcoming program is working on that sub field.

  2. The project also made me realize I have more potential and am capable of going to a better program. I was almost certain a with much better background this year, I am able to get into the next level school with high chance. So this might be another reason I wanna reapply.

Now that I haven’t officially started the program yet,

  • I am wondering if there is anything more I can do apart from telling them I wanna reapply after the program starts.
  • Should I go talk with them about it now or should I wait?

If I talk with them now, will this damage my reputation and they might tell other schools about it?

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    I have rarely encountered a project that I was unable to be interested in. Just saying...
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 14, 2023 at 12:52
  • Do you have a productive plan for the otherwise wasted year? Are you sure you can keep contact with potential letter writers? Other than "potential" what make an improvement in your situation and application?
    – Buffy
    Mar 7 at 22:43

3 Answers 3

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You can simply say that you are not interested in pursuing their PhD program anymore, and don't have to give an answer to "why not?". It does happen, since students often shop around in numerous programs. Even if you committed to a program, you can still pull out, and probably say "I regret to inform you that I cannot pursue the program due to family issues." Recall, many of the best candidates often pull out, and each program knows that there's a good chance another program wants them and may offer a better stipend/salary/benefits package. Thus, good candidates also carry a high risk of not committing.

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    This is a good answer, but I would remove the lie about family issues; "I regret to inform you that I cannot pursue the program" is sufficient.
    – cag51
    Mar 7 at 22:16
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    @cag51, I agree with that. "Unforeseen circumstances" is an honest substitute that has the connotation that more details will not be provided. Mar 7 at 22:45
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Some things in your question are puzzling. But first, the simple things. No, a university won't go out of its way to let another university know about applicants whether you talk to them or not. The general rules of confidentially work against that, though you can't control what sort of informal conversations happen between people who know one another. But people are busy enough and this has such low priority that you can ignore it.

If you applied to a place and got accepted, then, one hopes that you found their program acceptable. Reapplying in a future year wastes time and probably costs money (living ...). It also has the problem that you may lose contact with your letter writers. And, you say you have "more potential". That, frankly, is a guess and a hope. And that "potential" has to be recognized by others in order to move up on some scale you have. If not, you just hurt yourself.

If you are committed to this course of action, ask the place you have been accepted for a deferral on the start date. If that is granted (often, not always) then you have a back up if things don't otherwise work out. You don't really need to give a reason, but if you talk to faculty there, discuss the reasons you give here to see if your new "area of interest" has support that isn't otherwise obvious. And see if they have projects that might equally interest you.

Moreover, even if you give up your favored project for now, there is value in actually finishing a degree and getting to a point where you choose your own research path without potential negative consequences, such as a lost year. You seem to be letting the "perfect" be the enemy of the "good" here and it may not be your best path forward.

But, yes, talk to them. In person if at all possible. Make a campus visit. Talk to several people, including students in the program.

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Being proactive and having the conversation now will serve you better in the long run. I did a similar thing recently and decided to apply to another program that was advertising for PhD students at a different university than where I am now for my masters/PhD. I think it's best to go where you're best supported and you will learn the most from your faculty/peers.

I was advised by my masters advisor that I should in fact look at other universities.

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  • But if I talk with them, will they let another university know?
    – Anonymous
    Jun 14, 2023 at 15:11

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